Maureen S. Gray, 65, singer and songwriter who began performing at 5

Maureen Gray was said to have "personified the Philly Sound."
Maureen Gray was said to have "personified the Philly Sound."
Posted: January 16, 2014

MAUREEN GRAY was about 12 when she wandered into a record store at 60th and Market streets to listen to the music she had heard played on the air by such disc jockeys as Jocko Henderson and Georgie Woods.

It was the famous Philadelphia Sound, launched on many a street corner in the '50s and '60s by kids harmonizing on doo-wop songs.

Maureen liked to sing along with the records played in the store. But it was no ordinary store. A co-owner was John Madara, a songwriter and promoter. He overheard her singing and was knocked out.

"Maureen told me she could sing," he said recently. "Well, she was right. Boy, could she sing! She was only 12 years old but she had developed an amazing set of chops."

Actually, Maureen, who died Jan. 7 at age 65, had been singing since she was 5. Born in New York City, she made her first public appearance at Carnegie Hall. She sang "Steam Heat," from the musical "Pajama Game," and received a standing ovation.

Maureen S. Gray, who went on to an outstanding singing career in Philadelphia, New York, California and Europe, died of a rare cancer of the bile duct. She had been living and performing in California and returned to Philadelphia a few months ago to look after her mother, Louise Gray, who is 93 and lives in West Philadelphia.

Back in 1960, Madara and his songwriting partner, David White - who had recorded Danny & The Juniors - were impressed enough by 12-year-old Maureen's singing to take her to Chancellor Records.

"Her first record, 'Today's The Day,' went No. 1 in Philly," Madara said, "and her recording of 'Dancin' the Strand' made the national charts and Billboard.

"One of the great female voices that personified the Philly Sound of the early 1960s has fallen silent with the passing of Maureen Gray. She was a very special person and a great talent."

Maureen performed on the radio, at record hops and shows. Her budding career impressed her seventh-grade classmates, but she didn't like the fact that at record hops, they got to dance while she had to get on the stage and perform.

After making some records for Mercury Records in New York City, her adolescent singing career was nearing an end. One of the songs was aptly titled "Goodbye Baby." She then moved to England.

There, she sang with such musical legends as John Lennon, George Harrison, Billy Preston and Bob Marley.

Maureen's music matured over the years, as she did, developing beyond her early work. Her later music was what she called pop-rock, flavored with folk, reggae and soul influences.

Her nickname was "Girl." She wrote her own songs and accompanied herself on piano, guitar and keyboard. For a time, she was better known in Europe than she was in the U.S.

"She was very creative," said her daughter, Nikko Gray. "She had a great thirst for knowledge. She was a real student of philosophy and world cultures. She felt music is important to uplift people's spirits."

In addition to her music, Maureen wrote extensively on philosophical and political subjects, as well as poetry.

"She was very outspoken and passionate about her beliefs," Nikko said. "She lived in different countries: United Kingdom, Switzerland, Spain, France. She had a real wanderlust, always looking forward to going on to the next thing."

Nikko, now 29, traveled with her mother and tried her best to keep up.

Maureen always credited her own mother, Louise, with encouraging her career.

"When Louise saw how her daughter loved singing, she taught her West Indian rhythms along with tunes from 'Showboat,' " said Robert Bosco, music historian and writer.

Charlie Horner, noted musicologist, said, "Maureen's records were always prized by Philadelphia collectors."

"Indeed, they still are," Bosco added.

Her mother and daughter are her only survivors.

Services: 11 a.m. tomorrow at Slater Funeral Home, 1426 Fitzwater St. Friends may call at 10 a.m. Burial will be in Fernwood Cemetery.

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