Today in Music History: Thelma Houston releases a dance classic


December 2, 1976: Thelma Houston releases the #1 hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way”

A strong-voiced soul singer who has been as comfortable on the silver screen as in the recording studio, Thelma Houston will forever be best known for a hit that took her right to the top of the charts.

The daughter of a cotton picker mother, Houston was born in Leland, Mississippi in the mid 1940s, but her family later moved to Long Beach, California.  She became a member of the Art Reynolds Singers gospel group, where she met Fifth Dimension manager Marc Gordon, who helped sign her as a recording artist, first with Capital Records for a few singles, and then with Dunhill Records.

In 1969, Houston released her first album, a critically acclaimed dramatic project produced by legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb and called Sunflowerbut, as would be the case several times in her career, it failed to receive the kind of promotion it needed to reach an audience. Soon after, Motown executive Suzanne DePasse heard Houston sing in a Las Vegas club and invited her joined the fold at hot Motown Records. She toiled for several years at Motown before she had a sizeable hit, and she ended up splitting her time between recording, working commercially as a demo singer and acting (she was on the cast of TV’s The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine)

In 1976, Thelma sang on the soundtrack to the movie The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings and also provided backing vocals on the solo debut album of Jermaine Jackson.  But it was the work on her Motown album Any Way You Like It that would make it the transitional year in her career. DePasse had heard the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ album cut “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (written by Gamble and Huff with Cary Gilbert) and asked producer Hal Davis to record it with Houston. It was an inspired choice. One of the early legitimate disco smashes, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” shot to #1 on the pop, soul and disco charts, and won for Thelma a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. It has also helped fuel a career for the talented Houston that continues to this day

Take a listen to this classic and celebrate this monumental day in 1976 when it was introduced to the world.

by Chris Rizik


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