|Myrna Smith sadly passed away yesterday from kidney failure aged 69. The American singer was a member of the female vocal group the Sweet Inspirations, who were best known for their work with Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley. Myrna is the second of the Sweet Inspirations to pass away this year. Sylvia Shemwell died on February 13, 2010.|
The Sweet Inspirations had evolved from the Gospelaires group, whose members had included Myrna’s cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, Doris Troy and Judy Guions (later Judy Clay). The group were in demand for session work with many great artists, including Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett and the Drifters. Myrna replaced Dee Dee in 1965 after she left to pursue a solo career, and Estelle Brown also joined around the same time. Dionne and Doris were replaced by Cissy Houston and Sylvia Shemwell, respectively.
|In 1967, the group was signed to Atlantic as the Sweet Inspirations. Their first release was a cover of “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)” and it was a top 40 hit on the R&B charts.
The groups most successful song was “Sweet Inspiration”, which was cut during a two-day session at American Sound in Memphis in August 1967. The track hit number five on the R&B chart and was a top 20 pop hit.
The Sweet Inspirations – “Sweet Inspiration”
The Sweet Inspirations continued to work as sessions singers during this period, appearing on classic cuts by artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin (“Chain of Fools”), Dusty Springfield (“Son of a Preacher Man”), Van Morrison (“Brown Eyed Girl”) and Jimi Hendrix (“Burning of the Midnight Lamp”).
Aretha Franklin (and the Sweet Inspirations) – “Chain of Fools”
|In 1969, Myrna began her eight-year association with Elvis Presley when the Sweet Inspirations were chosen as his opening act and backing singers for his engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. The Sweet Inspirations appeared with Elvis in more than 1,000 concerts and featured in the concert movies “That’s the Way It Is” and “Elvis On Tour”, as well as the television specials “Aloha from Hawaii” and “Elvis in Concert.” In the video below, they are performing with Elvis on one of his biggest songs.|
Elvis Presley – “Suspicious Minds” (1970)
Myrna was still making records with the Sweet Inspirations during her period with Elvis, but with limited commercial success. However, following Elvis’ tragic death, they did back Frankie Valli on his number one single “Grease.” They also toured with the Bee Gees and released the disco album “Hot Butterfly” in this period, but with the record achieving limited success the group decided to break up.
After years apart, the Sweet Inspirations reformed in 1994 and continued to perform up until recently. The Elvis association in particular assured them regular work, including touring with the “Elvis: The Concert” show, which features Elvis on screen and his original backing band playing live. I saw this show in 2001 and the Sweets were a highlight of the evening.
|In 2005, the Sweet Inspirations released “In The Right Place”, which was their first solo recording in 25 years. The 15-track album featured a number of new songs and a great new recording of their biggest hit “Sweet Inspiration.”
Myrna was joined on “In the Right Place” by Estelle Brown, Sylvia Shemwell and Portia Griffin.
Myrna developed pneumonia while on tour in Europe with “Elvis: The Concert” in March of this year. She subsequently suffered from kidney failure and a severe stroke. Myrna spent her last weeks at the Canyon Oaks Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Canoga Park, California.
Myrna was a great soul singer whose voice was featured on some of the finest records of the second half of the 20th century. She was also an important part of Elvis’ stage act and, by all accounts, a warm and friendly person. She will be missed.
The Sweet Inspirations – "In the Right Place" (MP3)
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Tags: aretha franklin, Elvis Presley, Myrna Smith, Sweet Inspirations
Posted in Elvis, Obituaries, Soul |