LADIES OF R&B... PART FOUR
"Why Do You Cry"
by Zilla Mays And The Blues Caravan
Featuring The Boy Friends And John Peek And His Band
on Brunswick 84031
released in 1954
Above: Zilla Mays at work in the Groove Records recording studio in late 1955. Zilla was from Atlanta, GA. She was a singer and a popular late night deejay in Atlanta for many years.
Click HERE for an article about Zilla Mays by J.C. Marion.
Zilla Florine Mays (September 1, 1931 September 19, 1995), later Zilla Mays Hinton, was an American R&B and gospel singer who became a popular radio DJ and community leader in Atlanta. She was the first African-American female radio announcer in Georgia, and only the third in the United States.
She was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and started singing in church. By her teens, she had started performing with her brother's band, the Roy Mays All Stars, which later became the Willie Mays Blues Caravan. ( "Willie" was Roy Mays' nickname.) After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, she studied at Reed Business College while continuing her singing career. In late 1950, she was signed as a blues singer by Savoy Records in Newark, New Jersey. She made her first recordings in early 1951, but none were issued until the Coral label released "I'll Keep Singing My Song" in late 1952. The following year, she signed for the Mercury label and recorded with the John Peek orchestra, releasing the singles "If You Were On The Other Side", "Seems Like You Just Don't Care", and "Don't Take My Good Love Away".
In 1954 she began broadcasting on radio station WAOK in Atlanta, where she was known as "The Mystery Lady" as her identity was not disclosed to listeners. After it was revealed in 1955, she was known as "The Dream Girl", and often performed on-air with Piano Red. She also continued to record in the mid-1950s, for labels including Groove, a subsidiary of RCA, and then Atco.
She continued as a popular radio personality and community leader in the Atlanta area and was instrumental in bringing live R&B and gospel music to the area. Her career increasingly turned to gospel music, broadcasting a regular "Cathedral of Friends" Sunday program as well as a regular gospel show. In 1961, Checker Records released an album, Prayers for Jackie, and the same year she recorded another album, for the NRC label, The Men I Love And The Songs They Sing. She also continued to work with Piano Red in shows and on radio. In about 1968, she recorded a version of Allen Toussaint's "All I Want ls You" for his Tou-Sea label. Her radio show on WAOK changed to a gospel format in the late 1970s.
She won a Pioneer Award from the NAACP in 1986.
(LEFT) Zilla Mays Jet Magazine 12/23/54; (MIDDLE) Zilla Mays Unknown Date; (RIGHT) Groove Records Ad The Billboard Magazine 11/12/55.
CALIFORNIA EAGLE, August 28, 1952:
[Inscription: Talent like this is making "Cabaret TV," seen over Television Station WLTV, Atlanta, Georgia, Saturday nights not only an artistic but also a commercial success. Shown in action are several of the program's top favorites including Roy Mays and his All Stars, Zilla Mays and Bill Wright (right, center), who sing the romantic duets.]
The Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Company has taken the lead in supporting what is believed to be the first all-Negro television show, "Cabaret TV," which is seen over Television Station WLTV, Atlanta, Ga., each Saturday night.
This all-Negro program which is viewed as a pacemaker in television circles, has scored a resounding success....Talent for the cabaret show, which is seen from 10:30 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. Saturdays, is drawn from the ranks of professional nightclub entertainers in the Atlanta area.
Dynamo and master of ceremonies is Ray MacIver. Famous Negro artists in show business, appearing in the vicinity, also make appearances.
THE CASH BOX, October 29, 1955: PLANNING
NEW YORKZilla Mays (second from left), new Groove Records artist, discusses her first recording session with tunesmith LeRoy Kirkland (left); Groove A & R head Bob Rolontz (center) and Ray Clark, head of the diskery.
The thrush is an experienced performer, having worked in a choir and with a sister trio. She formerly recorded for Mercury and Savoy.
THE BILLBOARD, December 16, 1950: ....Herman Lubinsky, topper of the Savoy and Regent diskeries, has inked a flock of new talent, most of whom are from Atlanta. New talents include Zilla Mays, blues chanter; Tommy Brown and Fats Jackson and his band. Lubinsky already has sliced wax with the new artists....
NEW YORK AGE, July 19, 1952: NEGRO TV SHOW 'HIT' IN ATLANTA
The variety show "Cabaret TV," over Station WLTV, Atlanta, Ga., has met with resounding artistic and commercial success. The show is co-sponsered by the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Company and Octagon premium plan, the first national advertisers to support this exciting television development....
Dynamo and master of ceremonies of the proceedings is Ray MacIver. In an intimate, relaxed fashion, Ray presents a line-up of featured vocalists, dancers and instrumentalists. Typical of the regular performers on the program are vocalist Zilla Mays and Roy Mays and his all-star orchestra. [See accompanying picture at left.]
THE BILLBOARD, October 17, 1953: ....Zilla Mays, Southern blues singer, has been pacted by Mercury Records, and her first slicing will be released in a few weeks....
THE BILLBOARD, July 16, 1955: ....Groove's artists and repertoire chief, Bob Rolontz, reports that he has signed the fem thrush Zilla Mays. Miss Mays' previous wax work has been for Mercury and Coral....
THE CASH BOX, October 29, 1955: ....Zilla Mays, who just finished her first session for Groove, has, of all things, an ambition to go into mortuary science. Her first record will be released next week.... [See accompanying picture at right.]
THE CASH BOX, October 6, 1956: ATCO SIGNS THREE
NEW YORKHerb Abramson, president of Atco and Atlantic Records, this week announced the signing of Jimmy Witherspoon, Big Jay McNeeley and Zilla Mays.
PITSBURGH COURIER, October 15, 1960: SULTRY QUEEN OF DJ's....
ATLANTA, Ga.....Down in Dixie, Zilla Mays is the uncrowned "Queen of the DeeJays," and her listening audience runs into the hundreds of thousands each night [over Atlanta's radio station WAOK], from 11 to 2, and again in the wee hours at 4:30, when she comes on with a gospel program.
Her ingratiating, teasing, alluring voice (filled with perfect diction, though she's never had a voice lesson) weaves a magic spell during her three-hour run of jazz records. To her, everyone is "my baby," "my sweet," and she "loves" everyone as she plainly tells one and all. She's the most popular deejay in Dixie. And many are trying to copy her style, but they'll never reach the peak "Dream Girl" has reached....
Zilla is a native of Atlanta, born and reared and educated here. She went to Washington High and Reed's Business College....
[See accompanying picture at left.]
Above: Label for Brunswick 84031 released in June 1954. Zilla also recorded for Savoy (1951), Coral (1952), Mercury (1953-54), and Groove (1955). Apparently, nothing was released on the Savoy label. She joined Atco in 1956, but there is no evidence of her recording any tracks for them.
Who was The Blues Caravan? It seems to have included The Boy Friends and John Peek And His Band. Were The Boy Friends her brother, Roy Mays, and his "All Stars"? His aggregation did use the name "Willie Mays Blues Caravan" ("Willie" was Roy's nickname). But, if so, why were there two instrumental groups backing her? Did The Boy Friends provide the vocal group singing? The flip side label for "Nite Shift Blues" shows the same credits, but there is no vocal group backing her.
In 1952, "The Blues Caravan" had one instrumental release on Coral (Brunswick's sister label) and two releases on Coral with Zilla Mays and John Peek singing duets.
Listen to "Triple Eight" - Zilla Mays And John Peek (The Blues Caravan) - Coral 65088 - 1952. (Windows Media Player)
In 1955, Zilla did make another side with vocal group backing. The Four Students on this record were Cecil Murray, James Riley, Howard Scott, and Leonard Thomas. If the song sounds a little like The Cardinal's "The Door Is Still Open," it's because it was written by Chuck Willis. The flip side does not have a vocal group.
Listen to "Come Back To Me" - Zilla Mays And The Four Students - Groove 0127 - 1955. (Windows Media Player)
Listen to "Why Do You Cry" by Zilla Mays using Windows Media Player.
[Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]
Why Do You Cry - Zilla Mays And The Blues Caravan - Brunswick 84031 - 1954
[To download the audio file, right-click on link and then select "Save link (target) as..."]