Soul Fantasy

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lady Bianca Thornton

Bianca Thornton was born in Kansas City, Missouri on 8th August 1953 and was the oldest of two sisters and a brother. She learned the art of playing Blues at a very young age by listening to her father, who was always singing and playing Blues, although he claimed it was Gospel music.
At the age of 17 Bianca’s first paying gig was with Quinn Harris and the Masterminds. Quinn was a San Francisco saxophonist and keyboardist and they performed as a side attraction at the Brass Rail in Sunnyvale. It was Quinn Harris who first gave Bianca the name Lady Bianca as she was so pure and conservative.
It was also with Quinn Harris and the Masterminds that Bianca made her recording debut in 1970 on the Reynolds Records LP “All in the Soul”. This features 2 tracks written and performed by Bianca titled “Stop! Telling Me Lies” and “We Got To Live Together”. These were also released as a single on Reynolds Records.
Her first major performance was in 1972 at the San Francisco production of singer Jon Hendricks' revue Evolution of the Blues. In that acclaimed show, she sang "Good Morning Heartache" and "God Bless the Child" and eloquently captured the spirit and essence of Billie Holiday.
Throughout the mid-70’s she appeared with a series of bands at Big Al’s and other topless nightclubs along San Francisco’s Broadway Strip.
The house bands included many locally well known Bay Area R & B musicians including guitarist Lloyd Gregory and Eugene Blacknell, drummer Bobby Cochran and bassist Henry Oden who was later to become her husband for 15 years. Throughout much of this period they worked together in the Top 40 clubs and blues joints in the San Francisco Bay Area.
At this time Bianca was doing backing vocals for Jon Hendricks and the gay disco diva Sylvester, who she says is where she got her style of dressing from.
Bianca was then invited to tour as a backing vocalist and pianist for Sly & the Family Stone for a year, unfortunately this was towards the end of his successful career. During this time they released one LP “Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back”.
In late 1976 she was invited by Frank Zappa to tour with him as a backing vocalist and pianist but this only lasted a month as Bianca felt uncomfortable singing some of his highly sexual lyrics. Bianca’s is featured on “Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station” from the Rykodisc Cd “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 6”. Other performances can be found on various Zappa bootlegs.
During this same year Bianca was featured on Lp by the San Francisco Medicine Ball titled “Slowboat To China” on Real Turkey Records singing “America The Beautiful”.
When she wasn’t away touring or performing in and around the Bay Area with her husband Henry Oden, she was in the studio recording backing vocals for artists such as Lee Oskar, Merle Haggard and Taj Mahal. She also could be heard on some of the California Raisins commercials and did voice-overs for Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater.

In 1977 Lady Bianca Thornton along with David Gardner and Paul Smith (2 other Oakland musicians) formed Vitamin E and released an album titled "Sharing" on Buddah Records produced by Norman Connors. In this album appeared some great musicians such as Reggie Lucas on guitar, Basil Farrington on bass, Mtume on percussion, Harry Whitaker and Hubert Eaves on keyboards, Randy Brecker on horns.

I chose track entitled "Pretty girls" with a very good arrangement. Composed by Paul Smith and J.Newman.

When Sharing failed to have any commercial impact, the group began falling apart.
Two years later she sang for an album which was released by pianist Bill Bell on Brown Door Records. It was recorded at Tewksbury Studio, Richmond,CA.

In this album participated some great musicians such as Marvin Holmes on guitar, Fred Washington on bass, Coke Escovedo on timbales, Jules Broussard on alto sax, Clayton Richardson on tenor sax, Larry Baptiste on trombone. Music arranged by Bill Bell. Produced by Marvin Holmes and Bill Bell.

In 1980 Lamont Dozier formed a soul group called Zingara. Lamont found a trio of singers James Ingram, Lady Bianca and Wali Ali. Lamont found Bianca in Oakland, North Carolina and he said: Her voice, her presence… she had it all.
Dozier discovered that she had established her own following on the local live circuit which was opened three times a week.
On the Zingara album Lady Bianca performed two amazing songs entitled "Are you ready for love" and "You sho' know how to love me" a duet with James Ingram.

All the songs were written by Lamont Dozier. Produced by Lamont Dozier.

Unfortunately, Wheel Records ran out of money way before they had a chance to put any promotional muscle behind their release, and the whole Zingara thing fell apart just as quickly as it had come together.

From 1981 to 1985 Bianca routinely toured with Van Morrison throughout the States as well as Europe and recorded backing vocals for several of his releases including "Beautiful Vision", "Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart ","A Sense Of Wonder" , “Live At The Grand Opera, Belfast” and “No Guru, No Method, No Teacher”.
In 1982 Stanley Lippitt had heard Lady Bianca on the local radio singing "Willow Weep For Me" with the Marvin Holmes band. It was a late-night radio broadcast from Ivey’s, a popular Oakland club. Stanley was so impressed that he rushed the club that night but unfortunately the club had by this time closed for the night.
When she wasn’t touring Bianca could be seen singing in local clubs and was also part of Mark Naftalin’s rotating cast of blues artists.
Marvin Holmes released an album called "It's about time" on Brown Door Records in 1983.It was recorded at Different Fur Studios, Hyde Street Studios, San Francisco,California. Lady Bianca Thornton sang for the album.
On the Marvin Holmes' album appeared several finest musicians such as Bill Bell on piano, Pee Wee Ellis on sax, John Parrish on trumpet, Jamie Davis and Zorina on vocals. Zorina was known from her collaboration with Fats Gaines in the same year. Produced by Marvin Holmes. Arranged and conducted by John Parrish.

I have chosen track entitled "The art of loving you". Composed by Marvin Holmes. Lady Bianca accompanies Marvin Holmes on vocals.

In 1984 Bianca finally got to meet who was later to become the true love of her life Stanley Lippitt.
They formed a partnership in both the record label, publishing and production company. Stanley wrote the lyrics and Lady Bianca the music.
They produced their first record together entitled 'Daylight Melody' in 1984 followed by "Passion" backed with "Made Up My Mind". This was later re-released in 1991.
During the mid to late 80's Lady Bianca joined several other Bay Area musicians and recorded several releases for Tom Stern's Suspex label as part of the Usual Suspects series. These included “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Fool’s Paradise” on the Faraway Places LP (1985), "Let's Make Plans Together" backed with "It's Just A Matter Of Time" on the Reunions LP (1986), these were also released as a single "In The Middle Of The Night" backed with "I Can't Stop Dreaming" on the Dreams LP (1987) , also released as a 12” single and ”They Played Our Song Today” on the Music About Music LP (1988). These were nearly all song-writing collaborations by Lady Bianca and Stanley Lippitt.

She was soon performing and became a favourite at festivals and special events throughout the Bay Area and elsewhere in northern California.
In 1989, 1990 and 1991, she was named Oakland's "female vocalist of the year."
In 1994 they put the record company on hold and went into a deal with Telarc Records. Telarc released a CD entitled "Best Kept Secret" Lady Bianca and Stanley wrote and arrange all of the songs on this CD.
Throughout the 90's Bianca continued to do backing vocals for many well known artists including Frankie Lee, Muria Muldaur, John Lee Hooker and many others.
In 2000 they met Jim O'Neal and he brought them to Rooster Blues Records. Where Lady Bianca cut her second CD in 2002 entitled "Rollin" once again they wrote, arranged and produced the entire album and this received a nomination for a Grammy in both the Blues and R&B Fields - "Daddy Blues Was a Witness" in the Blues category and "Little Drop of Water" in the R&B category.
The Mayor, and the city of Oakland also recognizing her contribution to the Arts, gave Bianca the "Key to the City" Award in 2002.
The Oakland Blues Society awarded her "Best Dressed Female vocalist" and "Best R& B Female Vocalist of the year" 2002.
Also in 2002 Stanley and Bianca stopped their busy schedule of writing, recording, touring and teaching as Bianca works with up and coming Blues artist's in and around the Oakland Bay area to celebrate their love for each other and got married!
Stanley Lippitt and Lady Bianca have created what is now known as the "Mighty Oakland Sound". A sound that is indigenous to the Bay Area.
In 2004 Lady Bianca released 'All By Myself' on their own label Magic-O Records, followed by “Let Love Have Its Way” and now March 2007 the new release "Through A Woman's Eyes".
In all Lady Bianca has recorded and performed with many who's who of Hall of fame legends such as: Bobby Bland, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Curtis Mayfield, Van Morrison, Sly and the Family Stone, Irma Thomas, Koko Taylor, Joe Louis Walker and dozens more.
Lady Bianca and the Magic-O Rhythm Band have participated in many Blues Festivals including the San Francisco, San Jose' , Monterey, Sarasota, Morrow Bay, Poconos, Ojai, Shasta CA, Russion River, Boise Blues Festival Boise Idaho, Utah Blues and Jazz at Snowbird, Marine County, Hayward, Rutherford Hill Winery, Santa Rosa, Two Rivers in Carrolton KY, Kansas City, Blues and Brews at Mammoth Lake, Absolute ALA Carte ALA Park, The Alameda County Fairgrounds at Pleasanton, CA, and the San Francisco's Jazz and Blues Cruise and continues to regularly tour with her current band ably supported by her co-partner and Master of Ceremonies Stanley Lippitt (see for the current tour schedule).
When Lady Bianca is not on tour she is always seen on a Sunday morning at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in North Richmond, California playing piano and singing with the choir whom she is the director.
Her performances can be seen on several video's / DVD's - "Mark Naftalin's Blue Monday Party's Volume 1 & 2", "Survivors - The Blues Today", "Live At Wilebski's" and "The Essence of Jazz".
Bianca has also been photographed for several book publications "Black and White Blues" by Marc Norberg and "Really the Blues" by Stephen Green.

Note: The above posted tracks are not played in full


Anonymous said...

I'm listening to 1987's "Dreams" as I write. A gem--thanks for not allowing it to be neglected. I'm interested in Lady Bianca. I also like how you can listen to the tracks right on your blog. Check out mine sometime:

SknDvr said...

I happened upon this entry on Lady Bianca attempting to find a clean download of "Usual Suspects." An album I own but not in the greatest condition. I used to see her perform at local clubs. One of my favorites is when she opened a show that included Rosie Gaines (pre-Prince) and Linda Tillery. Nice entry... but my search is still on for a clean copy of "Usual Suspects"