Saturday, June 29, 2013

June 29: Little Eva- “the Loco Motion” - was born on this date in 1943....

... she died on April 10, 2003. Eva Narcissus Boyd was born in Belhaven, North Carolina. She always wanted to be a singer and was inspired by the gospel, country, rhythm & blues and rock & roll records she grew up listening to on the radio. For a while Eva and four of her siblings had their own gospel group, the Boyd Five.

In the summer of 1959, Eva went to spend the school holidays with her eldest brother Jimmy, who lived in Coney Island, New York. She returned to Belhaven, quit school and, in 1960, took the bus to New York and found herself a job as a maid in Hempstead, Long Island.

Eva's sister-in-law was friendly with Earl-Jean McCrea of the Cookies, an established vocal group then making demos for publisher Don Kirshner. Among the many writers working for him and his partner, were the husband-and-wife team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. When the Shirelles' version of Goffin and King's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" reached #1, the young scribes decided to devote themselves full-time to song writing.

King decided to employ a nanny. Meanwhile, the Cookies, their line-up in flux, were on the lookout for a new member. Earl-Jean McCrea encouraged Eva to apply for both jobs, which she did by performing "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" at her audition. Eva landed both positions and, in 1961, moved into the Goffin apartment in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. She shared a room with baby Louise Goffin.

Carole King gave birth to her second daughter Sherry shortly afterwards. When Dee Dee Sharp's  "Mashed Potato Time" shot to # 2 in May 1962, Don Kirshner suggested to Goffin and King that they write a similar number for him to pitch at her label, Cameo Records, as a possible follow-up. The result was "The Loco-motion.” The writers had their babysitter Eva record a demo version which Goffin produced. 

Kirshner flipped when he heard the disc and decided that it good enough to release and that he would form his own label to do so. They called her Little Eva (after a character from Uncle Tom's Cabin) and cut two years from her age. The song reached #1 in the U.S. in 1962. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

After the success of "The Loco-Motion,” Boyd was stereotyped as a dance-craze singer and was given limited material. Boyd's other single recordings were "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby,” "Some Kinda Wonderful,” "Let's Turkey Trot" and a remake of the Bing Crosby standard "Swinging on a Star," recorded with Big Dee Irwin (though Boyd was not credited on the label). Boyd also recorded the song "Makin' With the Magilla" for an episode of the 1964 Hanna-Barbera cartoon series The Magilla Gorilla Show.

She continued to tour and record throughout the sixties, but her commercial potential plummeted after 1964. She retired from the music industry in 1971. She never owned the rights to her recordings.

Penniless, she moved her three young children to South Carolina, where they lived in obscurity on menial jobs and welfare. She returned to live performing with other artists of her era on the cabaret and oldies circuits including touring the UK on an all-star bill with Little Richard.

She also occasionally recorded new songs including her Back On Track album, issued by the tiny Malibu gospel label late in 1989. She continued performing until she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in October 2001.

She died 18 months later in Kinston, North Carolina, aged 59, and is buried in a small cemetery in Belhaven, North Carolina. Her gravesite was sparsely marked until July 2008, when a report by WRAL-TV of Raleigh, North Carolina highlighted deteriorating conditions at the cemetery and efforts by the city of Belhaven to have it restored. A simple white cross had marked the site until a new gravestone was unveiled in November of that year.

Her new grey gravestone has the image of a steam locomotive prominently engraved on the front and the epitaph reads: "Singing with the Angels.”


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