Sweet Inspirations at Heathrow Airport in London, Tuesday, December 3, 1968
L-R: Cissy Houston, Myrna Smith, Sylvia Shemwell and Estelle Brown
Photo: Ian Showell
I recently uncovered an Associated Press story that hit the newswires the same day as Elvis' penultimate Memphis concert!
THE NASHVILLE SOUND:
Trio Wonders Why Their Style Needed For Elvis Presley Tour
By MARIAN FOX
Associated Press Writer
MEMPHIS (AP) -- When The Sweet Inspirations got an offer five years ago to tour with Elvis Presley, they were astonished.
"I said, 'Elvis Presley! What does he want us for?' " said Myrna Smith, one of the three slender, pretty black women in the group.
The trio was worried that their singing style -- rhythm and blues and soul -- wouldn't fit into a show starring the Mississippi-born entertainer, who appeals to a predominately white audience more accustomed to country and rock than to soul.
"We needn't have worried," said Estlle Brown. "The first minute we met him, we liked him and he liked us."
"We've never had another doubt," echoed Sylvia Shamwell. "He's a wonderful person and he doesn't care what color you are."
Presley wanted The Sweet Inspirations because they are an asset. They are lively, attractive and, above all, talented. The only thing wrong with their part of the show is that they sing just four songs.
"We've never had a problem being accepted by a white audience," said Myrna. "And Elvis won't tolerate any type of discrimination. To him and to us and to most entertainers, people are people. Not blacks and whites."
The group did, however, adjust their material for the Presley show.
"We did heavy soul and rhythm and blues numbers that black audiences wanted to hear," said Estelle. "Not many people recognized or identified with the songs. We had to add more rock and pop songs."
On the current Presley tour, The Sweet Inspirations sing "Life is a Song," "Can, Can," "Dirty Tricks" and "The Last Time I Saw Him."
"Dirty Tricks," a forthcoming single, was written by Myrna.
"I got the idea from the Watergate scandal," she said. "It t may be the best thing to come out of that mess."
The group got together seven years ago through' singing in the choir at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N. J.
"We met and got to be friends by singing," said Sylvia.
They sang as the Gospel Airs with Dionne and Dede Warwick, Sylvia, Myrna and Myrna's brother. After winning a talent contest at the Apollo Club in New York, the group began doing background work for artists like Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, and Presley.
By 1967 Estelle had joined the group, the Warwick sisters and Myrna's brother had left and The Sweet Inspirations had their name. "People would tell us that we inspired them to sing better," said Sylvia.
In 1968, the group recorded their namesake song and life's been good to them since.
"We have our fights," said Sylvia, "but really we're like sisters. When we get on each other's nerves, we shout and hollar. Then we're friends again. It's worked that way for us seven years now."
After the Presley tour closes in Memphis March 20, The Sweet Inspirations will take a two-week break before opening in Las Vegas.
Lumberton Robesonian - Wednesday, March 20, 1974
Love their graciousness: "Elvis won't tolerate any type of discrimination."
I also found the "forthcoming single" mentioned in the article. Written in part by Myrna, and inspired by the Watergate scandal, "Dirty Tricks," was released by Stax in late April.
It's pretty good, in fact better than some of the material Elvis was recording at the time at Stax. Of course, for a number of reasons, Myrna's tune would never have made his shortlist for the sessions.
Sweet Inspirations, "Dirty Tricks" (Stax 0203, April 27, 1974)
What a time it was!
R.I.P., Sylvia and Myrna.