Cover Girls: “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”

brenda2In 1963, Detroit was the place every burgeoning singer wanted to be. After all, the city was home to Motown Records, billed as “Hitsville, USA”. For Californian Brenda Holloway, being signed by Motown was top priority, and she was determined to make it happen. She managed to get an invite to a party attended by Berry Gordy, the CEO of Motown, and when she met him she reportedly issued an ultimatum: “Either I be your woman, or I sing.” Highly impressed by her vocal abilities, as well as her good looks, Gordy signed Brenda to Motown. She recorded a string of songs for the label, including hits like “Every Little Bit Hurts”, and “When I’m Gone”.

brendaBut Motown had an established way of doing things, and Brenda did not comply; in fact, she relished the chance to break the mold. While other Motown artists like The Supremes and The Temptations went through “charm school” to improve their grooming and manners, Brenda did not attend. She was accused of dressing too much like Tina Turner for Motown’s comfort, who did not like any references to rival artists. She was labeled a “troublemaker”, despite her wonderful performances as one of The Beatles’ opening acts on their 1965 U.S. tour. All the while, Brenda had been writing songs, begging Motown to release one of them as a single. In 1967 they complied, and released “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.” The song scraped into the top 40, and shortly thereafter Brenda stormed out of a recording session with Smokey Robinson. Her career with Motown was over, although she continued to record and perform. She sang backup for Joe Cocker, then became a preacher.

In 1969, the band Blood, Sweat & Tears was looking for a new sound. Their founder, Al Kooper, had left the band the previous year, and they had just added a new lead singer. The group sifted through songs they had enjoyed on the radio, and decided to record a cover of “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”. The song eventually topped out at #2 on the pop charts, becoming one of the biggest hits of the year. Brenda Holloway had to sue Berry Gordy in order to get her due royalties from the successful cover version of her own song. 

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