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One of 1974's really great soul records was undoubtedly Shirley Brown's "Woman To Woman," the million selling single that launched Stax' new Truth label and that also put deep soul high into the pop charts for perhaps the only time during the whole of the year. The song has a deep underlying message in that Shirley is the wife in a situation by which she is speaking to her husband's mistress (isn't that an old-fashioned word nowadays!). The whole dialogue is so convincing that listeners are taking it very seriously. "After doing my shows," Shirley confesses, "the dressing room is usually filled with women wanting to discuss the situation that exists for quite a lot of people these days and the women mostly tell me they agree with the way I handle the situation. Sure, there have been a couple of women who've come along and said I was handling the situation wrongly. But the amazing thing about it all is that they look at it as far more than just a song — it's almost a sign of the times to them and I'm almost their spokesman."

The "Woman To Woman" saga is also different in that it has sparked off hits for two artists (that's only so far!). Both of whom certainly needed them. Barbara Mason has taken up the glove and taken on the identity of being the 'Barbara' in the song and she offers an answer from the other woman's side. It's exactly the same melody but with a new set of lyrics. Then there's horn man, Lonnie Youngblood. He offers the man's point of view and he suggests that his wife isn't all she cracks herself up to be and that it's the other woman that's taking care of his needs — which is hardly something to boast about but it's given Lonnie his biggest hit since the disco slanted "Sweet Sweet Tootie."

Anyway, the main thing is that it has given the delicious Ms. Brown the hit she wanted and has paved the way for the immediate release of an album. And already the DJs in the States have selected their follow-up. Entitled "It Ain't No Fun," it has much of the good side of "Woman To Woman." The album also includes a stunning version of Lorraine Ellison's "Stay With Me," plus original material penned especially for Shirley by William Bell and Frederick Knight.

Shirley Brown was born in West Memphis, Arkansas, on January 6, 1947. But her family moved to St. Louis in 1956. Since then, she has lived in Madison, Illinois, and now resides in East St. Louis. In her late teens, Shirley worked as resident vocaliste with the Albert King Revue and, in fact, Albert is now Shirley's manager and it was he who brought Shirley to Stax. In between, our lady worked with Oliver Sain's Revue and it was during this period that she made her only other recordings. It was at the time that Shirley and Oliver were both with Nashboro Records on the Abet label — Oliver is still with the company, by the way. And he was the producer and arranger for the two sides — "I Ain't Gonna Tell" and "Love Is Build On A Strong Foundation." Following Shirley's current success, the record is being re-issued both in America and Britain during January, by the way.

Shirley re-signed with Albert King as her manager during the early summer and he arranged for her to go to Memphis and audition for Stax, who were duly impressed by what they saw and what they heard. And it was Shirley who selected the song, "Woman To Woman". "The guys who wrote it sang it through to me and I felt it needed a rap to begin it," she bashfully admits. "So I wrote one off the top of my head and that's the way it all happened. And within eight weeks of the record's release in America, the lovely Ms. Brown was collecting a Gold Disc."

Until this success, Shirley listed three wishes for her life. Firstly, she wanted a hit record and that's been achieved. Then she wanted to bring happiness and enjoyment to her audiences — and, judging from the word running around America right now, she has achieved that ambition, too. Then she wanted to make more personal appearances and on the strength of her achieving her first two aims, it really is only a matter of time before that end can be met.

Shirley lays much of the acclaim for her fairly meteoric rise to fame at the feet of her manager, Albert King, who still lives in Lovejoy, Illinois, close to Shirley's Madison home.

There is a funny side to Shirley's current success, too. If you listen closely to the song, "Woman To Woman," you'll find that the heroine really pulls off some tricks and one irate radio listener actually rang up her local radio station and complained about Shirley's rummaging through her husband's pockets — because that's where she found Barbara's phone number. All of which proves more conclusively how seriously folks are taking the content of this record.

But I'm sure Shirley will put up with the odd such complaint because the record has put Shirley Brown fair and square on the map and she looks set to stay there now on the strength of her own talent.

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