Born Camille Agnes Browning, 29 March 1914, Galveston, Texas
Pianist / vocalist / songwriter. Camille Howard was blessed with good looks, potent vocal abilities and a brilliant piano technique. Her name will forever be linked with that of her mentor, the "grandfather of rhythm and blues", Roy Milton. Born and raised in the Texas Gulf town of Galveston in 1914, she was part of the great migration from Texas to the West Coast, seeking her fortune in Los Angeles. World War II had created a financial boom in that city, giving club patrons wads of money to spend. Around 1943, Camille hooked up with drummer Roy Milton (already a veteran of the music business) and trumpeter Hosea Sapp. After cutting four sides for Lionel Hampton's HampTone label as the Roy Milton Trio in September 1945, the group secured a contract with Art Rupe's fledgling JukeBox label, which would soon develop into Specialty Records. At the same time Roy Milton expanded his band (now called the Solid Senders) to a sextet.
On December 22, 1945, Milton and his group recorded four tunes at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, issued on two singles by Art Rupe in early 1946. "R.M. Blues" (Juke Box 504) reached # 2 on the R&B hitparade - the first of a long series of hits on Juke Box / Specialty - and had a chart run of 25 weeks, exceptionally long at a time when the R&B charts consisted of only 10 songs. Camille's piano is all over "R.M. Blues", as she plays seemingly unending, florid melodies with her right hand. Not long after this session, Roy Milton was approached by bandleader James Clifford and asked his permission to use Camille on a record date for the tiny Pan-American label. Milton gave his blessing and this resulted in two singles by Camille as a pianist-vocalist, the first recordings under her own name.
Milton temporarily broke away from Art Rupe to start his own record label, Miltone Records, on which Camille had one single release ("Groovy Blues"/ "Mr Fine", Miltone 104). But by March 1947, Roy Milton had resigned with Specialty and would stay there until late 1953. Howard plays on all of Roy's sessions from this period, except for one occasion in July 1950 when the piano stool was occupied by Willard McDaniel.
After the chart success of "Thrill Me" (sung by Camille, but credited to Roy Milton and his Solid Senders) in November 1947, Howard was courted by other companies, as she was not under contract from Specialty. Art Rupe understood that he would have to put out some records under her own name if he didn't want to lose her.
Then the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) announced a recording ban due to begin on January 1, 1948. Like most other labels, Specialty began stockpiling masters to insure a flow of product in the event that the ban should be a long one. Art Rupe held marathon sessions with as many Specialty artists as possible on December 27, 30 and 31, 1947. The last artist on the list was Camille Howard, whose session did not start until December 31 around 11 p.m., together with bassist Dallas Bartley (from Louis Jordan's Tympany Five) and Roy Milton on drums. After all the rehearsed material (four tracks) had been recorded, there were still five minutes left, which Rupe did not want to waste. According to Rupe (in an interview with Arnold Shaw), the trio instrumental "X-Temperaneous Boogie" was improvised on the spot and just as the take was completed, the sounds of church bells and horns signalling the beginning of the New Year could be heard outside the studio.
Released in April 1948, "X-Temperaneous Boogie" became a # 7 hit (R&B), while the vocal flip, the torch ballad "You Don't Love Me", went to # 12 in its own right. The record sold close to a quarter of a million copies, in an era when 100,000 was cause for joy. Two more chart entries would follow : "Fiesta In Old Mexico", peaking at # 12 in September 1949 and "Money Blues" (# 10, 1951), both with a vocal by Camille.
Altogether, she had 14 singles released on Specialty between 1948 and 1952, a mix of storming boogies and sultry ballads. But at least 60 titles were recorded. Some of the unissued material was released in the 1990s on the two Specialty reissue CD's mentioned below. In 1953 Camille moved to Federal Records ; three poor sellers later, she left the label. She made her last recordings for Vee-Jay in May 1956, resulting in one lone single, "Business Woman", written by another former Specialty artist, Percy Mayfield.
The growth of rock n roll and her own strong religious convictions ended her secular music career. In later years she was unwilling to talk about her R&B and boogie woogie years. She died in 1993 at the age of 78. In my opinion, the true extent of Camille Howard's versatility and inventivity as a pianist is most evident in her role as Roy Milton's accompanist, with "R.M. Blues" as the jewel in the crown. Her boogie woogie numbers all tend to sound a bit samey, though they're certainly listenable.
More info : http://home.earthlink.net/~jaymar41/CamilleH.html
Acknowledgements : Galen Gart (sleeve notes for Official LP 6063), Billy Vera, Arnold Shaw (book "Honkers and Shouters", page 186-187).
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