Ila Vann – The Singles Collection
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This is a surprise post indeed. How many of you ever listen to Ila Vann?
Her “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” can be found to a few Northen Soul collections.
We feel extremely lucky that we have so many dedicated followers and Billy, a friend of ila’s kindly shares with us most of her 45’s. This is a private collection as ila never had an album released except those 45’s.
Ila Vann is the kind of performer you never forget, bubbling with energy and full of life, she has been performing since her mother brought her on tour with legend Mahalia Jackson. Born in New Jersey, USA, Ila started her singing career as a child. She eventually found her way to radio and signed a recording contract with the pop music label Liberty Records.
Ila hit Broadway in 1972 in the musical Inner City. She later toured with the USO and had her first hit record, “Can’t Help Loving That Man” which captured No.1 in the UK. She continued to be a sought after solo performer as well as providing distinct harmonies with pop greats Frank Sinatra, Kenny Rogers, Barry Manilow, Ray Charles, and Louis Armstrong.
Throughout the seventies, Ila toured extensively with her band Business Before Pleasure, which has gained a following in Canada, particularly Quebec.
Now Ila Vann divides her time headlining live shows and backing up top acts.
Review by Billy
Ila Vann got her start singing gospel with her family in chuch, and on their own local radio show. Along the way they sang with The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Staple Singers, Clara Ward and Sam Cooke. Ila’s friendship with Sam led to her first recording contract with Arnold Records. The songs in this collection capture two decades of Ila Vann’s recording career.
‘What’s The Matter, Baby‘ is a catchy, early soul song with a lively beat and a catchy chorus that should have been a hit. Following this is ‘Cruisin’ With The Blues‘ and ‘What You Mean To Me‘, both written and produced for Ila by a waiter friend from a restaurant near her home at the time in New York. These two tracks are reminiscent of the recordings that Gladys Knight & The Pips were making at the same time.
A switch to Roulette Records brought a more polished production style on songs like ‘Can’t Help Loving That Man‘, from the musical ‘Showboat‘, with a soulful twist. This song later became a huge hit on the Northern Soul circuit in England. Its flip, ‘I’ve Got The Feeling‘, was later covered by Darrell Banks.
‘Got To Get To Jim Johnson‘ is another favourite in England, with a slightly risque title to those in the know. Ila’s final 45 for Roulette features the extremely underrated ‘Keep On Laughin’ Baby ‘ (Roulette 7036). Its flip, ‘Every Little Living Dream‘, slows the pace as Ila shows off her vocal magic. Following this release, Ila decided to break her contract with Roulette, after receiving no promotion for any of her releases there.
Ila’s friendship with songwriter Helen Miller offered her the chance to help sell the Broadway musical ‘Inner City‘, written by Miller and Eve Merriam. The show opened on Broadway without Ila, after a producer thought she wasn’t ‘black’ enough to play her role. When it came time to release a single from the show, everyone involved wanted Ila to record it. ‘My Mother Said‘ was released in 1972 on Pickwick International Productions, along with the magnificent B-side, ‘You Made Me This Way‘. This song was a big hit in Britain. Although not from ‘Inner City’, it was also written by Helen Miller.
Ila recorded many demos for Helen Miller – one of these demos is included in this collection. Ila recalls that ‘Now That I Need Him‘ may have been written for Gladys Knight.
Finally, ‘Flying Solo Tomorrow‘ and ‘No Good Jim‘ were released on Star Records. Not much is known about these recordings, but the mixture of traditional soul strings and synthesised effects suggests that it was probably recorded in the mid-to-late 70’s.
Also featured is a 2003 radio interview with U.K. DJ Kev Roberts, illustrating Ila’s newfound success in the UK.
Ila Vann is a vastly underrated performer – recognition of her contributions to the Soul Music genre is long overdue. She currently lives in Ontario, Canada, where she still performs.