Executives at Stax Records sliced Wendy Rene (born Mary Frierson) from the Drapels, who released two singles before the separation. Stax employee/artist/songwriter Deannie Parker created the catchy name. A month after Stax issued the final Drapels' single, they issued "After Laughter Comes Tears" (August 1964) and credited it solely to Wendy Rene, though the Drapels recorded the song as a unit. The diss prompted Wilbur Mondie to leave for college, and Rene's brother Johnny Frierson and Marianne Brittenum (the other members) to have second thoughts. The heartfelt ballad became the Memphis, TN, native's biggest hit.
A tour with Rufus Thomas included an appearance at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY. Rene returned from the Big Apple, to the dismay of her parents, with a monkey she purchased at a pet store there. Arguments over the monkey messin' up the house became the predominant topic; Rene was still a teen and lived at home. Monkeys were a status-symbol in the '60s for some. You dressed them, tuxedos were the vogue, and drove around in convertibles with the critters riding shotgun. Soul singer Edwin Starr, among others, briefly owned monkeys. Get a hit, buy a drop top and a monkey.
The Drapels, minus Mondie, sang backing vocals on Rufus Thomas' "Jump Back" b/w "All Night Worker" uncredited, and on Carla Thomas and Otis Redding tracks. Seeing the writing on the wall, Johnny Frierson and Marianne Brittenum concentrated on songwriting and co-wrote some significant records with other partners, while Stax still used them (uncredited) on Rene's sessions. Her second release "Bar-B-Q" (November 1964) sounds like Rene imitating the Jackson Five only the Gary, IN, natives wouldn't record until 1968. Wendy Rene was Michael Jackson before Michael. More sessions followed, but Stax didn't release much of what Rene did. "Give You What I Got" b/w "Reap What You Sow" dropped May of 1965, other releases include "I Wish I Were That Girl." Nothing hit with any impact after her solo debut and Stax gave up on Wendy.
Ace Records has released a CD of Wendy Rene songs, entitled You Thrill My Soul, which contains previously unissued recordings. Ace also has issued singles by the Drapels and Rene, much to their surprise as they continued to receive royalty checks from these recordings. Wendy Rene and brother Johnny Frierson got bigger checks, as songwriters from Rene's biggest hit "After Laughter Comes Tears" which Wu-Tang Clan revised as "Tearz." Wendy Rene married and has a daughter; she became Mary Cross, a member of the Bountiful Blessing Church in Memphis, and sings in their Bountiful Blessing Choir. ~ Andrew Hamilton