Sweet Pea Atkinson

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Sweet Pea Atkinson
Birth nameHillard Atkinson
Born(1945-09-20)September 20, 1945
Oberlin, Ohio, U.S.
DiedMay 5, 2020(2020-05-05) (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
GenresR&B, funk, rock
Years active1970s–2020

Hillard "Sweet Pea" Atkinson[1] (September 20, 1945[2] – May 5, 2020) was an American R&B singer known as one of the vocalists for the band Was (Not Was).[3]


Atkinson was born in Oberlin, Ohio, and moved to Detroit as a child.[4] He worked at the Chrysler factory, and sang with colleagues in a local band, Hi Energy. He met Don Was in the late 1970s, when he was rehearsing at the studio used by Was.[4]

Atkinson joined Was (Not Was) as joint lead vocalist alongside Harry Bowens. He also featured on some of the band's most successful recordings. In 1982, shortly after the release of the first Was (Not Was) album, he recorded and released his first solo album, Don't Walk Away.[3][5][6] The album was co-produced by David and Don Was.[7] In 1997, along with Kris Kristofferson, Atkinson starred in a 15-minute short film included on Don Was' album Forever's a Long, Long Time, which was released under the alias Orquestra Was.[8] Atkinson also performed as lead vocalist on most of the songs on the album, on which Was interprets songs by Hank Williams.[9][10]

Atkinson later joined forces with blues guitarist Randy Jacobs – also a longtime Was (Not Was) session guitarist who co-wrote the band's most successful hit, "Walk the Dinosaur" – in a band called The Boneshakers. Together they released three albums, two of which were studio recordings: Book of Spells in 1997 and Shake the Planet in 1999, both on Point Blank Records. The third album was Live in Seattle, with saxophonist Mindi Abair, which was released on Concord Records. Two more albums were credited to Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers: The EastWest Sessions (2017) and All I Got for Christmas Is the Blues (2018).[11][12]

Atkinson also toured for ten years with Lyle Lovett, and sang on recordings by Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Willie Nelson, Iggy Pop, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Barnes, and many others.[4]


He died on May 5, 2020 from a heart attack in Los Angeles, aged 74.[4]


Robert Christgau gave Don't Walk Away an A− grade, writing, "Trouper that he is, Atkinson will sing any nonsense [the Was brothers] hand him, but he obviously finds his truth in Dionne Warwick, the Tymes, General Johnson, and Eddie Rabbitt, and I'll go along with that."[6] AllMusic's William Ruhlmann gave the album 3 stars out of 5. In his review, Ruhlmann wrote that "For all intents and purposes, this is a Was (Not Was) record" and that "mostly this record has the same sarcastic undercurrent of most of Was (Not Was)'s product."[13]

Solo discography[edit]

  • Don't Walk Away (Island, 1982)
  • Get What You Deserve (2017)[14]



  1. ^ Fusilli, Jim, (September 21, 2017). "‘Get What You Deserve’ by Sweet Pea Atkinson Review: A Tribute to the Past", The Wall Street Journal.
  2. ^ Ohio Department of Health, Index to Annual Births, 1968–1998; Ohio Department of Health, State Vital Statistics Unit; Columbus, OH, USA, Certificate Number:1945092989
  3. ^ a b "Was (Not Was)". Contemporary Musicians. Cengage Learning. 2004.
  4. ^ a b c d Gary Graff, "Hillard 'Sweet Pea' Atkinson, Legendary Vocalist With Was (Not Was), Dies at 74", Billboard, May 7, 2020. Retrieved May 7, 2020
  5. ^ Wynn, Ron. "Sweet Pea Atkinson Biography". AllMusic.
  6. ^ a b Christgau, Robert. "Consumer Guide: Sweet Pea Atkinson". The Village Voice.
  7. ^ Pareles, Jon (November 15, 1982). "Pop: Sweet Pea Atkinson". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Cheng, Kipp (April 18, 1997). "Forever's a Long, Long Time". Entertainment Weekly.
  9. ^ Gill, Andy (October 23, 2011). "Pop Albums: Orquestra Was Forever's a Long, Long Time Verve 314 533–915". The Independent (published March 21, 1997). Archived from the original on May 26, 2022.
  10. ^ Cromelin, Richard (March 23, 1997). "What Was Was and What Was Is". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ Debbage, Michael. "Album Review: The EastWest Sessions". Mostly Pino. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
  12. ^ Whitemore, Laura B. (December 10, 2018). "Listen Now: 20 New Music Releases to Add to Your Holiday Playlist". Parade. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
  13. ^ Ruhlmann, William. "Don't Walk Away Review". AllMusic.
  14. ^ "I'm Old As Dirt But I Can Still Sing: Sweet Pea Atkinson On Get What You Deserve". NPR.org. NPR.
  15. ^ "Dance Club Songs: Week of November 6, 1982". Billboard. Retrieved May 8, 2020.

External links[edit]