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Blues/Soul Scene feature

“The singing never left me. That's all I ever wanted to be. I just love to entertain. I don't care if its for an audience of one.” — Barbara Lynn

An R&B comeback, more than three decades in the making

by Amelia Feathers

Barbara Lynn

BEAUMONT, Texas — Barbara Lynn sits on a bench in front of her home in Beaumont with her white guitar in hand and makes the strings whine to the tune of B.B. King's “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

She presses her lips together and looks toward the sky and she plucks the strings making notes bend and linger even though the guitar wasn't plugged into an amplifier.

Lynn stops playing and hugs the neck of the guitar in her arms and then she shares a memory of a performance in Europe. “When I played “Sweet Little Sixteen” there, the next day the headlines in a newspaper called me “Lady B.B.,” she said with a smile.

The Beaumont native has many reasons to smile lately as her music career is stirring a renewed interest she hasn't had since the 1960s.

It was 1962 when Lynn's personal poem and a statement she made after the breakup with a boyfriend were turned into a song. “You'll Lose A Good Thing” not only sold a million records atop the music charts but also became Lynn's signature song launching her musical career from imitating Elvis Presley to solidifying her status as an R&B diva.

Lynn performed “You'll Lose A Good Thing” at the Apollo, on American Bandstand and overseas.

Legendary R&B singer Aretha Franklin and, later on, country music singer Freddie Fender recorded “You'll Lose A Good Thing.”

She toured with music giants Gladys Knight and the Pips, Jackie Wilson, B.B. King and became friends with Patti LaBelle and Dionne Warwick. The Rolling Stones recorded another Lynn song, “We've Got A Good Thing Going.”

One reason why Lynn's career is being jump-started, causing music executives and R&B purists to crave her music, is because in February the left-handed guitarist, songwriter and singer was given a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. Lynn received the award along with some other R&B notables — Patti LaBelle, Joe Simon, Ashford and Simpson and Brenda Holloway.

Smokey Robinson presented her the award. “Smokey leaned over and kissed me and said, ‘Barbara you still look good’ and I said ‘Smokey so do you.’”

And though her heart skipped when Smokey kissed her, Lynn's heart jumped with much respect when she met hip hop superstar artist, Lauryn Hill.

“It took my breath away to meet her,” Lynn said. “I love her new song “Everything Is Everything” — I just love that.”

Another reason for Lynn to smile is because she recently signed with Antones Record Company in Austin, which specializes in blues music and will be recording some new original songs with Don Smith, who has produced songs for LeAnn Rimes.

The 57-year-old singer doesn't mind calling her recording effort in five years “a comeback.”

“This is the first time in years I'm going to have a producer of his status working with me and that's going to be good for me,” Lynn said. “I'd like this to be a comeback CD.”

Lynn said she would stick to the sound that catapulted her career blues and R&B. Unlike the early years, she isn't writing teenage love songs while dreaming of being the female Elvis Presley.

While her music has matured and so has she — with more than 36 years in the music business — Lynn is adjusting to writing songs in between being a doting grandmother, which is different from the way she started writing songs as young teen.

In 1960, when Lynn graduated from Hebert High School, she had already written enough song poems for an album and taught herself to play the guitar when she started performing in local clubs in southeast Texas. Huey P. Meaux, a local music entrepreneur, saw Lynn playing in a club and took her to Cosimo's Studio in New Orleans, where Lynn recorded “You'll Lose A Good Thing.” The song was released on the Jet Stream label in Houston and then Jami Records out of Philadelphia.

“When we recorded the “You'll Lose A Good Thing,” we knew the record would be a hit,” Lynn said. “I was excited and nervous about recording — nervous because it was my first time in a studio and excited because I was only 18.”

“You'll Lose A Good Thing” bumped Ray Charles‘ “I Can't Stop Loving You” off the No. 1 spot on the charts.

Lynn toured with many legends of the R&B music industry including Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Al Green, Carla Thomas, Marvin Gaye, Ike and Tina Turner and the Temptations. Because she was so young, her mother, Mildred “Mag” Richard traveled with her to the many “one nighters.” Lynn's mother has road stories of her own to tell.

Richard has vivid memories of threatening to call the police because a drug dealer was trying to sell drugs backstage at a concert. Richard talks fondly about seeing a 9-year-old Michael Jackson playing the bongos with his brothers at a Chicago concert.

Lynn's career paused when she married for the first time at age 28 and had three children. While living in Los Angeles, she still made occasional appearances at clubs in the area.

“The singing never left me,” she said. “That's all I ever wanted to be. I just love to entertain — I don't care if its for an audience of one.”

Her husband died three years ago and Lynn moved to back to her hometown in Beaumont to be near her mother, who is 77 years old.

As Lynn prepares to record some new songs including a blues-filled instrumental cut she is calling “Lynn's Blues,” she is also practicing her old recordings for a show in Blackpool, England.

“Sometimes I get tired of the road and I get a little lonely also so I'll call my children and grandchildren,” she said. Lynn is the grandmother of five.

For Lynn there isn't anything to compare to performing on stage for an audience. She likes feeding off of an audience and the audience receiving musical nourishment from her.

“A lot of the older blues artists in this area have gotten settled and won't perform at a lot of the night clubs anymore — a lot of the musicians think because they are in their 50s and 60s they are too old,” she said. “I don't see it like that and in a few years I will be 60 and so far I want to keep going.”

Lynn raised her right hand above her head when asked if audiences and fans get her just as excited in those early years when she was touring with the heavyweights of the R&B world, answering with an emphatic, “Yes.”

“An audience really gets me pumped up and I like the audience to get up and have fun, because I am having fun and I am thankful to God I still can perform,” Lynn adds.

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