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March 2021

By Denise Mercedes & Jeannie Pawlowski

This is our “Women’s History Month” salute to Ms. LaLa Brooks

One of the most amazing & incredible women artist adventure stories told as she lived it -- and all for the love of Rock & Roll!

LaLa Brooks, whose golden voice as former lead singer of The Crystals, led to the reimagining of American Pop Music as Producer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” emerged with his first ‘hit making’ group, The Crystals.

LaLa Brooks made her debut and lifelong reputation as the instantly recognizable lead singer of sensational ‘60s Girl Group “The Crystals” as protégé of infamous musical genius Producer, Phil Spector. The Crystals became his first group to hit it big starting with “Dah Do Ron Ron” (written by Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry) when Lala was just 15 years old. This Native American and African American daughter of Brooklyn has a most remarkable coming of age story, and bursting onto the world stage, to become an unwitting, naive pop star under Spector’s bizarre tutelage.

This girl group’s harmonious and captivating sound had immediate appeal with teenagers, who were a force coming into their own and needing their “own” music, fashions, and accoutrements to identify their burgeoning, hot blooded juvenile presence. Spector hooked into this need, knowing it was “solid gold coming out of those speakers” with the talented female Brooklyn youngsters he had discovered and was now recording. The Crystal’s songs maintain their instantly identifiable staying power into the 21st Century, and have been included in hit movies like mob-themed “Goodfellas”. As Phil Spector’s first ‘Wall of Sound’ hit makers, with Lala’s voice and her sing-along teen band mates, they revolutionized the sound of records, and, led the way into what modern pop music would sound like. Ms. Brooks deserves a full biographical book treatment of her extraordinary life in the music business, and a Hollywood movie that would deff be a blockbuster!

Brooks began singing with The Crystals at the tender age of 12. Prior to that, her experiences were singing in church from age 7 on, and then graduated to the worn out stoops of tough Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, where other youngsters were singing for fun. Her mother would not let her play in the street and insisted LaLa come home, change clothes and return to school for after-school programs. These were led by a Mrs. Henry, Dee Dee Kenniebrew’s mother. Dee Dee was a founding member of “The Crystals.” Asking LaLa what activity she would like to do at the after school session, like jumping rope, there was nothing at hand that interested the girl. She could hear a piano playing down the hall and asked if she could go listen. LaLa found a man playing beautifully on the instrument, and asked if she could sing along. He said “Can you sing?” And the rest is HERSTORY! Dee Dee’s mom Mrs. Henry heard Brooks singing and thought “oh wow, she would be perfect in her daughter’s new group”, The Crystals, and besides, one of the girls was pregnant and leaving. Mrs. Henry asked LaLa’s Mother if she could join the band but was given a “No!” as her daughter was only 12. However, by the time Brooks was turning 13, shows, gigs and tour plans looked to be safe and solid so she was permitted to officially be part of the group.

The Crystals’s first show was at the distinguished Brooklyn Academy of Music. Barbara Alston, a founding member of the group, had an Uncle Benny Wells, who was dabbling in the music business and took to managing the girls’ career. In 1961 he had the young ladies in a recording studio working on the song “There’s No Other Like My Baby” with Phil Spector, who was very impressed with the group’s singing and presence. LaLa met Phil Spector for the first time when she was 13.

By age 15, LaLa was on tour with The Crystals. Being young, urban, Black, Brooklyn/NYC teenaged women in the 1960s thrust into the spotlight of the music business, their experiences have an often disturbing history. Current understandings now reveal the darker side of the music industry for these young women. These brave ladies paved the way for all future performers who today do not have to suffer the indignities of racial segregation in every area of their lives, as these young ladies did, to put on a show. Performing was thrilling, but there was a sad and unacceptable back-story to the glory of LaLa and the group despite having the public personas of being larger-than-life pretty pop stars in shimmery beaded costumes and fashionable hairstyles.

Dick Clark was famous for his “American Bandstand” TV shows out of Philadelphia, whose show idea started in the 1950s. It embodied and helped define what American “teen hood” was supposed to be: clean cut kids having fun dancing to the latest Top 40 songs with the stars presented on his wildly popular show! There was however, a noticeable lack of Black teens in those cheerful early television audiences and despite the cool new music being played, they noticed it. He remained an important and respected force in music presentation until his death in 2012. The famous Dick Clark “Caravan of Stars” tours in the 60s that LaLa later traveled with The Crystals included huge music acts of the day such as Gene Pitney (“It Hurts to Be In Love”), The Shirelles (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”), The Supremes (“Stop In The Name Of Love”), Dionne Warwick (“Walk on By”) and even Johnny Mathis for a Christmas Special (”It’s Now or Never”). Tour mates also included at various times Bobby Rydell (“Volare”), Bobby Vinton (“Blue Velvet”), Bobby Vee (“Rubber Ball”), Dion and the Belmonts (“The Wanderer”), amongst others = all chart topping hit makers. At shows in England, LaLa and The Crystals played alongside the UK’s ‘British Invasion’ stars like Petula Clark (“Downtown”), the Dave Clark 5 (“Glad All Over”), Manfred Mann (“Do Wah Diddy Diddy”), Dusty Springfield (“Wishin’ & Hopin’”) and Rock & Roll singer/guitarist, Joe Brown,(“A Picture of You”) who was very popular at that time. The Crystals toured with Dick Clark’s very successful outings in the 1960s on the success of their big hit” Da Do Ron Ron” and then followed up after that with up another huge hit “And Then He Kissed Me”.

Many of the shows especially in the South, had segregated audiences – White folk seated on one side, Black folk on the other. LaLa recalls the microphone stand was one of those very heavy old fashioned metal stands with the circular base and the large square microphone. It was cumbersome and hard for the slim, young teenager to pick up that weighty mic stand to first face the Black audience, and then aim it towards the White crowd to sing to. Entrances, Exits and bathrooms in the theaters she performed in were very strict in the South with signage proclaiming them to be exclusively for Whites or Coloreds. Period! She remembers being yelled at by someone for being too close to the White bathroom door, even though she had just finished performing on stage at the packed theater and was looking for the washrooms to freshen up before leaving the site.

Ms Brooks retells that despite the success and renown of being popular well known performers, after concerts, the Black artists were not permitted to eat inside most of the local restaurants, instead having Clark take their food orders on the bus. This repeating hurtful diss also included future mega-star Diana Ross who was turned away at a restaurant she tried to enter with other musicians. According to Brooks, Clark was upset by this awful treatment of his professional friends and stars, and wanted Black/White unity on his tours, and then decided all would eat together on the bus. He knew the ‘circuit’ and what places to avoid to try to protect his people from embarrassment and possibly worse. LaLa stated they were also not put up in the same more expensive famous chain hotels – those immaculately clean places with lobbies, trees, friendly staff, elevators and room services -- but were instead shuttered off to out of the way, seedy, cheap motels, far from the rest of the traveling entourage. The White acts that stayed in these nice hotels were warned NOT to sneak in any of their dark skinned musician friends from the tour or they’d be thrown out. There were too many instances where the ladies would be lugging their own suitcases up hills and dragging heavy luggage on sidewalks in high heels to meet up with the tour bus the next day, which would not come and pick them up at their separate lodgings. It should give one pause to reflect on the those later day, spoiled arrogant ‘rock stars’ a decade or so later, trashing fancy hotel rooms all over, when their predecessors: the good, hard working Black artists whose music had influenced them, were not even allowed into these same hotels to wash up after shows to simply eat a meal or to rest. Times have changed. Today a posse of lawyers would be available for every gig, hotel and restaurant if this illegal racist conduct went on, with discrimination lawsuits flying in every direction!

To Brooks, being the baby of the group, these indignities hurt very deeply with no recourse but to stay on course and on tour. The unspoken painful events were par for the course for these performers; this is what they had to endure in order to try to work, and become a star…

In 1963 Brooks went on to participate in recording on the classic holiday album “Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You” a beloved timeless staple of the joyous season. Her songs included “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, “Parade of the Wooden Soliders” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Bruce Springsteen has attributed The Crystals as being one of his big influences and even re-recorded “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”.

Brooks spent the following years in the USA and 20 years abroad, enjoying both her personal and a professional life as a highly respected artist. She was always involved in a variety of specialized engagements and recordings in different projects. Included here are some of her many credits:

In 1968, she appeared in the original Broadway production of the musical Hair, where she sometimes performed the song "Aquarius." She later appeared in the Broadway show Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1971. She also toured with, and recorded for, various artists, such as the Neville Brothers, Bobby Womack and Isaac Hayes. He made short appearances in films, and contributed songs to different movie soundtracks (including the 1970 film Cotton Comes to Harlem). In 1971, she reunited with original Crystals member Dolores Kenniebrew and Barbara Alston as The Crystals, and toured and performed in rock-&-roll revival shows. Their touring lasted until 1973, when the members decided to devote their time to their families.

  • Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, The Crystals were one of the defining girl groups of the 1960s.

  • Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed each song as one of the Top 500 Greatest Hits of all time.

  • Featured on American Bandstand in The Crystals, and, toured with the Dick Clark traveling American Bandstand shows.

  • LaLa Brooks was in the original cast of the 1968 musical hit Hair with Diane Keaton.

  • Featured on Broadway in the comedy by William Shakespeare Two Gentlemen of Verona.

  • 1970 at age 22: did the vocal soundtrack with singers Melba Moore and Rita Galloway for the 1970 black action film and overnight hit Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes and co-written/directed by Ossie Davis, starring Redd Foxx.

  • 1990 Goodfellas the American crime blockbuster movie directed by Martin Scorsese - The Crystals hit “Then He Kissed Me” with LaLa Brooks singing, was featured in full play during the restaurant scene.

  • 2006 was the guest professional American voice Judge on Chinese Idol broadcast throughout all of Asia.

  • 2010 appeared on the PBS television special My Music: Rock, Pop and Doo Wop.

  • 2011 a featured artist in Lincoln Center’s Girl Group Extravaganza backed by Stevie Van Zandt, Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith), Paul Schaeffer (Letterman) along with a stage full of musicians, backup singers, and choir.

  • 2014 featured on The Late Show with David Letterman.

  • Present: LaLa Brooks has been performing live steadily through the years and continues to this day, to bring her massive signature talent to generations of music fans both in the U.S. and international performances. Pre-2020 Pandemic, amongst other live engagements, Brooks had been appearing as a guest artist with great band leader Bowser from Sha Na Na on his Doo Wop/Oldie’s concerts with his band “Rocky & the Rollers” on Royal Caribbean Cruises. Plans to resume Cruise shows will begin in Feb 2022 as of this writing.

    Please check out her website at for updates on this legendary artist’s career.

    MusicRealms sincerely thanks Ms. LaLa Brooks for her participation in giving us the opportunity to help tell her amazing story to our readers! We love you LaLa***

    Denise Mercedes:
    Feature writer for Musicrealms, Artist Endorsed by Hagstrom Guitars of Sweden. Founder/guitarist of classic early NY punk band The Stimulators. Tribute work: Lead guitarist of Girls Girls Girls (2006-Present) & Bible Black NYC. Founder/Producer of her new 2018 Dae Lilies project.

    Jeannie Pawlowski:
    Feature writer for Musicrealms, has also been published in New York Natives. Her early photos of the Bad Brains were on exhibition in Subliminal Projects Gallery’s “Banned in Babylon – the Art and Culture of the Bad Brains” in Los Angeles, CA. 2016 – and included in the 2019 PUNK on Epix docu-series produced by Iggy Pop/John Varvatos

    Web Master: Richie Realms

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