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Frances Nero

Frances Nero's Motown recording "Keep on Loving Me," released March 11, 1966, is a distinction that can't be taken away. Though not a hit, it's part of Motown's glorious history and so rare it sells for around 250 dollars. Her first performance came in the seventh grade when she appeared on a showcase of WNIC radio in Asheville, NC. Her first professional appearance came while attending high school, playing area gigs with a couple of glee club girls and some members of the school band. Soon, like most groups, members started dropping, the first being the two girls. She later teamed with a guy named Bill who sang with a band called the Tams. After that stint she sang with a band at a supper club owned by a doctor in Greenville, SC.

Her break came shortly after moving to Detroit. In 1965, she entered a talent contest judged by Berry Gordy and took first prize, winning 500 dollars, a dozen red roses, and a one-year Motown recording contract. A few months later she recorded for the first and last time in a Motown recording studio, with William "Mickey" Stevenson, James Dean, and William Weatherspoon writing and producing the sides. She only recorded two sides, and Motown released the single in March of 1966. The song is well-executed, typical of Motown, with the Originals crooning background vocals. WCHB played it every half-hour in Detroit with the announcement that she had won their contest. The label also took the option to extend Nero's contract for an additional year, though months went by while nothing happened -- no recording and no performing, since a Motown artist had to be granted permission to perform. When Nero demanded a release, they dropped her. (She also claims she never received any money from Motown.)

After the disappointing experience at Motown, Nero recorded two songs for Shrine Records, which Eddie Singleton and Raynoma Gordy Singleton, Berry's second wife, owned. Shrine never released the recordings, going out of business after two years of flops. She also recorded two songs with Gino Parks on the same label. Again, no release. She continued to sing until her mother's death in 1978, but then cared for ill family members until Britisher Ian Levine approached her. Levine, a Motown fanatic, had already experimented with recording obscure American soul artists with little success. Nero recorded more than a dozen tunes, and earned her first hit with "Footsteps Following Me," which charted at number 17 in the Great Britain. British disc jockeys named it "The Soul Anthem of the Nineties" in 1992. Nero also appeared on many British television shows, including Top of the Pops and The Terry Wogan Show. In 1996, Hot Productions released The Very Best of Frances Nero in the States, consisting of Levine sides recorded in the mid-'80s. She has also released a three-song CD entitled Love Ride on her AJA record label. ~ Andrew Hamilton
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