top of page

I've Got a Feeling - Barbara Randolph

The aforementioned (see previous posts) fact that the team of Holland Dozier Holland were the most prolific writers of hits of all time is reflected in the incidence of songs featured on this blog. In 498 entries, 16 are by HDH. As Motown's premier songwriters, you'd expect them to be assigned to the labels leading acts the Supremes and the Four Tops, and they were, but some of their finest work was with other lesser lights such as the Elgins, the Contours, Brenda Holloway, Junior Walker, R Dean Taylor and the early singles of Marvin Gaye, posts on all of which can be located by googling their names followed by "Uncle Stylus". A classic example of HDH working with a Motown lesser light is "I've Got a Feeling" by Barbara Randolph.

If you interview any DJ, -who interviews DJ's? No-one I suspect. Why, you'd be wasting dancing time! - but if you did, he or she would tell you that the moments they enjoy best are those when they have their audience in the palm of their hand - everyone packing the dance floor, or just taking a short breather - and they play a song that none of their audience have ever heard before, and it goes down, should I say up?, like a rocket, it takes the dance even higher. This is the stuff that makes legends, the x factor that makes the difference, that makes a reputation. You have to spin tracks that fit with what you've been playing and where you're taking them, that people really know and like, but then you need that something else, that dash of fairy dust that makes the difference. You know when you've done it, the electricity spreads on the dancefloor, sometimes everyone applauds at the end of the track, and people come up after and ask what it was you just played. Later most punters would just say "that was a great night. The music was out of this world." not remembering the specific tracks that added that something extra.

Northern soul DJ's were particularly good at this, sometimes putting fake labels on their records so that rivals couldn't find their secret. Played at the right moment, "I've Got a Feeling" was one of those tracks.

Barbara Randolph was the adopted daughter of Lillian Randolph, an actress who appeared in over 52 films, including the Christmas favourite "It's a Wonderful Life", from 1938 - 1979. She also voiced the role of Mammy Two Shoes, the African American maid that older readers will remember from Tom and Jerry cartoons. I say "older readers" as the Mammy Two Shoes has, for the most part, been edited out of the cartoons, and the character herself was removed after protests from the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (the NAACP) in 1953 who said that the character stereotypically demeaned African Americans. This is curious in that throughout my childhood in the UK and abroad, many years after this, I clearly remember Mammy Two Shoes' stentorious shouts of "Thomas" every time she came across evidence of his wrongdoing. Obviously the ban only took place in the US. As I recall, she was the only human in the cartoons, and we mostly only saw her feet, occasionally her long woolen socks and the bottom of her skirt. Randolph herself was furious about her loss of work, claiming that the NAACP president, one Walter White, was "....only one-eighth Negro, and not qualified to speak for Negroes." She has the now dubious distinction of having played the lead character's mother in the Cosby Show in the late sixties.

Barbara was a nearly girl, nearly making it in her mother's profession of acting, and just a smidgeon away from making it big as a singer on a number of occasions. In 1962, at ten years old, she was one of the leads in the film, "Bright Road", along with Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. In 1967 she appeared in the classic "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", but all through this period she was also flirting with success in the music business. In 1960 Barbara sang for a short while with the Primettes, a girl-group just starting out who later became the Supremes. In 1964 she joined the Platters, (of "Smoke Gets in your Eyes" fame), a vocal group long past their glory days of the 1950's, but only stayed with them for a year. In 1967 she signed with Motown and released a couple of singles, but neither were hits. While there, she toured in a duet with Marvin Gaye replacing the ill Tammi Terrell. When Terrell died, it was suggested that the duet continued and recorded together, but Gaye hadn't the heart for it, (although he later relented and made an album with Diana Ross). She was also briefly considered as a replacement for Florence Ballard in the Supremes, but Cindy Birdsong, from Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells, got the nod ahead of her.

I'm not sure exactly why she didn't get more recording opportunities with Motown, or why she left, but it may have been something to do with the fact that Barbara began going out with Eddie Singleton, ex husband of Motown boss Berry Gordy's ex-wife Raynoma Gordy. Raynoma was one of the people who set up Motown with Gordy, and her work in songwriting, production, musical arrangements and music publishing was crucial in the early years of the label. Raynoma and Eddie left Motown in 1963 and started their own label "Shine Records". In an amazing interview with DJ and Northern Soul fiend Andy Rix, recorded in 1989. (hear it on Eddie Singleton (Shrine Records) telephone Interview by Andy Rix - 12th May 1989. - YouTube ) Eddie recalls how Berry Gordy (presumably) had a breaking single "Don't Bring Back Memories" by Barbara Lewis that he and Raynoma had written withdrawn from circulation. If this is true, it's a measure of how powerful the man was: even though Lewis wasn't on Motown, you can't find a trace of the song anywhere, not even a chart listing. In the interview, Singleton implied that Gordy saw to it that Shine Records wasn't successful either, and was still, in 1989, making life difficult for him.

Many of the 26 singles that Shine released have been become legendary thanks to the English phenomenon of Northern Soul (see ) and there is a moving moment in the interview where it becomes clear that Eddie Singleton, a US soul journeyman, has no idea of his cult status in the UK. Ironically too, his by-now wife Barbara Randolph's most famous record also achieved it's success through the Northern Soul dance halls in the early 70's. Eddie and Barbara moved to South Africa and remained married until her death from cancer in 2002.Eddie died six years later.

I feel like Uncle Stylus through the looking glass: Lamont Dozier, Tom and Jerry, Barbara Randolph, Eddie Singleton, Northern Soul. I've got a feeling no-one's going to get to the end of this. No matter.

Holland Dozier Holland and the Funk Brothers at their best, with a perfect, wonderful vocal by Barbara Randolph, dizzying timing, heavenly breathcatching emphasis all over. One of the all-time greatest dancers. Turn it up to maximum, you won't be able to not dance. I said TURN IT UP!

See what I mean?


bottom of page