James Brown's longest running female vocalist, Martha High (aka Martha Harvin), began her career in Washington, D.C. She attended the same high school (Roosevelt) and sang in the same church (Trinity AME Zion) as Sandra Bears, Carrie Mingo, Grace Ruffin, and Margie Clark, the Four Jewels, but didn't join until Carrie Mingo quit. From the district's northwest area, the original group woodshedded along with the Rainbows, the Marquees (Marvin Gaye), and Billy Stewart (Grace Ruffin's first cousin) in Bo Diddley's basement. Initially, Bob Lee managed them, but Diddley grabbed the reins and orchestrated their first recording deal with Chess/Checker Records.
The Four Jewels released a string of singles that were popular in the D.C./Baltimore/Virginia area on Checker, Chess, Start, and Tec Records before Harvin replaced Mingo. The move brought a stroke of luck; changing to the Jewels, they scored their biggest hit on Carole King's Dimension label. "Opportunity" sold well in many locales; with Bears on lead, the catchy ditty brought them some national attention. Its successor, "But I Do" b/w "Smokey Joe," didn't do nearly as well and the Dimension association ended.
In 1964, they landed a gig with the James Brown Revue. The Jewels, with Harvin firmly entrenched and co-leading with Bears, toured all over America on a relentless schedule of one-nighters. The revue consisted of the Jewels, James Crawford, Vicki Anderson, Baby Lloyd, and Elsie "TV Mama" Mae, a 350-pound singer who delighted crowds with a side-splitting rendition of "All of Me." Smash Records recorded the show live on the 1967 release Presenting the James Brown Show, which features everybody but TV Mama. When the tour hit Detroit, the girls moseyed over to Motown Records to show their stuff, feeling the hitmaking organization was what the doctor ordered, but, to their dismay, the place was closed the only day they were in town.
After a year and a half, and two 45s produced by James Brown, the Jewels disbanded but continued in the business; in fact, they never retired. Martha Harvin changed her name to Martha High and continued with Brown for more than 30 years. She sang with Brown on "Summertime," which they transformed into an ecology song, and appears on the James Brown Original Funky Divas LP; High recorded a self-titled solo album for Salsoul Records in 1979. She's fondly remembered by fans of the James Brown shows as the jet-black sister with glowing blond hair.
High left Brown around 1995 to tour with Maceo Parker, Brown's ex-saxophone player. Parkers' band consisted of Parker, High, Charles "Sweet Charles" Sherrell (ex-James Brown vocalist), Bruno Speight (guitar), Corey Parker (vocals), Greg Boyer (trombone), Jerome Thomas (drums), Rodney "Skeet" Curtis (bass), Ron Tooley (trumpet), and Will Boulware (organ). ~ Andrew Hamilton