The US’s first interracial love song

After leaving the Drinkard Singers in the early 1960s, Clay recorded a few songs for Scepter Records, but they didn’t chart. Meanwhile, the career of her adoptive sister, Dionne, was taking off. And other Drinkard Singers, including Cissy Houston, Dionne’s aunt and Whitney Houston’s mother, formed the Sweet Inspirations, singing backup on many Atlantic Records hits including the Storybook Children album. With her towering vocals, Clay wanted to be a star, too, Vera says. After Country Girl, City Man, Clay continued to sing back-up vocals for soul legends including Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Van Morrison and Aretha Franklin. She scored a hit with William Bell in 1970 with Private Number, which reached number eight in the UK singles charts, and did well in the US. But she never had the successful solo career she yearned for.

“Her contribution to the recording world with [Storybook Children] and her performances should be recognised as something that was truly meaningful,” Warwick says.

In 1979 after surgery for a brain tumor, Clay returned to her gospel roots. Then in 2001, she died in a car accident at age 62, never receiving the acclaim she deserved.

More than 20 years after Storybook Children was released, in the 1980s, Billy Vera was producing albums for the Grammy award-winning soul singer, Lou Rawls. Rawls invited Vera along to an Apollo Theater event, and there they ran into legendary Harlem showman Ralph Cooper, who’d been affiliated with the Apollo since the 1930s.

“He saw me and threw his arms around me,” Vera says. “He told me, ‘your picture’s in the lobby and will always be there.’

“What you did was so important,” he said. “Welcome home.”

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