Saturday, July 10, 2010

"To Yvonne..."

I never met the Jackson 5 in person, so all the autographed items I have added to my collection over the years have been signed for people who will be forever anonymous to me -- with one exception. The autographed 8 x 10 glossy you see here was signed by Jermaine for Yvonne Fair (you have to click on the photo to get an enlarged version in order to see "To Yvonne" written in Jermaine's afro). Fair was a singer who signed with Motown shortly after the Jackson 5 did, and who worked as their opening act in 1971, sandwiched between the Commodores and the Jackson 5.

By the time she signed with Motown, she had already had a long career as a professional, starting in the 1950s as a replacement singer for the Chantels, and then as a featured singer with James Brown from 1962 to 1965. After that she joined the Chuck Jackson Revue for a few years before she signed with Motown. She even had a small role as a raunchy club singer in the 1972 movie Lady Sings the Blues, where she shocked young Billie Holiday (Diana Ross) with her performance of "The Low-Down Shuffle Blues."

We can only imagine how difficult it must have been for her to have paid her dues for so many years, only to be put on the bill with a headlining group whose lead singer had not yet been born when she started in the business. In addition, she had to perform her mature set, night after night, in front of a group of over-excited pre-teens and teens who had already sat through an over-long act by the Commodores, and just wanted her to get off the stage so they could see their idols.

The May 1971 Rolling Stone cover story actually gave quite a bit of ink to Yvonne Fair's opening act in their description of the Jackson 5's January 30 concert in Columbus, Ohio. They recounted this hilarious conversation between Fair and a teenage J5 fan in the audience:
Yvonne: "This song is for like young ladies with men who have a habit of taking everything — we mean from clothes to money to... whatever." She goes into "Piece of My Heart." Then a break. She moves back and points to her stage-prop man, the Commodores' lean young bass player. This is her property, she tells her audience. "He's mine."

Teenage girl: You can have it!

Yvonne: He ain't much, but he's mine. [To bass man, heatedly:] You don't got to go show off!

Girl: He ain't got much to show!

Yvonne: Pose more, honey, pose more.

Girl: He's gonna have to pose a whole lot!

Yvonne: What you see is what you get!

Girl (and friends): Right on!
At Motown she worked with producer Norman Whitfield and she released a few singles, including a great version of "Funky Music Sho' 'Nuff Turns Me On," with backing vocals by Marvin Gaye. But she released just one LP with Motown, The Bitch Is Black, from 1975. Happily, it has recently been reissued on cd. Yvonne Fair was a great singer and deserves to be remembered.

She died in 1994 and took with her the secret of how this autographed photo of Jermaine came into her possession. Sure, she would have been seeing him on a regular basis in 1971, but this photo is a bit later than that. Did Jermaine just assume that, since she was female, she would want an autographed picture of him? Or did she ask him for it? She did, after all, seem to have a thing for "lean young bass players."


  1. Didn't she play at the Gary Festival in 1969 too?

  2. I haven't been able to verify it yet, so I didn't include that info. I'll let you know when/if I do.

  3. Gilroy Stadium
    Gary, IN

  4. Very nice writing job, a pleasure to read on this hum-drum Monday morning. I click over to J5 blog every morning to help me get thru!