Last month on Thursday, November 23rd – Thanksgiving day, Fanita James, another great musician passed away after a long illness.
Fanita’s first recordings were with Richard Berry in 1954. Fanita was part of a group of six girls at Fremont High School in Los Angeles that loved singing together. Fanita Barrett (her maiden name), Gloria A. Jones, Jewel Cobbs, Pat Howard and twin sisters Annette and Nanette Williams joined together to create a group that would be known as the Dreamers. Fanita’s brother Ronald Barrett was already a success with his vocal group, The Meadowlarks. Richard Berry found out about these talented young ladies, and invited them to join him in the recording studio. Soon afterwards, their first record “Bye Bye”/”At Last” (Flair 1052) was released, credited to The Dreamers featuring Richard Berry. After their first record, the Dreamers would become a quartet (Fanita, Gloria, Annette + Nanette), and would release most of their collaborations with Richard as Richard Berry and the Dreamers.
The Dreamers would release a few records on their own as the Dreamers on Flip record label and as the Rollettes on Class record label. In 1957, their vocal coach Eddie Beal helped the group get a deal with Capitol Records if they changed their name. An A&R representative at Capitol re-named the group the Blossoms, inspired by their different skin tones. When Nanette Williams became pregnant with her first child, she left the group and was replaced by a 16 year-old singer named Darlene Wright, who would later change her name to Darlene Love. After three singles at Capitol that didn’t quite generate the success the Capitol executives were hoping for, the Blossoms were dropped, and the band did recordings for RCA as the Playgirls, and then returned to using the Blossoms name for recordings with Challenge Records.
In 1960, the Blossoms were Fanita, Gloria, and Darlene. They wound up doing a lot of studio work with literally hundreds of musicians including Bobby Day, Larry Williams, Bobby Darin, Sam Cooke, Gene Autry, Ed Townsend, Doris Day, Shirley Gunter, Duane Eddy and Bobby Boris Pickett, who recorded that catchy “Monster Mash” song with Gary S. Paxton, who was also working with Richard Berry during that period.
In 1962, the Blossoms were Fanita and Darlene, joined at various times by Gracia Nitzsche (Jack’s wife), Edna Wright (Darlene’s sister) and Carolyn Willis. They did a lot of work with Phil Spector, who renamed Darlene as Darlene Love. Fanita had already become Fanita James. The Blossoms would became a three piece with Jean King joining Fanita and Darlene. In 1964 they became the resident backing group at the “Shindig” TV show for two years.
As it’s been said that the Blossoms were probably the most successful unknown group of the ’60s. They made a career of singing backup vocals for hundreds of bands with a versatility that allowed them to sing on many of the top ten pop hits, as well as a lot of recordings in a wide spectrum of musical genres
Up until 1975, the Blossoms were an active band, touring with Tom Jones, Elvis Presley, Paul Anka and Dionne Warwick. After an unpleasant reunion with Phil Spector, Darlene dropped out of the group and decided she wanted nothing to do with the entertainment industry for many years, which lasted until 1990, when Darlene made a major comeback as a solo artist.
Fanita was the one constant factor in the Blossoms, keeping the group active from 1954 until 1990, when she retired the Blossoms, and would became a member of Doris Kenner Jackson‘s incarnation of the Shirelles.
Gloria Jones described how that came about.
I joined a few years before Fanita. Fanita was still with Tom Jones when Doris started looking for a 3rd girl. I suggested Fanita, as her tour was up with Tom Jones!
This group lasted until 2000 when Doris passed away. Over the years, Fanita and Gloria performed occasional reunion shows with Darlene as the Blossoms or as the Dreamers with their old friend Richard Berry.
In 2013, the Blossoms were highlighted in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, in which it was revealed that they had also sung backing vocals for Frank Sinatra‘s version of “That’s Life”, and Betty Everett‘s “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)”.
I was reminded that Bobby Sheen of “Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans”, the group Fanita James was a part of, died 23yrs ago on Thanksgiving Day. Fanita earned her wings on Thanksgiving Day, 2023. – Gloria Jones
The Blossoms (with Fanita James singing lead) – Going Out of My Head (Shindig – Dec 16, 1964)
Night Time Is The Right Time – Fanita James, Jean King, Darlene Love, Bill Medley & Robert Hatfield
I Like It Like That – The Blossoms (Shindig 1964)
The Dreamers – They Sing Like Angels
Ace Records CDCHD 829 (liner notes by Opal Nations)
The Dreamers & The Blossoms (Electric Earl page)
The Blossoms (history-of-rock.com)
DREAMERS GROUPS – PART ONE (Vocal Group Harmony website)
MODERN RECORDS – PART EIGHT (1952-1958) (Vocal Group Harmony website)
Discogs – Fanita James (incomplete)
Discogs – The Dreamers
The Blossoms (Tims This Is My Story)
The Blossoms (Wikipedia)
RIP: Annette Williams of The Dreamers / The Blossoms (LouieLouie.net)
An Appreciation of The Dreamers to The Blossoms (LouieLouie.net)
L.A. R&B Vocal Groups 1945- 1965 by Steve Propes & Galen Gart
Big Nickel Publications