The powerful Jackie Wilson-influenced opening to the 1961 hit "Hurt" led many listeners to mistakenly believe that Timi Yuro was a young black man or—because of the spelling of her name—an Asian. One of the great unheralded female singers of her era, she was blessed with the ability to phrase like R&B stars Dinah Washington and Little Esther Phillip, and she embraced both the supper club soul of Della Reese and mainstream pop. The diminutive songstress was barely out of her teens when she employed impressive operatic histrionics to remake Roy Hamilton's "Hurt" into a Top Ten pop smash. One of her best-known follow-up hits transformed the bitter comeuppance soul ballad "What's a Matter Baby" into an anthem of personal triumph, and turned Charlie Chaplin's standard "Smile" into a heartbreaking confession.
Unable to prolong her string of hits, Yuro's recording career slipped badly during the late 1960s. Still playing clubs and concerts worldwide, she thrived as a much admired cult figure until throat cancer forced an early retirement. Although Yuro never enjoyed a career as successful as her talent seemed to warrant, she remained popular in some circles. Among her many admirers was none other than Elvis Presley, who copied her style for his own version of "Hurt" during his late 1970s concert period.
Loved Opera and R&B
Born Rosemarie Timotea Aurro on August 4, 1941, she spent her earliest years in Chicago, where her Italian-born mother Edith was determined to have the talented seven-year-old study opera despite the family's financial hardship. After their 1952 move to Los Angeles, one of her vocal coaches was so impressed by Yuro's blossoming voice that she gave the child lessons even when the family was unable to pay.
Opera gave the young singer an appreciation of deeply felt emotion, but thanks to the Houstons, a black couple who had helped raise her mother, she also gravitated towards 1950s R&B. As a result, when Yuro first sang publicly in bars owned by her grandmother, or later in her parent's own restaurant, the youngster was able to draw on tunes as disparate as the Italian standard "Sorrento," the classical "Poor Butterfly," and the Dinah Washington oldie "Long John Blues." Yuro's mother encouraged her pursuit of song, no matter what form it took, although the singer's father strongly disapproved of her predilection for salty blues numbers and often physically punished the child.
Irononically, it was Yuro's penchant for popular music that saved her father's restaurant, Alvoturno's, from going bankrupt. Their high-class eatery proved to be a financial failure, but once the teenaged singer convinced her father to turn it into a rock 'n' roll club—where she sang her mix of R&B and operatic pop every night—the eatery quickly became a success. Eventually a talent scout from Liberty Records signed her to a recording contract in late 1959.
The Little Girl with the Big Voice
Once they had signed Yuro to their label, Liberty had no idea to do with the eclectic vocalist. Meanwhile, the young songstress was growing impatient. According to author David Freeland in Ladies of Soul, after a week of waiting outside Liberty chief Al Bennett's office, Yuro burst into the office and made him listen to what she was capable of doing. Bennett called in producer Clyde Otis, who worked with Yuro to create a performance that stood out from other recordings of the time. "Hurt," backed with "I Apologize," became a solid tri-market hit. Overnight she was transformed from a local sensation to an international recording star. Yet the naked anger of "Hurt's" introductory moments were perceived to be so masculine that Liberty felt compelled to call her "The Little Girl With The Big Voice."
Liberty quickly brought her back into the studio to cut more discs, but they didn't really have a solid creative game plan. Rather than capitalize on Yuro's natural affinity for R&B, they had her record "I Believe" with the down-on-his-luck Johnnie Ray, and followed up with such chestnuts as "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "Smile," all in 1961. Her career was further complicated by a tour of Australia with Frank Sinatra, which convinced many of her teenaged fans that Yuro was strictly a cabaret performer.
The only new Liberty recording that suited Yuro's blue-eyed soul style was the 1962 hit "What's a Matter Baby." It was one of the singer's finest soul performances, and her vocals paired the sound of a survivor's self-righteousness with a triumphant teen symphony backing track, courtesy of producer Phil Spector, who took over the mixing Yuro's record when Clyde Otis abruptly left Liberty. Spector, who was also heading up his own Philles label at the time, never worked with Yuro again, and Liberty didn't capitalize on the hit by having the singer record more in the same style, choosing instead to appease the pop crowd with the Burt Bacharach-penned "The Love of A Boy" in 1962.
Yuro recorded four albums in three years for Liberty. Most featured adult contemporary style tunes done in a bluesy manner. The most daring of her early projects was her 1963 LP Make the World Go Away. Following the lead of Solomon Burke, Ray Charles, and especially Esther Phillips, Yuro revamped country tunes with soulful vocals using lush country crossover back-up musicians. The title track, also recorded in hit renditions by country great Ray Price and classic pop singer Dean Martin, became a solid hit, and the album is revered as a minor classic. However, without Otis to guide her in the studio, Yuro lost faith in Liberty Records.
The Lost Voice of Soul
After departing Liberty in 1963, legal and medical problems kept Yuro from immediately recording for her new label Mercury, and the Chicago-based label could not rebuild her chart momentum. Only one single, her overwrought remake of the standard "If," made Billboard's Hot 100, and the label issued only one album, The Amazing Timi Yuro. Cutting a mix of Italian songs, pop, and flat-out soul, she was still capable of remarkable work when focused, including a version of Connie Smith's "Once A Day" and the soul offering "Cuttin' In," easily the best soul offering she made at Mercury.
Hoping to recapture past glories, Yuro returned to Liberty in 1968, releasing the album Something Bad on My Mind, which, though somewhat overproduced, was an underappreciated gem in its time. Better still was the label's next planned release, Live at P.J.'s, featuring Yuro singing a live set of big hits and contemporary cover tunes. Unfortunately, Liberty withdrew the album almost as soon as the released it, and fans would have to wait 30 years to hear the in-her-prime Yuro performing for a live audience.
For the Record …
Born Rosemary Timotea Aurro on August 4, 1941, in Chicago, IL; died May 30, 2004, in Las Vegas, NV; daughter of Louis and Edith Aurro; married; husband's name, Robert Selnick; children: a daughter, Milan.
Singer, 1959–84; recorded for Liberty Records, 1960–63; appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1961; toured Australia with Frank Sinatra, 1962; recorded for Mercury Records, 1964–68; returned to Liberty Records, 1969–71; recorded for Playboy Records, 1975; recorded for Frequency Records, 1979; released albums on Dureco, Arcade, and Ariola, early 1980s; produced by Willie Nelson, 1984.
Addresses: Record company—RPM Records, P.O. Box 158, Chipping Norton, London, England, 0X7 5ZL, website: http://www.rpmrecords.com.uk. Website—Official Timi Yuro Website: http://www.timiyuro.com.
Aside from a few singles for the Playboy and Frequency labels, Yuro's recording career was over. Her marriage in 1969 and subsequent birth of her daughter Milan, slowed the frequency of her tours until the early 1980s, when she began to gig overseas regularly again. Needing product to sell off the stage, she recorded three albums of material filled with re-recordings of her big hits and solidly delivered cover songs. Released in Holland and parts of Europe, these LPs seldom made it to her fans in the United States.
Yuro's final stab at the big time came via old friend Willie Nelson. The songstress had met Nelson during the early 1960s when he was still a struggling country songwriter. Charmed by Yuro's mother, who insisted on feeding him, Nelson never forgot the kindness he was shown. In 1984, upon learning that Yuro couldn't get financing for an album, he offered to record her at his studio. "He paid for everything," Yuro told Freeland. "He let me stay there and I did that whole album there." Despite the appearance of Nelson as a duet partner, the finished collection of Nelson-penned songs didn't attract a label, and Yuro pressed up discs herself and sold them via mail order. A short time later, the singer learned that she had throat cancer.
Several operations, including a tracheostomy and the removal of a lung, effectively ended Yuro's singing career. She fought hard and lived another two decades, eventually seeing her early recordings repackaged for enthusiastic collectors in Europe, where she is revered as the "Lost Voice of Soul." Timi Yuro died of brain cancer on May 30, 2004.
"Hurt," Liberty, 1961.
"Smile," Liberty, 1961.
"I Apologize," Liberty, 1961.
"She Really Loves You," Liberty, 1961.
"Let Me Call You Sweetheart," Liberty, 1962.
"What's A Matter Baby (Is it Hurting You)," Liberty, 1962.
"Insult to Injury," Liberty, 1963.
"Make the World Go Away," Liberty, 1963.
"The Love of a Boy," Liberty, 1963.
Soul, Liberty, 1962.
Let Me Call You Sweetheart, Liberty, 1962.
Make the World Go Away, Liberty, 1963.
What's a Matter Baby, Liberty, 1963; reissued, RPM, 2004.
The Amazing Timi Yuro, Mercury, 1964.
In the Beginning, Liberty, 1968.
Interlude (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), Colgems, 1968.
Something Bad on My Mind, Liberty, 1968.
Live at PJ's, Liberty, 1969; reissued, RPM, 2000.
All Alone Am I, Dureco, 1981.
I'm Yours, Arcade, 1981.
For Sentimental Reasons, Arcade, 1982.
Timi Yuro Today, Ariola, 1982.
The Lost Voice of Soul, RPM, 1993.
The Voice That Got Away: Timi Yuro, RPM, 1996.
The Timi Yuro Album, EMI, 1976; reissued, 1996.
The Unique Sound of Timi Yuro, MCPS, 1997.
The Amazing Timi Yuro: The Mercury Years, Universal, 2005.
Very Best of Timi Yuro, EMI Gold, 2006.
Freeland, David, Ladies of Soul, University Press of Mississippi, 2001.
"Timi Yuro," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 16, 2006).
"Timi Yuro—Feisty white singer with a black soul voice," The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story0,3604,1189247,00.html. (April 10, 2004).
"Timi Yuro," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com. (November 16, 2006).
Additional information for this profile was drawn from liner notes for RPM Timi Yuro reissues and compilations.
More From encyclopedia.com
Aretha Franklin , Aretha Franklin 1942– Singer, songwriter Birth of a Gospel Singer Marriage of Gospel and Pop Earning RESPECT A Period of Decline The Queen Is Still O… Percy Sledge , Rhythm and blues singer, songwriter Percy Sledge’s best-known hit, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” was first released in 1966 but continued to keep the s… Nancy Sinatra , Hazlewood, Lee Singer, producer, songwriter While Lee Hazlewood isn't a particularly well known name in music, he is an iconoclastic renaissance man,… Whitney Houston , Whitney Houston 1963– Singer, actress At a Glance… Found a Mentor in Clive Davis Sophomore Effort Debuted at Number One Escalating Fame Incited Rumor… Kirsty Maccoll , MacColl, Kirsty Singer, songwriter The virtues of Kirsty MacColl's work—integrity, irony, literateness, and independence—are not ones typically assoc… Tramaine Hawkins , Hawkins, Tramaine Tramaine Hawkins is the reigning diva of gospel music. Serving God through her voice since childhood, Hawkins has made it a mission…
About this article
Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article
You Might Also Like