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Doris Troy: Remembering Mama Soul

You may not have heard of Doris Troy, but you will definitely have heard her voice.

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Photo: Gilles Petard/Redferns

You may not have heard of Doris Troy, but it’s likely you’ve heard her voice. Born in the Bronx, New York, on January 6, 1937, Doris Elaine Higginsen changed her name to Doris Troy after she was “discovered” working at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theatre by James Brown.

This led to her singing backing vocals for many artists, including Cissy Houston and Dionne Warwick. She got an opportunity to record for Atlantic Records in 1963, and her single, “Just One Look” made No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100; several singles followed that all stalled just outside the 100. “Just One Look” was covered in early 1964 by the Hollies and made No.2 on the UK singles chart. One of her follow-up records for Atlantic, “Whatcha Gonna Do About It,” made No.37 in the UK.

Further records in the 1960s all failed to sell in any decent numbers, and it led to Doris moving to London in the spring of 1969. One of her earliest gigs in the UK was arranging and singing on the gospel-tinged chorus of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Around the same time, Madeline Bell asked Doris to help with the vocals on Billy Preston’s Apple album, That’s The Way God Planned It. Also on the album was Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Keith Richards, and George Harrison. This led to Doris signing to Apple and recording a solo album that George Harrison co-produced at Trident and Olympic studios in London.

The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then
The Beatles - Now And Then
Jacob's Ladder (2010 Remaster)

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Work began at George’s home in high summer 1969 with help from Billy Preston, before Doris and George went into the studio proper, probably in late September. Over the next few months, there were sessions in which numerous musicians participated, including Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, Peter Frampton, Eric Clapton, Delaney and Bonnie, Leon Russell, Klaus Voormann, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, and Rita Coolidge. It all reflected George’s involvement with other musicians and his solo album, All Things Must Pass.

Harrison co-wrote four of the songs on Doris Troy, arranged the traditional, “Jacob’s Ladder” with Troy, while other tracks included a cover of The Beatles’ “Get Back” that did not appear on the original album, but was the b-side of “Jacob’s Ladder,” along with songs by Stills (a Buffalo Springfield cover), Joe South, Jackie Lomax (another Apple artist) and some Doris Troy compositions and co-writes. When the album was reissued, Troy said, “Doing that album was a reminder that ‘soul’ didn’t have a color.”

Ain't That Cute (2010 Remaster)

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When the album came out in September 1970, at the same time as Bill Preston’s album, it largely sank without trace. Allen Klein ran Apple at the time, and his ability for marketing records was not his strongest suit.

Troy went back to singing backing vocals and arranging, and her credits during the 1970s included Humble Pie, Nick Drake, Carly Simon, Dusty Springfield, and perhaps most famously, Pink Floyd on Dark Side of the Moon.

In the 1980s, Doris co-wrote a musical, Mama, I Want To Sing, with her sister, and it ran in Harlem for 1500 performances and later in London. Doris Troy passed away in February 2004, aged 67.

Check out music from Doris Troy and other songs that defined the eclectic Apple label.



  1. keith

    January 6, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    Did Doris sing in Floyds “The Great Gig in the Sky”? One of my all time favorites.

    • simon craddock

      January 8, 2015 at 11:04 pm

      sadly not however doris did sing on dark side of the moon album. the vocals on the track last great gig in the sky was clare torry

  2. uDiscover

    January 7, 2015 at 7:24 am

    Keith, that is Clare Torry; agreed it is a stunning performance made up of from two and a half takes she did of the vocal

  3. yommer10

    January 7, 2015 at 9:37 am

    DORIS TROY – I’ll Do Anything (He Want’s Me To Do)
    Northern Soul Classic……KTF

  4. Bruce Read

    January 7, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    Doris Troy sang on Pink Dark Side of the Moon


      January 9, 2015 at 12:05 am

      It’s true, I saw her name on the album (The dark side…) cover!

  5. Peter

    January 7, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    I think “Ain’t That Cute” is a great, underrated song.

  6. Bill Alger

    January 8, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    RIP Ms. Doris Troy…you have been always a part of my rock and roll soul.

  7. Jon

    January 8, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    I believe she also sang on Roger Waters’ “Give Birth to a Smile” (which also featured the other members of the Floyd) in 1970; none of the backup singers are credited, but you know it’s her when you hear it.

  8. cjgillon

    January 8, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Doris Troy sang “just one look” on the film soundtrack from Crazy Stupid Love great song by an awesome singer.

  9. Don Riley

    January 8, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    check out what you gonna do about it it will blow your mind

  10. graham hogg

    January 8, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    dont think Doris Troy sang on Great Gig in the Sky, that was Clare Torry

  11. Martin H. Samuel

    June 19, 2020 at 11:14 pm

    Doris Troy, ‘Mama Soul’, sang back-up on ‘Rastus Ravel (Is A Mean Old Man) – the B-side of the 1970 single on Penny Farthing Records by Heatwave… the first London-based English group by that name, ca. 1969.

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