Forgotify, the Last Frontier: “You Don’t Know What Love Is”

Don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here crying in the corner because I just fell in love with an artist who retired from music in 1966. 

I thought it was Billie Holiday.

My heart leapt when I saw that it wasn’t — could this singer be around, making new albums? Have all my wishes on stars come true? Does our generation have a tried and true, real deal bluesy Billie?

Well, almost. Toni Harper retired from music in 1966, at age 29.

She was a child star, scoring a platinum record with her hit “Candy Store Blues,” a spot on the Ed Sullivan Show, and a Carnegie Hall performance, all  before she entered her teens. If that’s not enough to inject despair into even the most ambitious 20-something….*cough*…well. Hugely successful children have always made me jealous and bitter (here’s looking at you, Charlotte Church), even when I was still an adolescent. But like many child stars who wane when their voices change or their parents work them into the ground, Harper’s career skidded to a stop as she became a teenager and her renown as a child star waned.

In her 20s, she recorded an album for Verve, backed by the illustrious Oscar Peterson Trio, singing tunes with more mature content, like “Love For Sale” and “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.”

This song, “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” was written in 1941 for an Abbott and Costello movie, Keep Em’ Flying, recorded by Carol Bruce, but it ended up on the cutting room floor. The studio shoehorned the number into Behind the 8 Ball, a small, low-budget musical produced in 1942. Don Raye penned the lyrics with Gene de Paul writing the music. It’s been covered by blockbuster musicians like John Coltrane, Chet Baker, and Eva Cassidy.

Listen to Toni Harper’s rendition here — I’ll be sobbing on the floor, hoping that bluesy, jazzy, raspy singers make a serious comeback, and wishing that I’ll wake up with a deep gravelly voice tomorrow, replacing the clear soprano chords I was cursed with. I could have been great, could have been a jazzy contender, but genetics got the last laugh.

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