Holle Thee Maxwell

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Holle Thee Maxwell
Holle Thee Maxwell.jpg
Holle Thee Maxwell at the Lincoln Center
Background information
Birth name Holly Thee MarClaRoDe' Maxwell
Also known as Holly Maxx; Holly Maxwell; Holle Maxwell;Holle Thee Maxwell; The Original Black Blonde Bombshell
Born (1945-10-17) October 17, 1945 (age 70)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Genres Opera, jazz, soul, blues, R&B, pop, country
Occupation(s) Vocalist, songwriter
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1950–present
Associated acts Ike Turner, Jimmy Smith, The Temptations, The Impressions, Johnny Taylor, The Spinners, The Dells, Captain & Tennille, Fred Williamson, and Reynaldo Rey

Holle Thee Maxwell (born October 17, 1945) is an American vocalist and songwriter who performs in opera, jazz, soul, blues, R&B, pop, and country. She has performed with soul and blues artist Ike Turner, and jazz organist Jimmy Smith. She wrote a song for Bobby Bland's 1978 album, Come Fly with Me. Her seven decade career includes opera training in childhood, being a soul balladeer in the 1960s, European tours, and performances in the Chicago Blues Festival. The Cannes Musical Festival named her "Queen of Entertaining Entertainers".

Life and career[edit]

Maxwell first sang professionally at the age of five. She studied classical voice and piano from age nine to seventeen.[1] At age twelve, she was featured at the Chicago Civic Opera House.[2] Maxwell holds two degrees in music from the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University and The Juilliard School.[3]

Even though her mother had her attend modeling and finishing school and classical musical training, Maxwell discovered soul late in high school. She said, "Around the age of seventeen, I started sneaking around off to the nightclubs and looking at Harold Burrage, Otis Clay, Little Johnny Williams. I used to watch these artists because they had so much soul, so much whatever."[1] She briefly sang with a girl group called the Tourjourettes while attending Parker High School in Chicago.[1]

Bunky Sheppard discovered Maxwell in early 1965 and produced her first singles for Constellation Records, starting with "One Thin Dime" that had good play in Chicago. In the summer of 1965, Maxwell was featured in Beatrice Watson's column in the Chicago Defender.[1] Chicago Soul historian Robert Pruter wrote the following about Watson's report:

...Holly's mother, Eula Maxwell, took pains to assure the Defender reporter that her daughter was still progressing toward becoming an opera singer. Holly herself pointed out that she had been singing jazz for two and a half years and was singing r&b as a step up.[1]

Star Records produced Maxwell's single "Philly Barracuda" in 1966 complete with instructions on how to perform the "Philly Dog" dance. Star promoted the record with an appearance of deejay Herb Kent at the Crane High School with Maxwell getting up on the table to sing the song while demonstrating how to do the dance.[1]

Maxwell reached a crossroads in her career when she made the mistake in 1967 of singing the pop song, "Misty", while performing at a former R&B Chicago nightclub called Peyton Place on the same bill as Hi-Fi White, a blues vocalist and transvestite comedian known for lewd jokes.[2] When she ran crying to dressing room after the audience threw oranges and beer bottles at her for her performance, Hi Fi White told her, "Honey, you ain't got no soul." She was determined "to get this soul". She listened to Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin and practiced singing for four months until she taught herself to sing soul at the age of twenty-two.[1] She returned to the Peyton Place and bedazzled the audience with a "devastating" rendition of "Respect".[2]

Maxwell had solo gigs in Chicago clubs and occasionally sang as backup for Barbara Acklin.[4] Maxwell recorded singles for the record labels Curtom Records, Smit Whit Records, and Star Records in the 1960s and 1970s. She had regional hits across the United States with the songs "Only When Your Lonely", "One Thin Dime", "Never Love Again", "Suffer", and "Philly Barracuda".[5] Her singles are popular with collectors worldwide, especially Northern Soul enthusiasts in Europe.[3] Clemente placed her single "Only When Your Lonely" in the his "500 Most Collectable Girl Group 45s" list in 2013.[6]

Maxwell moved to California for most of the 1970s and early 1980s. During this time Maxwell owned a nightclub and sang for two years with jazz organist Jimmy Smith.[1] Maxwell replaced Tina Turner in Ike Turner's band[3] from 1977 to 1985 mostly in Europe.[7] She performed with Ike Turner again for eight months in 1992. Despite the controversy surrounding Tina Turner's separation from Ike Turner, Maxwell reported a positive working partnership with him.[7]

Maxwell returned to Chicago in 1985.[1] French club owner Gérard Vacher saw Maxwell perform at the Kingston Mines in 1996 and booked her at his club, Quai du Blues or the Maxwell Café Supper Club.[2] Maxwell became co-owner of this club known in France as "the home of real American blues."[8] In 2005 she remained a hit in France.[9] She was a regular performer at Maxwell Café in Paris and nightclubs in London and Europe.[4] She was named "Queen of Entertaining Entertainers" by the Cannes Musical Festival.[10]

Maxwell joined Chicago Women in Blues at Reggie's Rock Club in Chicago in 2011 in response to the Chicago Blues Festival lineup of almost all male performers.[11] She hosted an all-female performance at the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival that featured Liz Mandeville, Demetria Taylor, Peaches Staten, and Ramblin' Rose.[12] In January 2014, the Great Black Music Project of the Northeastern Illinois University honored Maxwell by adding her to their artist registry and podcasting their interview of her about her music career.[13]

Maxwell has never stopped working[4] in her seven decade career[2][14] that spans opera training in childhood, being a soul balladeer in the 1960s, and extensive European tours[15] to currently performing in Chicago clubs, the Chicago Blues Festival, hosting a musical/historical tour of Chicago's soul and blues with Jimmy Burns.[16] Her music continues to air to global audiences on KJAZZ Radio UK.[17] On June 8, 2014, Maxwell was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame at Buddy Guy's Legends.[18] WICU-TV headlined Maxwell as a "true queen of [the] Chicago blues scene" in George Blaise's December 30, 2014 interview on his 23 N Halsted show.[19] She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by Chicago Music Awards on March 15, 2015.[20]

Music and performance style[edit]

Maxwell sings wide-ranging genres of opera, soul, jazz, rock, country, and blues. She sings in multiple languages of English, French, German, and Italian. American Blues News reported that her early influences included Shirley Temple, Mae West, Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker, and Dinah Shore."[21] Blues singer Bobby Bland used her song "Ain"t God Something" on his album, Come Fly with Me.[17][22]

In 1978, South African reviewer Roy Christie credited the success of the Jimmy Smith show to "the electrifying performance of Holly Maxwell." He wrote, "She is virtually a reincarnation of Billie (Billie Holiday)."[23] Reviewer Aaron Cohen in more recent years described Maxwell as rendering Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" with "outright defiance."[24] However, other observers state that Maxwell's rendition of "God Bless the Child" moves people to cry or cheer.[11]

American Blues News reviewer commented that Maxwell has versatile performance abilities. He wrote, "When she picks up a mike, the cord is a fuse, because she explodes on stage... She can be quite bawdy at times and her audiences love it, including me!"[21] Blues critic David Whiteis stated in 2009 that Maxwell's performance style evolved from a "sweet voiced 'girl singer' who melted hearts back in the day" to "a growling, provocatively clad sex kitten."[25]



  • (Happiness Will Cost You) One Thin Dime / It's Impossible (1965) - Constellation Records[26]
  • Philly Barracuda Part 1 (1966) - Star[27]
  • Philly Barracuda Part 2 (1966) - Star[27]
  • Don't Say You Love Me Until You Do / Blueberry Hill (1966) - Star [27]
  • Heartbeat / It Was A Very Good Year (1967) - Checker Records[27]
  • Suffer with The Impressions as backup vocals(1969) - Curtom Records[26][27]
  • Never Love Again / Winter Go Away (3 versions) (1970) - Smit-Whit Records[26]
  • Only When You're Lonely / Let Him Go For Himself (2010 Promo) - Constellation Records[26]
  • Only When You're Lonely (2012) - Holle Thee Maxwell[28]


  • Holle Thee Maxwell...Thee Blonde Bombshell (1972) - Unknown record label[21]
  • Jimmy Smith Plays for the People (1978) - Jimmy Smith performs with H. Ray Crawford, Kenny Dixon, and Holly Maxwell on vocals - Unknown record label[29]
  • The Northern Soul of Constellation (Release date unknown) - Holly Maxwell for four tracks - Base Camp Records[30]
  • The Northern Soul of Chicago (1993) - Holly Maxwell for one track - Goldmine Soul Supply[31]
  • Live at Quai du Blues (2004) - Virgin Records[32]
  • All Kinds'a Blues ... All Kinds'a All Ways (2012) - TuneCore[33]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Pruter, Robert (1991). Chicago Soul. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. pp. 67–69; 205–6. ISBN 978-0-252-06259-9. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Porter, James (2005). "C'est la vie, Holle: She's big in France, but blues trooper Holle Thee Maxwell can't buy a break in her hometown.". Time Out Magazine (Time Out Digital Ltd.). Retrieved August 5, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c "THE Underground Experience Presents "The Power Of Black Music & Culture Sessions" Series # 6" Featuring Holle Thee Maxwell & Mr. Charles Reese!". ultimateunderground.com. Ultimate Underground. Retrieved July 31, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c Hamilton, Andrew. "Holly Maxwell Biography". allmusic.com. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved August 29, 2013. 
  5. ^ Schelkopf, Eric. "Chicago Blues/R&B diva to bring her feisty style to Chicago Blues Fest and beyond". chicagobluesguide.com. Chicago Blues Guide LLC. Retrieved August 5, 2013. 
  6. ^ Clemente, John (June 24, 2013). Girl Groups: Fabulous Females Who Rocked the World. Bloomington, IN, USA: Author House. p. 612. ISBN 1477276335. Retrieved September 29, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Gillespie, Ian (July 22, 1993). "Holly Maxx credits Ike Turner with putting her head straight". The London Free Press. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  8. ^ Staff (October 2, 2003). "Singing diva Holly Thee Maxwell returns triumphantly from Paris". Chicago Defender. Retrieved September 22, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Unforgettable Evening with the Legends of Afro-American Music". quaidublues.com. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  10. ^ "What’s the Blues Got to Do with it? Everything! Chicago's Red Hot Blues Royalty in New York City to Salute Women of The Blues Starring Holle Thee Maxwell & Nelle Tiger Travis of Chicago Blues Mamas". chicagoblues mamas.com. Chicago Blues Mamas. Retrieved August 9, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b Morand, J.T. (August 1, 2012). "Chicago Women in Blues set for Evanston gig at SPACE". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  12. ^ Whiteis, David; Dahl, Bill; Margasak, Peter (June 9, 2011). "The Reader's Guide to the Chicago Blues Festival". Chicago Reader. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  13. ^ "What’s the Blues Got to Do with it? Everything! Chicago's Red Hot Blues Royalty in New York City to Salute Women of The Blues Starring Holle Thee Maxwell & Nelle Tiger Travis of Chicago Blues Mamas". http://greatblackmusicproject.org/en/artists/new-podcast-hollee-maxwell-blonde-bombshell-0. The Great Black Music Project. Retrieved February 13, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Holle Thee Maxwell Web Extra". wciu.com. WCIU-TV Limited Partnership. June 9, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2013. 
  15. ^ "More fest high points". Chicago Tribune. May 20, 2013. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  16. ^ "Soul Tour of Chicago". Eventbrite. June 10, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2013. 
  17. ^ a b "Five Minutes with Holle Thee Maxwell". kjazzradiouk.com. 2013 KJAZZ RADIO UK LTD. 2015. Retrieved March 30, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Chicago Blues Hall of Fall 2014 Inductees". BluesHallofFame.org. Chicago Blues of Hall Fame. 2014. Retrieved May 23, 2014. 
  19. ^ "26 N Halsted: Holle Thee Maxwell: A true queen of Chicago blues scene". wciu.com. WCIU-TV Limited Partnership. 2014. Retrieved January 12, 2015. 
  20. ^ "CMA Chicago Music Award: Honoring the Best of Chicago's Entertainment Community: March 2015" (PDF). http://chicagomusicawards.org. Chicago Music Awards. Retrieved March 17, 2015. 
  21. ^ a b c "Holle Thee Maxwell is The Original Black Bombshell". ameriblues.com. American Blues News. October 7, 2009. Retrieved August 5, 2013. 
  22. ^ "Diva singer Holle Thee Maxwell". kjazzradiouk.com. KJazz Radio UK. Retrieved August 9, 2013. 
  23. ^ Christie, Roy (December 5, 1978). "Holly is reincarnation of Billie, Ell et al". The Star. Retrieved August 2, 2013. 
  24. ^ Cohen, Aaron (June 10, 2013). "Chicago showed off its chops at a rollicking Blues Fest". chicagotribune.com. Tribune Newspaper. Retrieved July 31, 2013. 
  25. ^ Whiteis, David; Dahl, Bill (June 11, 2009). "The Reader's Guide to Chicago Blues Fest 2009". chicagoreader.org. un-Times Media, LLC. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  26. ^ a b c d "Hollee Thee". Discogs. Retrieved July 31, 2013. 
  27. ^ a b c d e "Holly Maxwell". soulfulkindamusic.net. Soulful Kinda Music Website & Magazine. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  28. ^ "Holle Thee Maxwell/Tunecore". emusic.com. Retrieved July 31, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Jimmy Smith Plays for the People: Rare South African - only LP with program". collectorsfrenzy.com. 2013 CollectorsFrenzy. February 19, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  30. ^ "Various - The Northern Soul of Constellation". discogs.com. Discogs. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  31. ^ "Various - The Northern Soul of Chicago". discogs.com. Discogs. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  32. ^ "Live at Quai du Blues". allmusic.com. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved September 22, 2014. 
  33. ^ "All Kinds of Blues - All Kinds'a Ways: Holly Thee Maxwell". emusic.com. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved August 7, 2013.