Rural Missouri - February 2013 - (Page 36)
N E I G H B O R S
Blessed from birth
Mildred Whitehorn used her gifts to become a singing sensation
woman behind the microphone.
“When I was singing R&B, I was just
singing,” Mildred says. “But when I sing
gospel, it’s what I feel, it really is. Someong before the world ever heard
times you just cry right through a song.”
of pop music star Sheryl Crow,
She says it was never her intention to
another woman from Kennett was
be an R&B singer. “When I signed a record
working her way up the charts.
contract, my intention was to get a gosMost people won’t remember the name
pel contract later,” Mildred relates. “But
Veda Brown. But in the early 1970s, the
of course, once you signed on the dotted
woman from Kennett was a singing sensaline, they do what they want to with you.
tion, seemingly destined for greatness as a
After my ﬁrst two hits, they knew what
rhythm and blues singer.
was best for me.”
Veda Brown was the stage name for
Ironically, Mildred recorded only three
Mildred Whitehorn, born Mildred Pulgospel songs in her career as a recording
lium in 1949. The name was a combinaartist. But today, people in the Bootheel
tion of her mother’s maiden name with
know her more for her church music than
a ﬁrst name picked by the record label’s
for her professional career, which came to
an end in 1981.
The music Mildred was belting out
When Stax went bankrupt and her
in her hard-hitting, high-pitched voice
career began to fade, Mildred let it go. She
was not what she started out singing as
had other God-given talents, including a
a child growing up in Deering. She came
love for ﬁxing hair. The oldest of 12 chilfrom a family of churchgoers. Her father
dren, Mildred grew up braiding the hair
was a preacher at churches in Portageville
of her younger siblings, along with some
and Lilbourn, and he always began his
cousins her mother helped raise.
sermons with a song.
For 15 years, she owned and operated
Growing up in a family that sang blues
the Golden Comb Beauty Salon in Kenand gospel, Mildred began singing at an
nett. She stopped when cramps in her
early age. “I remember the ﬁrst time I ever
hands made it hard for her to create the
sang in church,” she says. “We used to
tight plaits and cornrows her clients loved.
have a group at church called The SunMildred also got back to her roots as a
shine Band. I remember one Christmas
gospel singer, performing for small churchwe were having a program. The director
es and huge church gatherings of more
of the choir called me up to sing a solo.
than 75,000 people. She also led a choir
People enjoyed it so much. I was hooked
that numbered more than 100 people and
from that moment on. Even though I had
won a contest on the Black Entertainment
butterﬂies as big as chickens, I absolutely
Avoiding the pitfalls of drugs and
Mildred was 8 when she sang that ﬁrst
alcohol that claimed so many musicians,
solo. It would not be her last. One Sunday
Mildred Whitehorn, better known as Veda Brown by her fans, charted
Mildred enjoyed a wonderful family life,
she performed with a choir from Kennett,
several hits during her short career as a rhythym and blues singer. Today,
including three kids and 38 years of marsinging a gospel song called “Sweeping
she still wows audiences with her heartfelt renditions of gospel favorites.
riage to her high school sweetheart, James
Through the City.”
Whitehorn. “He’s the ﬁrst man I ever
“I turned the program out,” Mildred
kissed,” Mildred tells.
men weren’t treating them right.
says of the response to her voice. “That’s when I
Along the way, she was a master artist in the
Her next hit, “Don’t Start Lovin’ Me (If You’re
knew I was going to be a star.”
Missouri Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.
Gonna Stop),” topped out at No. 87 in 1974. It
While attending school in Gobler when she
This program helps masters pass along their skills
was described as “one of the heaviest pieces of
was 14, Mildred was asked to sing every day by
to apprentices. Mildred served as a master in two
soul put out by Stax in the 1970s” by one soul
one of her teachers, who she says just liked to
disciplines, gospel singing and hair braiding.
hear her voice. Her big break came when she
She’s considering embarking on a third career
She toured extensively, co-starring with anothanswered an ad for a singer from a local rock ’n’
that will involve another of her many skills,
er Stax artist, Johnnie Taylor. She
roll group called The Decisions. She toured as the
cooking. She hopes to combine the soul food
shared a recording band with Isaac
group’s lead singer and recorded with them begintechniques passed down from her mother
Hayes and crossed paths with the
ning in the late 1960s.
with her own love of barbecue.
likes of Elvis Presley, who recorded
Those recordings — and some help from Ken“I did my ﬁrst love and it turned out
nett radio station disc jockey Larry Robinson —
three albums at Stax’s Memphis studio.
OK,” she says. “I did my second love,
Artists recording for Stax shared a
brought her to Stax Records in Memphis where
and it turned out exactly the way I
similar sound with the rival Motown
she signed a contract in 1971. Her ﬁrst record,
wanted it. But now I am on my third
label, only grittier and more “muddy
“Living a Life without Love,” was released in
love, and I am hoping for the best.”
1972. Later came “I Know it’s Not Right (To Be In
blues” as Mildred puts it. Her music was
Love with a Married Man).”
typical of the ﬁght-to-hold-on-to-your•
You can ﬁnd many of Mildred’s songs by
In 1973, her third release became her most sucman songs of the era, and Mildred could
searching for Veda Brown on www.Youhold her own with any of the R&B divas of the
cessful single, rising to No. 34 on Billboard’s R&B
Tube.com or in the iTunes music store.
time. But the music didn’t even resemble the
chart. “Short Stopping” spoke to women whose
by Jim McCarty
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - February 2013
Rural Missouri - February 2013
Table of Contents
A lasting tribute
Preparing for the worst
Out of the Way Eats
Our history with Missouri’s future leaders
Hearth and Home
The cowboy way of life
Rural Missouri - February 2013