BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

One of an influx of teenaged rock singers of the early 1950’s who were the first generation to grow up with the music in their formative years and who due to their natural affinity for it were seen as potentially better bets than older artists trying to adjust their thinking in order to deliver it credibly.

Edna McGriff was born in Florida in 1935 but moved to New York at a young age. At fifteen, already writing her own songs, she was signed to Jubilee Records who struck gold with her second release in early 1952 with “Heavenly Father”, a secular plea which mixed personal desire with a churchy, though non-gospel, feel. The record was a massive seller but would remain her only hit.

With their limited vision, Jubilee Records thought pairing McGriff with their resident star, Orioles lead singer Sonny Til, on a series of duets would be a surefire commercial boon but instead it hampered both of their careers, wasting time better spent on individual recordings.

They also shortsightedly try repeating the formula of her hit right away with more quasi-spiritual songs which do little more than show the label viewed her success as being topical rather than based on her own talents.

By the time they give up these diversions and resume letting her record her own self-penned material her momentum has died and with far too many ballads she’s unable to compete with the increasingly uptempo hits that are shaping rock’s direction. When she finally shakes things up stylistically in 1954, the label having now shifted her to their subsidiary Josie, her name recognition has faded and the records are stillborn.

From there her career is rudderless, as McGriff hops from one label to the next, becoming little more than a cover artist while at Bell Records, cutting her own versions of rock hits of the day in good voice but backed by cheesy white pop vocalists and arid arrangements. Elsewhere she tries more high class jazz standards and light rock ballads to no avail. Her voice is still strong, her technique remains solid, but working with unsympathetic producers with misguided aims and no outlet for original material eliminates any chance she has to repeat her early success.

McGriff married in 1959 and continued record sporadically when given the chance, but disappeared from view by the mid-1960’s, settling in Connecticut where she passed away tragically young at 44 of lymphoma in 1980.

Though she has just one hit to her credit, her early efforts, particularly those she wrote herself, shows she was one of the more intriguing “What If” stories of early 1950’s rock.
 
 
EDNA McGRIFF DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date on Spontaneous Lunacy)

COME BACK
(Jubilee 5062; August, 1951)
While McGriff shines here, both in her writing and especially her singing where she sounds fully confident and already knows how to put a song across at 15 years old, the veteran band led by Bennie Green is completely lost and undercuts her with a stagnant arrangement. (6)

NOTE DROPPIN’ PAPA
(Jubilee 5062; August, 1951)
Another smartly written and confident self-penned song that channels Chubby Newsom’s sexually liberated attitude which McGriff sells nicely but unfortunately the older musicians are limp in the sack as their underpowered horns can’t give her – or us – any satisfaction. (6)

HEAVENLY FATHER
(Jubilee 5073; February, 1952)
Her only hit was actually rather atypical for McGriff at this stage, as she takes on an innocent persona on this secular plea about her boyfriend in Korea coming home to her which mixes the spiritual with a slight hint of erotic dreaming to create a beguiling mix. (8)

I LOVE YOU
(Jubilee 5073; February, 1952)
More great writing by McGriff and perhaps her best vocal performance as she acts like a doting girlfriend on the surface while displaying a smirking self-congratulatory attitude underneath as Buddy Lucas and the band lend the perfect multi-layered backdrop. (8)