10 March 1941
Mississippi, United States
1 January 2018 (aged 76)
Betty Jane Willis (born March 10 1941 - died January 1, 2018) was an American 1960s soul singer.
In the early 1960's Betty began singing at various clubs in Santa Ana, California and throughout Orange County. In 1962, she recorded a duet with Ray Lockhart as Betty & Ray on Rendezvous Records entitled 'You're Too Much', 'Turn Your Love Lights On' and followed it up with solo singles entitled, 'Take Your Heart' and 'Someday You'll Need My Love' also in 1962.
She also issued two singles with the label as the lead vocalist of a studio group of singers credited as The Instants on a song entitled, 'Gravy Train'. She occasionally sang with Santa Ana, neighbor, Bill Medley (of The Righteous Brothers) at various clubs and they even recorded a duet for Moonglow Records with one of Bill's songs entitled, 'My Tears Will Go Away' which was never released.
Betty eventually hooked up with 'Wrecking Crew' pianist, Leon Russell, who would produce her next record on Phil Spector's Philles Records subsidiary, Phi-Dan Records. Betty remembered rehearsing two songs with Leon at his home before they were recorded in 1965 at Hollywood's Gold Star Studio. The tunes were a song written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison and made a hit by Capitol Records country & western artist, Buck Owens entitled 'Act Naturally'. The song would be issued as Betty's debut Phi-Dan single release and the often recorded, 'If I Had A Hammer' which was planned as a follow-up, was recorded as well but ultimately, never issued as a single.
For previous recordings, Betty was familiar with working with just a simple rhythm section, however when she arrived at the session date, she remembered being in awe at seeing so many musicians including a french horn. She couldn't believe that The Blossoms, who were seen weekly on ABC-TV's, 'Shindig!' were singing background for her and commented on how beautiful and bright Darlene Love's smile was.
Just as Spector was known to do, Leon included an uninspiring two minute jam session by 'The Wrecking Crew' on the B-side to 'Act Naturally' in order to discourage DJ's from splitting the airtime away from the intended plug side. While 'Act Naturally' may have been a country & western song, Betty Willis tore it apart left, right, up and down and turned it into something much more exciting. Unfortunately for Betty, The Beatles had recorded a version as well and DJ's were going to play anything by The Beatles before they played a record by some unknown singer by the name of Betty Willis.
Betty recorded one final single on the Mojo label in 1968 entitled, 'Ain't Gonna Do You No Good' b/w 'Gone With The Wind (Is My Love)' which had been also recorded in 1966 by Rita & The Tiaras on Dore records. Both Betty's and Rita & The Tiaras original 45's of the tune exchange hands for a handsome sum on internet auction sites.
Betty Willis eventually left the music business and worked many years at the U.S. Postal Service in Santa Ana as a mail clerk but appeared to have gone through hardships and became homeless.
Betty Willis was murdered during an attempted rape on january 1, 2018 on a Santa Ana strip mall parking lot where she was sleeping. She was homeless at the time of her death.
Betty Willis leaves behind a daughter and grandchild.
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