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Soul Serenade: Jan Bradley, “Mama Didn’t Lie”

We took a little side trip last week, but today we’re going right back to Chicago, and right back to Chess Records. When last we visited the Windy City it was to learn about the Knight Brothers and their 1965 hit “Temptation ‘Bout to Get Me” for Chess subsidiary Checker Records. This week I’m going to back a couple of years to 1963 and consider Jan Bradley’s hit “Mama Didn’t Lie”.

Bradley was born in Mississippi in 1943, but she was only there for four years before her family followed the famous trail north to the Chicago suburb of Robbins, IL. Her singing career began when she was spotted in a high school talent show and recommended to Don Talty, who managed Phil Upchurch.

Talty was sold immediately and wanted to sign Bradley to his Formal Records label. Her parents had other ideas though, and insisted that she finish high school first. It was through Upchurch that Talty was able to contact Curtis Mayfield, who agreed to audition Bradley. Once Bradley passed the audition, Mayfield began working with her. For her first single, Bradley cut a Mayfield song called “We Girls.” It was a hit around Chicagoland, and got some all important airplay on the pop music juggernaut WLS Radio.

More releases followed but it wasn’t until “Mama Didn’t Lie” was released in 1963 that Bradley had her national hit. The Mayfield-written song was grabbed by Chess Records for national distribution, and reached #8 on the R&B chart and #14 on the pop chart in the early months of 1963.

Jan Bradley

Big success often leads to big problems, and it was a problem outside of her control that had a massive impact on Bradley’s career. Following the success of “Mama Didn’t Lie” a publishing dispute arose between Mayfield and Chess. It marked the end of Bradley’s collaboration with Mayfield.

With no other options, Bradley began to write her own songs. Unfortunately the follow up to “Mama Didn’t Lie” took awhile to emerge. It was two years before Bradley’s own song “I’m Over You,” produced by Chess A&R head Billy Davis, hit the charts, reaching #24 on the R&B list. More Chess singles followed, including “Just a Summer Memory,” which was co-written by Bradley and Talty, “It’s Just Your Way,” and “These Tears.”

Renewed success proved elusive. After the Chess deal ended Bradley did a tour of record labels that included Adanti, Doylen, Spectra Sound, and Night Owl. None of the changes paid off however, and Bradley never had another hit. By the early ’70s, she had had enough, and retired from the music business to start a family, get a Master’s Degree, and begin doing social work.

Who knows what might have happened if Bradley and Mayfield could have continued to work together? “Mama Didn’t Lie” is something of tease, giving us just a glimpse of what might have been. It must have been frustrating for Bradley to watch as other people held her career in their hands, only to let it fall and break.