American singer Inez Foxx helped popularize soul music in the UK, and from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s was a regular performer in Britain. Inez, who died aged 84, sang a duet with her brother, Charlie, and they were often mistakenly thought to be husband and wife rather than siblings.

They were best known for their 1963 hit single, mocking bird, a witty back-and-forth between Charlie’s deep vocals and Inez’s wry gospel moan. Together the Foxxes recorded over 50 memorable songs and Inez also enjoyed a brief solo career.

They were far more popular as live performers than as recording artists. The Beatles praised them and the Rolling Stones booked them as support for a UK tour in 1964. Dusty Springfield recorded a cover of Mockingbird for his album A Girl Called Dusty (and, in 1968, sang it on his talk show television ITV It Must Be Dusty, with Jimi Hendrix as a duet partner).

Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, having first heard Mockingbird in Kingston, Jamaica in 1963, negotiated a license to release it in the UK and ensured that it was the first record released on his UK Sue label. It was eventually a UK hit on a reissue in 1969, but by then Inez and Charlie’s working relationship was coming to an end.

Inez and Charlie Foxx performing No Stranger To Love in 1966. Youtube

Inez’s striking looks, strong voice, confident stage presence and warm, engaging character won over the audience. That she never had a bigger hit on the charts is one of those conundrums you often find in popular music.

In 1974 she suddenly stopped recording and performing. A loyal British following, particularly among northern soul aficionados, continued to champion his music and Mockingbird retained his popularity, sung by many and featured in the 1994 film comedy Dumb and Dumber and popular TV series such as The Simpsons and Will & Grace. Yet Inez has remained silent, one of those who walked away from music at the peak of their talents.

Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, to John and Peggy Johnston, Inez had eight siblings and was closest to Charlie, who was two years her senior. From an early age, Inez joined her family in singing at their local Baptist church and was recognized for her vocal talent. She attended Dudley High School and after graduation joined the Gospel Tide Chorus and began working in the Southern Church circuit. Her talent was spotted by a local impresario, Charles Fuller, who persuaded Inez to go solo and sing R&B.

Charlie was determined to work with Inez, and in 1959, overcoming parental disapproval, they traveled to New York. Inez soon had a recording contract with Brunswick Records and in 1960 she released two unsuccessful 45s under the name Inez Johnston. The siblings developed a duet act and adopted Foxx as their stage name. In early 1963, noticing African-American music entrepreneur Harry “Juggy” Murray leaving a restaurant, they stopped him and auditioned on the sidewalk performing Mockingbird, a song they had developed from a nursery rhyme.

Murray was impressed and signed the duo to Sue Records. Mockingbird was released in the summer of 1963, credited only to Inez Foxx, and it quickly became a hit on the US pop (#7) and R&B (#2) charts. Murray rushed Foxx’s debut album Mockingbird – again credited to Inez, though Charlie wrote or co-wrote with Inez 10 of the album’s 12 songs, played guitar on all of them, and sang on several. .

Inez Foxx’s striking looks, strong voice, assured stage presence and warm, engaging presence won over the audience. Picture: Records/Alamy

In 1964, Murray – having played a pivotal role in launching Ike & Tina Turner – began billing the Foxx recordings as Inez & Charlie Foxx. Still, they struggled to make an impact on the charts. Guy Stevens, whom Blackwell appointed to lead UK Sue, proved a formidable promoter of the duo, ensuring that their records were regularly broadcast on UK pirate radio (BBC radio at the time gave little airtime). antenna to R&B).

Thus they became regular visitors, supported on their first UK tour by young Birmingham band, the Spencer Davis Group. They appeared on the pioneering ITV music show Ready Steady Go and their 1964 single Hurt By Love reached No. 40 in the UK. In 1966 they signed with Dynamo Records, where they began working with famed producer and songwriter Luther Dixon. Inez married Dixon and co-wrote songs with him, including I Love You 1,000 Times, a 1966 hit for the Platters. The duo’s Dynamo releases continued to be of a high standard – (1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count the days in 1967 gave them their last American R&B hit, while that year saw the release of their album Come By Here.

In 1969 Charlie moved to Mobile, Alabama, started his own label, Tee Off, and focused on signing and producing soul singers. Inez continued to record for Dynamo and tour the UK. In the early 1970s, she divorced Dixon and signed to Volt, a subsidiary of Stax Records. Her 1973 album At Memphis found Inez confidently handling strong, contemporary songs, but she failed to produce a breakthrough hit. In 1974, she rejected Stax’s offer of the song Woman to Woman, which became a huge hit instead for Shirley Brown, prompting Inez’s decision to leave the music industry.

This year, James Taylor and Carly Simon had a US Top 5 hit with their recording of Mockingbird, and the song has since enjoyed a remarkable life: numerous artists have recorded it, from British band the beautiful stars to the American country singer Toby Keith.

In 1990, London label Ace Records reissued Inez’s entire recorded output on At Memphis & More, then in 2001 collected Inez and Charlie’s singles Sue and Dynamo on The Dynamo Duo. Still, Inez turned down all requests to perform at old-song gigs and northern soul festivals, preferring to live quietly in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton.

Charlie died in 1998. Inez is survived by one sister, Jean.

Inez Foxx (Johnston), singer and songwriter, born September 9, 1937; died on August 25, 2022


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