Born Ernestine Letitia Allen, 11 November 1920, Champaign, Illinois
Rhythm & blues in the 1950s was mostly a male affair, but there were a few talented and determined women who made their marks as singers and musicians during this decade. One of the first to do so was Annisteen Allen, a jazz-tinged blues singer born in Illinois and raised in Toledo, Ohio. She was a big-band singer in the style of Ella Fitzgerald when she was hired in 1945 to work with the band of Lucky Millinder, upon the recommendation of Louis Jordan. Millinder was a native of Anniston, Alabama, and changed her name from Ernestine to Annisteen Allen. The moniker stuck, and it was not until Allen's final recording session in 1961 that she used her real name on a record.
Allen made her recording debut in December 1945 for King's subsidiary label Queen, backed by Millinder band mates Bull Moose Jackson, Hal Singer and Panama Francis. As Millinder was formally contracted to Decca, the 1945-46 Queen recordings were a clandestine affair, credited to "Annisteen Allen And Her Home Town Boys" and "Bull Moose Jackson & His Band". In February 1946 she did her first official session for Decca ; her Decca recordings were all credited to Lucky Millinder and his orchestra and included "Let It Roll" (Decca 24182, 1947), which Annisteen performed in the movie "Boarding House Blues" (1948), her only film appearance. In 1949 Millinder left Decca for RCA and scored a hit for that label in early 1951 (# 8 R&B) with a cover of "I'll Never Be Free" (a big hit in 1950 for several artists). The Millinder version featured a duet of Annisteen and Big John Greer. Another duet, later in 1951, was an even bigger hit : " I'm Waiting Just For You" (King 4453, # 2 R&B, # 19 pop). This time the duet partner was John Carol, but the label credit went again to Lucky Millinder. (Pat Boone charted with the song in 1957, # 27 pop, on the B-side of "Why Baby Why.")
By this time Allen had already started a solo recording career, on King's Federal subsidiary, one of the first artists to record for that label. Her first two Federal singles both coupled a fine up-tempo jump blues ("Lies, Lies, Lies", "Hard To Get Along") with a blues ballad ("Cloudy Day Blues", "Too Long"). In 1953 she was transferred to the parent label and scored the only hit under her own name, "Baby I'm Doin' It" (King 4608, # 8 R&B), an answer song to the '5' Royales' "Baby Don't Do It", an R&B chart topper. The differences between the two songs were so minimal that the publisher of "Baby Don't Do It", Bess Music, sued King for copyright infringement. The legal costs were subtracted from Allen's royalties ...
Annisteen continued to tour and record with the Millinder band through 1954, consolidating her status as a powerful R&B singer. In the summer of 1954 King did not renew her contract and she signed with Capitol. Her second session for that label, in November 1954, yielded what is probably her best known song, "Fujiyama Mama" (written by 14-year old Jack Hammer, then still operating under his real name, Earl Burrows). Annisteen's version inexplicably failed to chart. Covers by Eileen Barton on Coral (1955) and Wanda Jackson, also on Capitol (1957), hardly fared better, but the song has become a rock n roll classic nevertheless. Altogether, Allen recorded 11 songs for Capitol in 1954-55. Disappointed by the lack of success, she went back to Decca in 1956. In July 1957 she recorded her most rocking song, "Rough Lover" (recently included on the "Classy Sugar" 3-CD set devoted to New York rock n roll), but still without any effect on the charts. In 1959-60 there followed one-off releases on Todd (a remake of "Let It Roll"), Warwick and Wig. Her swan song on record was a jazz LP for the Tru-Sound label ("Let It Roll", 1961), with the King Curtis band. It was her only album, for which she reverted back to her original name, Ernestine Allen. She left show business shortly after and disappeared into obscurity.
Annisteen Allen died of a heart attack at her apartment in Harlem in 1992, aged 71. It's not easy to understand why she didn't enjoy the chart success of, say, Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker. As a singer she was at least their equal and the accompaniment came usually from the same top New York session men (Mickey Baker, Sam Taylor, Lloyd Trotman, etc.). Dave Penny writes : "She may have been perceived as a touch more jazzy and for some reason she certainly didn't appeal to the early rock 'n' roll crowd in the way that the Atlantic artists did."
More info :
Discography : http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/annisteenallen.htm (By Pete Hoppula)
CD recommendation :
Acknowledgements : Dave Penny, Jon Hartley Fox.
Dik, October 2011
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