Barbara Ann Alston, co-founder and lead singer of the hit-making Sixties girl group the Crystals, died February 16th in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was 74.
The singer’s family told the Charlotte Observer that Alston died at a Charlotte hospital following a two-week battle with the flu.
Alston’s daughter Donielle Prophete told the BBC, “She loved the Crystals. She always talked about singing with them, the work they created together. She loved the sisterhood part of it, the traveling.”
Alston sang lead vocals on the Crystals’ “There’s No Other (Like My Baby),” the first single released on producer Phil Spector’s Philles Records in 1961; Spector had discovered the vocal group while recording demos for Hill & Range Publishers. Spector also served as producer on the Alston-led Crystals songs “Uptown” and the controversial 1962 single “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss),” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin.
Following the release of “He Hit Me,” which failed to reach the Hot 100, Spector took hold of the Crystals moniker (without the Crystals’ knowledge) and applied the name to recordings by Darlene Love and the Blossoms; Love sang lead on the “Crystals” classics “He’s a Rebel,” one of Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The original Crystals reassumed their own name in 1963 and released two more Spector-produced hits, “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me.” However, for those singles and subsequent recordings from the era, the publicity-shy Alston had relinquished the lead-singing role to Dolores “LaLa” Brooks.
“I just found out recently [that] she had a real problem with being the lead,” Prophete told the BBC of her mother. “They loved her voice and they kept pushing her to the front but she was shy.”
Alston left the Crystals in 1965 but briefly rejoined the girl group for a 1967 reunion. Her funeral was scheduled for Friday; fellow Crystals singer Dee Dee Kennibrew was set to appear as a speaker.