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American Routes Shortcuts: Trudy Lynn

Trudy Lynn
Trudy Lynn

Trudy Lynn, born Lee Audrey Nelms, grew up surrounded by music in Houston. Duke and Peacock Records, two Black-owned labels were blocks from her home.  She saw legends like Joe Hinton and Bobby "Blue" Bland by the Club Matinee on her way to school. Her parents loved blues, and Trudy sang while her father tap-danced and played harmonica on the porch. She also sang in church, started a girl group, the Chromatics, with her school friends, became a vocalist with Clarence Green, and opened for Ike and Tina Turner. In 1989, she went solo on a recording called Trudy Sings the Blues. I spoke to her in Houston, where she still sings the blues.

Trudy Lynn: I went to church; it was the Fifth Ward Church of Christ. It wasn’t very far from my mother’s beauty shop, but now from a little girl catching a cab–we would go to church every Sunday morning–fifty-five cents to go to church. And all Church of Christ’s, we don’t have live music, we just sing from the heart, foot-stomping. If you sing soprano, wherever you sit, just sing soprano. If you sing alto, sing alto, and so on.

Nick Spitzer: I also was reading that you’d get out on your family’s front porch with your dad.

TL: Oh yeah, we would go on the front porch, some of the neighbors’ kids would be there, and we’d have what you called talent shows. Everybody had their little one song they would sing, and my song was “Tweedle Dee.”

NS: Now I heard that you went to high school with Archie Bell of the Drells.

TL: Yes, yes, yes. We graduated the same year. He was going to another high school here in Houston called Kashmere, and I was over at Wheatley, and I think right off in his senior year, he transferred. The group the Drells was one other chick, Frances Johnson, Willie Parnell, Charles Johnson, and me, and somebody else. We were the Drells. And so when Archie Bell came in and he joined the group, and they got together, it was the year we were all getting ready to graduate from high school. I was going to go into the military, but when I graduated and went on a summer vacation to my aunt’s, down there in Lufkin, Texas, they had a club there called the Cinderella. Now it was a White club, and you know back in them days, didn’t nobody but Whites go in there, but we were performing in there, a Black group–well it was a mixed group. And that’s where I got my name, in a club called the Cinderella. They had a bunch of cartoon things drawn on the walls. They used to do that in a lot of the clubs, draw pictures, you know. Somebody said, “What is your name?” And then I just looked on the wall, and I saw Trudy, I said, “Now just call me Trudy Lynn.” Because you had Gloria Lynn, Barbara Lynn, and I looked up there and saw Trudy, I said, “Well my name’s Trudy Lynn.”

NS: Now when you were seventeen, I heard that you had gone to another juke in the neighborhood, Walter’s Lounge. What happened at Walter’s?

TL: I think I was sixteen, and it was on an Easter Sunday, and we had been to church and did a little Easter program. My mother and them would go to on Sunday evenings they would have a thing they called a matinee. And so me, my cousin, my sister, my mom and some other people, they carried us off to hear the band, and the band was Albert Collins and Big Tiny and the Thunderbirds. And so my mom knew Albert Collins, she knew Big Tiny, you know because she’s a beautician, she’s well known. And she said, “My daughter wants to be a singer, she can sing.” And they asked me what song did I know, and the only song I really knew was “Night Time is the Right Time,” and it was during the time when Sam Cooke had just released “A Change is Gonna Come.” I did those two songs, and he told me, he said, “Girl, you’re gonna be a singer!” And I said, “That’s what I want to do!” And I feel like that’s what kicked it off. I thought I was a star!

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