Barbara Ann Alston, former lead singer of The Crystals, died February 16, The Charlotte Observer reports. She was 74 years old.
Alston was a founding member of The Crystals, one of the biggest girl groups of the ’60s, who played a crucial role in developing Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound. The group was originally a quintet consisting of Alston, Dee Dee Kennibrew, Mary Thomas, Patricia Wright, and Dolores “La La” Brooks, all of whom sang in church. Alston’s uncle Benny Wells, a big band sideman, was instrumental in bringing the group together.
The Crystals were soon discovered by Spector, who brought the shy Alston to the fore despite her initial reluctance. She sang lead on their hit debut song “There’s No Other (Like My Baby),” which had an 11-week chart run, as well as the flamenco-inspired “Uptown.” Alston also lent her sweet voice to the domestic violence-themed “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss),” which stirred such controversy that Spector had to pull it from the market. Brooks, who replaced Alston as lead vocalist, has said that the group was “taken aback” by the song’s subject matter, and that Alston was “a little uneasy” about recording it.
Not long after the “He Hit Me” fiasco, Spector handed the Crystals moniker over to Darlene Love and The Blossoms, who sang one of the group’s other big hits, “He’s A Rebel.” But by 1963, the name had reverted to the New York-based girl group, with Brooks still in the lead and Alston singing back-up along with Kennibrew and Wright (Thomas left after getting married). It was this lineup that recorded the classic ’60s track, “Da Doo Ron Ron,” which hit the top 10 in the U.S. and the U.K. But a falling out with Spector, who’d by then moved on to The Ronettes, limited future successes. Alston left the group in 1964, but her daughter Donielle Prophete tells the BBC she remained proud of her former bandmates, following their careers through a reunion in 1971 and their new trio lineup.
Alston died after contracting the flu, Prophete revealed. The former recording artist is survived by her three children and seven grandchildren.