“She was a conundrum.” The words of her older sister Albeth ring true, not just for Priscilla Paris’ life, but for her musical career. This beautiful, intelligent young woman, the voice that launched a thousand transistor radios with the dreamy ‘I Love How You Love Me’, was a study in contradiction. Forthright yet extremely private, seemingly sure of herself while quite hopelessly lost. Long before their chart visibility at the turn of the 1960s, the Paris Sisters had been trained to be professional entertainers for the best part of a decade, and Priscilla yearned to break free, to rebel. This she did in several different ways, but the most significant was with her creativity; a bold move in an era when female artists of her ilk were poppets to be dangled by the likes of a Phil Spector. Her background was as a performer, not a writer, but Priscilla was determined to say what she needed to say, in song.
On “Love, Priscilla”, the first ever collection of her 1960s solo recordings, we hear both sides of Ms Paris. The consummate professional, whose phrasing and exceptional microphone technique was amongst the best in the business; and the earnest, searching singer-songwriter looking so very desperately for a way to convey what she felt inside. The paradox is particularly evident in her debut album from 1967, the enchanting “Priscilla Sings Herself”, where on the one hand, she spoke of ‘Wandering,’ yet openly declared ‘I’m Home’. Or reversed the cheerful sentiment of ‘I Can’t Complain’ with an urgent plea to ‘Help Me’. All these anomalies create the unseen tension that can so often transform straightforward good music into something very special indeed.
An altogether more relaxed Priss is evident upon “Priscilla Loves Billie”, a classily arranged set of Billie Holliday covers released in 1969. Four recently discovered tracks from the same year feature on “Love, Priscilla”: one tune in particular, ‘Some Little Lovin’ Lie’, is amongst the best productions of her career. By that time, The Paris Sisters had split and Priscilla was on her own, but her solo career would never gain traction, and eventually she would move to Europe, passing tragically in her adopted home Paris in 2004.
I’ve been a fan of the Paris Sisters for many years, but it wasn’t until the assembly of this compilation that I really began to understand, and fully appreciate, Priscilla’s artistry. Discussing Priss with her sisters Albeth and Sherrell, manager Clancy Grass, and arranger (and one-time paramour) Don Peake, a picture emerged of her as a true maverick; a one-of-a-kind talent who shone brightly when she chose to, but was never truly able to capitalize on her abilities, or the unique gift she had with a song. What remains however, in the work of the Paris Sisters, and the solo recordings collected on “Love Priscilla”, is a legacy that resonates deeply with anyone who hears it. No singer could ask for a more fitting tribute than that.
By Alec Palao