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An outlier from the earliest days of Motown, Debbie Dean – née Reba Smith – was the first white artist to sign with Motown, and the first white female performer to appear on a Motown single. (Nick and the Jaguars, who had released the surf rock instrumental Ich-i-bon #1 in August 1959, were the first (credited) white performers on a Motown label, but theirs was a one-off deal for Tamla to release that one pre-recorded single, rather than them actually signing a contract with Berry Gordy.)
A Southerner with a fine singing voice, Debbie was already in her early thirties by the time she got to Motown in 1960, and rather too old to be a teenybopper idol; perhaps evidence of Motown’s crossover ambitions right from the start, she cut three singles for Motown in the early Sixties before eventually leaving the label in 1962, by which time Motown records were starting to find their way into middle-class white homes in large numbers anyway.
Debbie’s Motown story wasn’t finished, though – in partnership with her friend the writer-producer Deke Richards, she returned to Motown as a successful songwriter in the mid-Sixties, even getting the chance to record again once she was reintroduced to Berry Gordy, resulting in a prized Northern Soul single and several excellent unreleased cuts. Debbie Dean passed away in 2001.
Review Archive: Debbie DEAN (6 items)
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