Gloria Ann Taylor was born 1944 in West Virginia. She moved to Toledo, Ohio at the age of two with her mother and siblings. At a very young age, she was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and it was thought she wouldn’t live past 16. During this uncertain time, she remembers frequently going to church with her mother, hearing her mother sing, and admiring her voice. Her brother reflects, “I can remember being in the cradle and my mom holding my head and singing to me. I could feel it deep within. I knew Gloria had that gift too; even when she was a baby, she was special. When Gloria sang, she could make us kids cry with the sad songs she would make up.” After her mother died when Gloria was in her teens, she began singing in clubs in Toledo in the early 1960s, to make money to support her own young children.
While performing at the Toledo, Ohio Green Light club, she was discovered by Walter Whisenhunt, who had previously been a close business and management associate of James Brown. Whisenhunt was fresh off a hot streak with R&B vocalist Doris Troy. On a tip from the owner of the Green Light, Whisenhunt drove 60 miles from Detroit to where Taylor was regularly performing, whisked her away as a creative foil, and swept her off her feet as a love interest. Whisenhunt became her manager and record producer, and the pair soon married.
Taylor's brother Leonard was a songwriter and musician who also assisted with the arrangements and production. Her first records (as Gloria Taylor) were issued on the King Soul label in Detroit, before she had her first and biggest chart success with "You Got to Pay the Price", released on Shelby Singleton's Silver Fox label. The record reached #9 on the Billboard R&B chart and #49 on the pop chart in late 1969, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, won that year by Aretha Franklin. The follow-up, "Grounded", reached #43 on the R&B chart the following year.
Taylor and Whisenhunt moved to California, and recorded for Columbia Records. Taylor had her third chart hit in 1974 with "Deep Inside You", which reached #96 on the R&B chart. However, later in the 1970s Whisenhunt terminated Taylor's links with Columbia on the grounds that they were not releasing enough of her records, a decision that Taylor later regretted, saying "The worst thing he could have done was take me off CBS". She signed for Mercury Records, before Taylor, her brother and Whisenhunt started their own label, Selector Sound, on which Taylor's recordings (on which she was credited as Gloria Ann Taylor) were issued.
“Brother Less Than A Man” was backed by a rhythm section featuring Bootsy Collins and brother Catfish who along with Gloria and her husband founded the House Guest label after leaving James Brown’s band. With “Blue Grass Bubbles” on the flip, this 45 was the first release on the label.
Bottom: Taylor, her brother and Wisenhunt
Above: Taylor and her husband Wisenhunt
Taylor’s hardscrabble rise from the club grind to sharing the stage with soul, funk, and R&B icons was almost mythic in its dramatic trajectory. “I remember one time James Brown got up on the table and did the splits on our dining room table,” Leonard Taylor laughs. But Walter Whisenhunt’s aspirations to be a Berry Gordy figure, and his lack of business acumen, embittered Gloria Taylor and eventually, she moved back to Toledo from Los Angeles to raise her children. “I have fond memories of going to Atlanta, where I was strong. I turned on the radio and they were playing my music all day. It was fascinating,” Taylor says. “But I was pretty young back then, and I let my husband take care of the business and none of us had the knowledge we needed to make things really happen.”
Taylor left music to have the stability of a normal life and reconnect with her spirituality. “I remember when she quit and she was going back to church. I couldn’t say anything because I knew what motivated her,” Leonard Taylor says. ”Our mom had just died and Gloria had to do what she felt in her heart. Periodically, I would go back and listen to the music, and sometimes I would have a negative feeling because I felt more people should have heard it. Maybe we were ahead of our time. Now, I would love for my sister to get recognition for her music.” Today, Gloria Taylor has a piano in her house and she sings in church. Looking back, she says, “I lost interest in the music business, but I never gave up on the music. I knew the music was gonna endure.”
*Liner Notes with help from Ubiquity Records/Luv N’ Haight