June 29, 2015

It Happened on June 29th

"LIttle Eva" Born, 1943

"Little" Eva Boyd, 1962
If you were a teenager in the 1960's, you probably remember a song called The Loco-Motion that was a big hit around 1962. The song was sung by a young African-American girl named Eva Boyd. Her stage name was "Little Eva."

Boyd was born on June 29, 1943 in Belhaven, North Carolina. She was the 10th in a family of 13 children. Her family was fairly religious; in fact, her grandfather was a church minister. Eva loved to sing from an early age. She and four of her siblings even had their own gospel group for awhile.

When Eva was 16, she spent a summer with her older brother, Jimmy, and his wife, who lived in Coney Island, New York. She loved the city life. A few months later, she went back home and back to school, but she couldn't get New York out of her mind. Pretty soon Eva quit school and went back to New York, this time planning to stay.

Jimmy's wife was a friend of Earl-Jean McCrea, one of The Cookies, a girl band of the era. The Cookies were busy cutting demo records for music publisher Don Kirschner, and were on the outlook for another girl singer. Kirschner was also professionally associated with the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. The Goffins were looking for a babysitter.

Eva applied for both jobs. She tried out for the singing group by singing Will You Love Me Tomorrow, a song that had reached #1 in a rendition by The Shirelles. The song had been written by King and Goffin -- it was their "breakout hit."

Eva got the babysitting job, and soon was taking care of little Louise Goffin. Soon Louise was joined by another Goffin baby, Sherry. Eva was making $35 a week in addition to her room and board.

The Goffins had written a new song, a dance number, called The Loco-Motion, and had their babysitter record a demo of it. When Kirschner heard the demo, he was impressed. He wanted to release it just the way it was.

Eva Boyd was soon restyled "Little Eva." She was less than five feet tall. The studio also knocked two years off her age to make her more marketable. The song was released in June, and by the end of the month it was in the Top 100. By August it was #1, replacing Neil Sedaka's Breaking Up is Hard to Do. To celebrate, Eva married her long-time boyfriend, James Harris.

Little Eva on Shindig!  in March, 1965

Soon Little Eva was appearing on American Bandstand, lip-synching the song and demonstrating the Locomotion dance moves, which she had created herself. She was soon producing more records, and being paid a salary of $50 a week -- $15 more than she earned as a babysitter. Her little sister, Idalia, came to New York to take over the babysitting job. Idalia did a little work on the backup vocals, too.

Eva toured and made records throughout the 60's, but never duplicated her initial success. Some of her other singles were Keep Your Hands Off My Baby, Some Kinda Wonderful, Let's Turkey Trot, and a remake of Swinging On a Star. She never owned the rights to any of her recordings.

In 1971, Eva had had enough of the music business, and returned to Belhaven. Her mother had recently died, and Eva was estranged from her husband and had three young children to support. She worked menial jobs when she could and collected welfare. In the 1990's she briefly returned to music, releasing a gospel album and doing some performances on the "oldies" circuit. She died of cervical cancer in 2003 at the age of 59.

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