Sweethearts of Sigma
Sweethearts of Sigma
The Sweethearts of Sigma: Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram
THE SWEETHEARTS OF SIGMA aka THE SWEETIES, Tommy's Girls, The Philadelphia Angels, The Girls, Alpha Angels.
Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram were all born and raised in Camden, New Jersey and have been together for as long as they can remember. Carla Benson and the late Barbara Ingram are first cousins and Evette Benton and Carla are best friends since early childhood. They were invited to audition for the world famous song writer, producer and arranger Thom Bell while still in their teens and immediately became an integral part of the Sound of Philadelphia.
In the Music World where background singers' careers last approximately five years, two cousins and a best friend, managed to maintain a successful career over 20 years. They were nicknamed several times. First known as " Tommy's Girls,"-references to Thom Bell who, after discovering them, subsequently took them under his wings then, "The Sweethearts of Sigma, and " The Philadelphia Angels,"-references to Sigma Sound Studios, the studio playground for producers Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, and to Philadelphia International Records, masters of Philly soul and many other producers. They were also frequently referred to as simply "The Girls" and "Alpha Angels" references to Alpha Studio also in Philadelphia.
Later in 1984, the Sweethearts were on tour with Patti LaBelle when Ms. LaBelle and her Musical Director, Budd Ellison soon took to calling them, "The Sweeties," and have been quoted saying, "They're the best in the business. Working with them was just like playing a finely tuned instrument." The name stuck and since that time, Barbara, Carla and Evette have been known as "The Sweeties."
The sing along riffs the public associates with a hit are often performed not by the star, but the background singers: that's Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram whom people hum along with on Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones", McFadden & Whitehead's "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now", Patti LaBelle's "New Attitude", If Only You Knew" & "On My Own" and cuts by Teddy Pendergrass, the O'Jays, Lou Rawls, Salsoul Orchestra, MFSB, Jerry Butler, Archie Bell & the Drells, the Stylistics, the Spinners, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes, Elton John, Dionne Warwick, France Joli, Charo, Englebert Humperdink, Grace Jones, Johnny Mathis, Deniece Williams, Dick Jenson, Evelyn "Champagne" King, -plus many, many more. (Jan Hoffman, the Village Voice)
The Sweethearts of Sigma, as they were originally known, soon rose to the top of their field causing Ms. Magazine to list them among the Record Industries, "TOP 40 MUSIC MOGULS," and TODAY magazine, (the Philadelphia Inquirer) included them in their timely and informative article entitled- "The THINKING PERSON'S WOMAN."
In 1972, the late Barbara Ingram, after returning from a tour as a Raylette for Ray Charles, learned some exciting news from her sister "Frankie". Frankie had a friend who was married to an up and coming composer and producer named Thom Bell. She learned that this Thom Bell, along with two of his friends, Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble, were in the process of forming a new record company. Ms. Ingram and Thom Bell's co-writer, Linda Creed sang a few background vocals for Bell and Creed's first project for a group called The Stylistics. It was then that Thom Bell told her if she knew of 2 other ladies who could really sing, that they may be able to make some money by doing studio work singing for this new company which was to be named Philadelphia International Records.
Barbara called her cousin, Carla, whom she'd heard singing an aria in high school a few months earlier and told her about the new company. She asked her if she knew anyone else who could sing, that might want to do this with them. By then, Carla was enrolled in her first semester at Glassboro State College, now Rowan University, studying, Voice. Carla's roommate was her very best childhood friend, Evette Benton, who was a fabulous alto and was majoring in Special Education. Carla and Evette had sung together all through high school, under the direction of Dr. James E. Mumford. They also were members of a well known local gospel group called, "The Arneld Dupree Singers", under the direction of Arneld "Chucky" Dupree. So, when Barbara asked her if she knew of anyone else, Carla replied, "yeah, she's sitting right here!"
The three ladies met and discussed the exciting proposition. After some initial hesitation by Evette, Barbara set up the audition and off they went to the offices above the old Shubert Theater, now The Merriam Theater, on Broad Street in Philadelphia. In all the excitement, they never prepared a song to sing for the audition! According to Evette, "As we drove over the bridge to Philadelphia we realized we'd never sung together, and had not prepared a song for an audition!" Scrambling for a song they all knew that they could do together, they remembered a song called "MacArthur's Park", a popular song at that time, and came up with the idea to sing the bridge of that song-"There will never be another song for me, for I will sing it; There will be another dream for me, someone will bring it." So they practiced it in three part harmony, 15 minutes away before arriving at the audition.
They were greeted by Thom Bell and he led the girls to his office and everyone spent the better part of an hour chatting and getting to know one another. Finally, Thom asked them to sing for him individually. Evette sang "I Got Love"- from the Broadway Musical "Purlie" and Barbara sang "A House Is Not A Home". Thom looked at Carla, for her to sing a song, she nervously replied, "I don't sing much R & B, but pull out an aria and I'll work it for you!" Bell laughingly suggested they sing something together.
They cleared their throats, Barbara established the melody, Carla, jumped on the high harmony and Evette held down the bottom. As they sang that bridge to "MacArthur's Park" in that small office that fateful day, something magical happened. What the girls came to call "The God-Sent Blend" was born. Thom Bell left his office at least 10 times and came back with every producer in the building, instructing the girls each time to "sing that again!" After about 45 minutes of singing those same 8 bars over and over, Mr. Leon Huff returned and asked them if they wanted to do a session. They were ecstatic and said, "yeah, when?" Huff said tomorrow night at midnight! "MIDNIGHT?" they screeched! Huff stated, "If you want to be in the music business, you gotta get used to the hours". And that's how it began.
Their first session was for "Joe Simon" and it was a song called "Pool of Bad Luck", which was an irony because it was anything but bad luck for these three Camden Natives. They went on to become the official in-house background vocalists for Philadelphia International Records for almost 10 years! Their smooth blend was much sought after by Producers who flew in from all over the world to work with these ladies. Their speed for learning parts, their ability to read music when required, their ability to arrange background vocals, their professionalism and comedic antics in the studio became legendary.
In 1983, Patti Labelle was looking for some new background vocalists to tour the world with her. Barbara's brothers had been the band for Ms. LaBelle and Barbara's brother Johnny Ingram knew the girls could get the gig; if they wanted it. So, he told Barbara, Barbara called Evette and Carla and they, again decided to go for it. Years before The Sweethearts had done background vocals for Damon Harris', who was a former member of Temptations, new album. Budd Ellison, Ms. Labelle's Musical Director and Patti LaBelle co-produced a couple of songs for that project and they hired, "The Girls," to do the background vocals. They loved the Sweethearts sound, and when the time came that Miss Patti needed new background personnel, they immediately thought of "The Girls" but did not know how to get in touch with them. Johnny stepped in and saved the day. After the audition, LaBelle signed the trio for her "Over the Rainbow Tour, five Broadway runs, two Television Specials and three album recordings to name a few. Their pairing led to an unparallel- 5 year run in Ms. Labelle's illustrious career in which "The Sweeties" contribution was significant.
Their voices have been heard on television commercials and radio jingles including "Philadelphia Get to Know Us,(also appeared in the commercial)" "Eastern Airlines", Polaroid & Kodak films (Zip camera & Times of Your Life), Pepsi and many more. Motion Picture Soundtracks includes "Beverly Hills Cops", "Gordon's War", "Outrageous Fortune", "Fish That Saved Pittsburg", "Nocturner's Dracula." They also appeared in two videos with Patti Labelle's "Over the Rainbow Tour", and "Stir it Up."
After 5 years on the road, Carla felt it was time to call it quits to be at home with her son. Barbara was experiencing serious health issues and needed lots of bed rest, so the timing was perfect to switch gears. Evette worked her way up to the Director of Camden County OEO Head Start in South Jersey and Carla continued in the business on a more local level. Sadly Barbara passed away on October 20, 1994 leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of her beloved Sweeties as well as the Music Industry as a whole.
BIOGRAPHY CARLA L. BENSON:
It has been reported that Camden City native, Vocalist Carla Benson holds the fabulous distinction of having appeared on more hit records with more name artists than any other vocalist in the history of the Record Business.
With the decline of disco, The Sweeties were without work and decided to break up the group. However, feeling the need to continue performing, rather than return to college, Carla Benson auditioned for and won roles in several off Broadway productions of Ain't Misbehavin. Additionally, she was approached to produce the annual fundraising event for The Dr. Charles Henderson Auxiliary, the only African American auxiliary of The Cooper University Hospital. She wrote, directed an ensemble cast, produced and performed in her creation she named "Rhapsody in Black". That year, the auxiliary exceeded their own expectations and was able to donate the largest contribution to the hospital in their history. That record still stands today.
Tony Award Winning Director, Joseph Walker was hired to produce a series of musicals for Rutgers University. It was under his direction that Carla starred in productions of "Dreamgirls", "The Amen Corner", "Buddy Bolden" and "Raisin". Mr. Walker often remarked that he felt Carla was his own personal musical theater discovery and, before his untimely death, he was writing another musical especially for her which he hoped to have produced on Broadway. Mr. Walker's Musical Director, Tony Booker, was instrumental in Miss Benson being signed to a five year contract at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC where she was featured in their annual production of "The Black Nativity".
Carla continued recording and was called upon for her expert vocals frequently by world renowned producer Billy Terrell. Under his direction, the two became great friends and worked on many of his projects together, most recently for jazz guitarist Larry Carlton (2010). She was the featured lead for Michael Pedicin's album entitled "Because of Love" where her vocals earned her the title song for the album. Additionally, Carla has recorded vocals for Jim"Reds" Gallagher, engineer extraordinaire, on many of his album releases.
In 1996, she graduated at the top of her class from The Technical Institute of New Jersey, Pennsauken Campus as a Certified Paralegal. She immediately began working part time as an Executive Legal Secretary in Arbitration in the chambers of The Honorable Judge Vogelson at The Hall of Justice in Camden. She laughingly refers to this time as proving to her that she "is a musician". Wanting to remain close to home, but still needing to sing, Miss Benson worked for years with the Franklin Alison Orchestra out of Princeton, NJ
In 1999, she graduated with her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Vocal Music. Miss Benson worked as a Permanent Substitute at Camden High School.
In 2000, Carla was approached to participate in a special project that would highlight the studio musicians of Motown. Because she was a studio musician at Philadelphia international Records, this project held a particular appeal for her. The project called "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" turned into an award winning documentary, now available on DVD, and went on to win three Grammy Awards.
In April 2005, Miss Benson received full Certification as a Teacher of Music. She is currently a High School Teacher of Music and gives private voice lessons in between gigs.
BIOGRAPHY EVETTE L. BENTON:
Evette Leontine Benton formed a vocal trio with the late Barbara Ingram and Carla Benson in the early 1970's. The trio sang backing vocals on numerous Philadelphia-based recordings during the 1970's and early 1990's.
Born and raised in Camden, New Jersey. She attended the Camden Public School system, a graduate from Camden High School. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Special Education/certification in Teacher of the Handicapped, from Glassboro State College, now known as Rowan University.
Music has been a major influence in her life. As a child at New Mickle Baptist Church, she started singing in the Sunshine Choir at the age of four and has been singing ever since. Her involvements during the years, until graduation from college, include membership as a singer in the All City Choir and Band where she played a saxophone and was in numerous concert and gospel choirs throughout the city.
She was a directress and a singer of the nationally known Arneld Dupree Singers and the Glassboro State College Gospel Choir. She appeared in various shows and plays during those years.
Her professional musical career began where she and Carla performed with their High School Concert Choir which recorded a live Christmas Album at Camden High School.
While in college she teamed up with Carla Benson and Barbara Ingram, then known as the "Sweethearts" of Sigma(Sigma Sound Recording Studio in Philadelphia). They were discovered by the world famous producer Thom Bell and immediately became an integral part of the "Sound of Philadelphia," working closely with Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, as recording background vocalists. Their voices were featured on albums for Teddy Pendergrass, Spinners, Dionne Warwick, Lou Rawls, Billy Paul, Patti LaBelle, Stylistics, Englebert Humperdink, New York City, Major Harris, MacFadden & Whitehead, Johnny Mathis, Elton John, MFSB, OJays, Salsoul Orchestra, the original "Ritchie Family,"and many, many more.
Beginning in 1980, when Ms. Benton was not singing or recording, she was a Special Education teacher at Camden County OEO Inc. Head Start program, in which she enjoyed as a second career, working with handicapped children. In 1984, she was granted a leave of absence. While touring she wrote Individual Educational Plans for handicapped children enrolled at Head Start while traveling on the road and volunteered her services to the program when she was home.
"The Sweethearts" are best known for their voices on "Ain't No Stopping Us Now," by MacFadden & Whitehead and the Salsoul Orchestra's Christmas Album.
Their singing careers quickly rose to the top of their field causing Ms. Magazine to feature them among the record industries "Top 40 Music Moguls", the Philadelphia Inquire Today Magazine as "The Thinking Person's Woman", the Billboard Magazine featured them in an article titled "Behind the Scenes", and the Village Voice Weekly Newspaper(New York),-"Labelle's Sweeties, Backing Up is Hard to Do." The "Sweeties," a name given to them by Patti Labelle, has appeared on television, videos and cable on KYW-TV-"People are Talking," "NBC- Patti LaBelle's TV Special", "Sisters In the Name of Love,", "Sesame Street", "Soul Train", Johnny Carson Show, Arsenio Hall Show, Mike Douglas Show, "Live Aid,"" Lou Rawls Parade of Stars UNCF, commercials- Burger King, Chrysler Cars, Ford Cars, Pepsi, "Philadelphia Get to Know Us," " I Love New York," and many more.
The Sweeties also performed at a "Fourth of July Evening Concert" at the Camden City Waterfront. Although the "Sweeties" toured with various groups, they eventually toured exclusively with Patti LaBelle.
Evette's was a featured soloist on "Games People Play," by the Spinners, "Picnic in the Park" by MFSB, and an album by an anonymous group - "Metropolis."a commercial for Seafood Shanty, Chyrsler Plymouth Cars "Chyrsler Plymouth Man."
On many occasions she spoke to children in various school systems who had an interest in a musical career. Her advice to them is to make sure they get an education, finish school and obtain a college degree or master a skill in which they can fall back on despite the difficulties of the ups and downs of the music business, including the fact that there are 1,000 new musicians and singers entering the business daily. Although you can make money behind the scenes, very few are fortunate enough to make it to the top and become a star. Therefore, Always have a plan B when it comes to making a living.
Numerous doors of opportunity were opened to Ms. Benton by citizens of Camden, which allowed her to pursue two careers. This generosity, left a desire in her too never forgot her roots and make sure that she gives something back to her community. She decided that she could accomplish more by returning to work in the community she grew up in and could really make more of an impact in influencing children's lives through teaching as opposed to singing. She eventually became the Director of the Camden County Head Start program that served 1,183 children and was the second largest preschool program in South Jersey. She is currently a Grants Compliance Officer.
BIOGRAPHY BARBARA J. INGRAM:
Barbara Jane Ingram (born February 9, 1947-October 20, 1994) was an Grammy Award-nominated American musician. Active throughout the early 1970s until the mid-late 1980s, Ingram enjoyed TREMENDOUS success a backup singer for almost two decades with Carla Benson, her cousin and Evette Benton, her friend.
Ingram was born raised in Camden, New Jersey, she started to sing at the age of 12, and mostly performed in local talent shows. She would later graduate from Woodrow Wilson High School High school.
Late in her teens, she auditioned for Mr. Ray Charles and enjoyed a brief career as a "Raylette".
Ingram returned home and eventually formed a vocal trio with her cousin Carla Benson and friend Evette Benton, alternating with group names such as: Tommy's Girls,The Sweethearts of Sigma, The Philadelphia Angels, The Sweeties or The Sweethearts. Benton, Benson and Ingram can be heard on many Contemporary R&B and Disco albums. In 1971, she sang, along with song writers Linda Creed and Thom Bell, the background vocals for R&B vocal group, The Stylistics eponymous album. It was immediately after that that Thom Bell suggested to her if she could find two other women that could sing, they could possibly make some money singing background.
In mid 1972, the trio worked on Barbara Mason's "Bed and Board" album and it was that song that was the first song they heard themselves singing on on the radio In the middle quarter of 1973, and onto early 1974, she, Carla and Evette appeared on Hawaiian based soul singer Dick Jensen's debut album. They appear on many albums and singles including self-contained sextet R&B-Soul vocal band Ecstasy, Passion & Pain's self-titled debut album.
Through the decade of the 1970s, Ingram and her cousin Carla Benson and friend Evette Benton comprised the in-house backup group for Philadelphia International Records, Thom Bell, as well acts that came through to record in the closely related studio Sigma Sound that was a hit factory as much as Motown's Studio A. The group was dubbed "The Sweeties" by Patti Labelle, when they had begun to tour exclusively for her.
They were as integral to the Philly sound as The Andantes were to Motown, and just as in demand in their day.
In 1976 Ingram sang lead vocals on the album The Funk Is In Our Music for the Ingram Kingdom, a family group that included her five brothers James [Jimmy], Norman [Butch], William [Billy], Robert [Timmy] and John [Johnny]. Switching their name to 'Ingram' in 1977, Barbara continued to contribute background and lead vocals to the groups next three albums released 1977-1984, That's All!, Would You Like To Fly and Night Stalkers. Ingram is pictured on the album jackets of their first and fourth albums. Ingram continued to sing live concert shows from 1980 until 1986, then from 1988 until 1992.
On October 20, 1994, Barbara Ingram died unexpectedly at the age of 47, in Camden, New Jersey. The funeral was held in the church her father, the Reverend Henry Ingram, had founded years earlier, Bethany Baptist Church, now located in Voorhees, NJ. R.I.P. : Miss Barbara Jane Ingram.
THANK YOU Hans R. de Vries, for all your dedication and hard work in assisting us with this Tribute, Evette & Carla!.