Debbie Dean

Debbie Dean had a long career, but only a small amount of success. She was born Reba Jeanette Smith February 1, 1928, in Corbin, KY, a quaint town of just under 10,000 people located on I-75 between Lexington, KY, and Knoxville, TN. She recorded as Penny Smith, Debra Dion, and as Debbie Stevens for ABC Paramount (1959) and Roulette Records.

In 1960, Berry Gordy made her the first white artist signed to any of his fledgling labels. The blond-reddish-haired singer debuted as Debbie Dean with "Itty Bitty Pity Love" b/w "But I'm Afraid" (August 25, 1961), but it never had a chance, Motown pulled it in favor of an answer to the Miracles' "Shop Around" entitled "Don't Let Him Shop Around" a month later, September 25, 1961. Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy, and Gordy's sister Loucye Wakefield wrote the ditty that sunk without a trace. A third single, "Everybody's Talking About Me" b/w "I Cried All Night" March 11, 1962, crashed as well, and Motown, who were changing their image to the Sound of Young America, cooled on Dean (who was 34 at the time).

Dean migrated to California where she attempted to further her career. The -- many say -- stereotypical blonde frequented the clubs and entered talent shows and showcases and dabbled in acting. Nobody knew she was an ex-Motown artist and assumed she was just a singer who needed a break. Ike & Tina Turner were the featured act at some of these clubs and may have helped Dean get a one-off deal with Sue Records. As Debra Dion she released "Don't Bug Me Baby" b/w "I Want to Know If Your Love Is Real" in 1964. It failed to chart, and she didn't have another release until 1966, as Debra Dion again, but this time for Treva Records; unfortunately, the single "Take My Hand" got no takers.

She befriended Deke Richards (the Clan, the Corporation) at a California club while auditioning for a showcase. Richards was gigging there with his band Deke & the Deacons and often opened for Ike & Tina Turner; Deke had recently signed to Motown as an artist, producer, and writer. After witnessing her performance, the two struck up a conversation and Dean spoke of her Motown days. The revelation stunned Richards, who was still buzzing about being with the label. With Richards' help, Dean renewed her ties with Motown and the two collaborated on songs, the most notable "I Can't Dance to That Music You're Playing" (Martha & the Vandellas), "Honey Bee" (the Supremes), and "Why Did You Leave Me" on the Temptations. Betty Boo later hit with a coupling of "I Can't Dance..." and "Hey DJ."

As Debbie Dean, she recorded some new sons produced by Richards but only one single came out, "Stay My Love" b/w "Why Am I Loving You" on VIP, a second single, "You Asked Me," was scheduled for release then scrapped. She became a life-long California resident and stayed on the fringes of music. The singer died February 17, 2001, in Ojai, CA; a memorial service was held April 22, 2001, at the Pine Hill Cemetery in Corbin, KY. ~ Andrew Hamilton

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