A very distinctive and briefly popular singer in the mid-1950’s who rejuvenated instrumentalist Sonny Thompson’s stagnant career while earning herself a few hits along the way.

Lula Reed was born Lula McClelland in 1926 and grew up in Ohio where she studied voice under the tutelage of gospel star Professor Howard Boggs. With her mousy high-pitched voice she won a contest in 1951 to sing with pianist Sonny Thompson who after a series of huge instrumental rock hits in 1948 had lost the commercial touch as tastes changed. Though the quality of his output rebounded from a fallow period spanning 1949-50 once he signed with King Records and began working with producer Henry Glover, he was still looking for a way to reconnect with a public that had turned away from instrumentals.

After trying out a few male singers with no change in his commercial fortunes he settled on the 25 year old Reed who at her first session with him in December 1951 cut a lasting hit, “I’ll Drown In My Tears”. Another hit quickly followed and while her ensuing records didn’t make the national charts, they did sell very well and a few singles have remained key tracks from the mid-1950’s rock scene.

At the same time she recorded some gospel sides and may – or may not – have married Thompson somewhere along the way. The news of these nuptials was printed in Jet magazine which was notorious for publishing unfounded press agent rumors designed to heighten interest in an artist.

Regardless of their personal relationship, the two did remain affiliated with one another professionally when leaving King Records in 1958 to record for the Chess subsidiary Argo before returning to the King fold on Federal Records where Thompson took charge of blues guitarist Freddie King’s output, writing and producing for him, while occasionally Reed sang on his material.

In 1962 Reed was signed to Ray Charles’ Tangerine label, perhaps as a thank you for providing him with one of his all-time greatest records when he covered her first hit, retitling it “Drown in My Own Tears”. Her final release came in 1967 and afterwards stayed out of the public eye, reputedly returning to the church and rebuffing interview requests, though others say she remained proud of her secular career.

Reed passed away in 2008 at the age 82, though never a huge star she was a consistently successful singer whose unique voice and sly quirky delivery was instantly identifiable to fans of the era.

LULA REED DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(King 4527; April, 1952)
A sterling debut by Reed whose unique voice pours on the emotion of a song that is an instant classic, buttressed by Sonny Thompson’s band that cushions the high-pitched vocals with a discreet arrangement playing the gently swaying melody to perfection. (8)

(King 4541; June, 1952)
Her second hit in two attempts shows Reed’s unusual appeal as her high-pitched voice and choppy delivery are the cherry on top of a tight arrangement in a well-written song that allows her to grapple with the character’s emotions in a realistic and insightful way. (7)

(King 4578; November, 1952)
Whether the formula is wearing thin or the fact she gets her first solo credit which confused fans used to seeing Sonny Thompson’s name on the label, Reed’s commercial winning streak ends with a fair effort that lacks the spark of her last two outings. (5)

(King 4578; November, 1952)
An ill-advised cover attempt of Chuck Willis’s hit, a song that may well be suited to Reed conceptually, but the original was so perfect that to distance herself from it she has to tweak it in ways that accentuate her technical weaknesses too much. (2)