Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

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Elaine Armstrong’s Sole 45

According to Michel Ruppli’s The King Labels:  A Discography, Elaine Armstrong would record a total of four sides (possibly at King’s Cincinnati studio?) although only two would make it on to her one and only King 45 from 1968.  “Sad But True” would be the A-side:

“Sad But True”     Elaine Armstrong     1968

A copy of this 45 would sell at auction for $76 in 2010.

“Sad But True” is otherwise available on a 2012 European anthology of King material, Royal Grooves:  Funk and Groovy Soul from the King Records Vaults.  The single’s flip side – “Precious Minutes” – can be found on Ace’s 2001 CD collection, King’s Serious Soul Volume 2:  Counting Teardrops.

Elaine Armstrong 45Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven asserts that the recordings were likely cut in Nashville.

More importantly, Sir Shambling points out that “soul singer” Elaine Armstrong and civil rights pioneer Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong — one of two students who integrated the University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg — are one and the the same!

At the dedication of the Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong-Raylawni Branch Plaza on September 6, 2013, Dr. Rodney Bennett – University of Southern Mississippi President – would give the following tribute (in part):

“…In 1965, Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong was eighteen years old.  Bright, ambitious, and musically gifted, she had just graduated from Rowan High School in Hattiesburg.  Despite scholarship offers from colleges elsewhere, she preferred to continue her education at her hometown university to be near her mother.  To do so, however, she would have to challenge a color barrier that had stood for more than half a century since the school first opened its doors in 1912.  Others had tried before but were not successful; however, she was determined

On September 6, 1965, these two brave women, quietly and without incident, ended segregation at the University of Southern Mississippi.  The administration was determined to avoid the kind of notoriety that had accompanied earlier attempts at USM and especially the violence that had marked integration elsewhere in the state, and they took great pains to make what was in reality a momentous event seem largely uneventful.  Despite the absence of overt hostility, Armstrong and Branch endured the loneliness and anxiety that confront all pioneers.  In Branch’s words, “Somebody had to go first.  Somebody had to go through whatever might happen . . . so . . . others could come along and wouldn’t have to give it a thought.”

Armstrong, who lived on campus, participated in the full range of student activities, including the University Choir, to whose success she was a major contributor.  After leaving Southern Miss, she married and eventually moved to Maryland, where she worked, raised a family, and currently serves as an investor consultant and agent for a prominent real estate firm.  Branch’s family responsibilities restricted her experience to the classroom.  As a commuting student, she often made the lengthy trek from her home to campus and back on foot.  Forced by family responsibilities to withdraw after a year, she went on to a successful military career, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Air Force reserve.  She later returned to Southern Miss, earned a master’s degree, and taught nursing at Pearl River Community College and USM until her retirement in 2004…”

photo courtesy of Sir Shambling’s Deep Soul Heaven

Elaine Armstrong2011, fascinatingly enough, would see “Sad But True” reissued as part of a split 45 (with “So Many Days” by The Vonns on the flip side) released on King lookalike label, Fryers.  UK’s Kudo Records offers this single for sale and invites you to ponder these words:

“Elaine Armstrong’s ‘Sad But True’ is a hopelessly obscure and surely under-played sister funk gem and another reminder that there were so many great vocalists and musicians active whose careers, for whatever reason, never took off.  As far as it can be told, the obscure yet clearly talented Ms Armstrong cut just the one record. – a great shame, maybe, but at least here is a chance for you to hear it and pop it in your collection / DJ box.”

Elaine Armstrong Fryers 45

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