A pop-soul vocalist in the vein of Dionne Warwick or Brenda Holloway, Barbara Acklin is best known for her R&B/pop hit "Love Makes a Woman" from the summer of 1968. The only child of Herman and Hazel Acklin, Barbara Jean Acklin was born February 28, 1943, in Oakland, CA; in 1948, the family moved to Chicago, IL. Like many great soul singers, Acklin honed her vocal skills in the church choir (in her case, at Big Zion Baptist Church) at an early age. As a teenager, she began singing in nightclubs while attending Dunbar Vocational High School. Upon graduation, she was hired as a secretary for local label St. Lawrence Records by her cousin, producer/saxophonist Monk Higgins (his release "Who Dun It" made the national R&B charts in 1966 and he co-produced Bobby Bland's late-'70s/early-'80s ICA hits). Higgins recorded an Acklin single under the name Barbara Allen for his Special Agent label. Later, Higgins used Acklin as a background singer on his Chess Records sessions.
In 1966, Acklin began working as a receptionist for producer Carl Davis (Chi-Lites, Gene Chandler) at the Chicago branch office of Brunswick Records. Acklin hadn't forgotten her dream of becoming a recording star and persistently asked Davis to record her. Davis said that he would, but in the meantime he encouraged her to keep writing songs. Cornering Brunswick Records star Jackie Wilson, Acklin had him listen to a tune that she co-wrote with David Scott (formerly of the Five Du-Tones and the Exciters). Wilson liked it and passed it on to Davis. Recorded on August 8, 1966, and released September 1966, "Whispers (Gettin Louder)" went to number six R&B and number 11 pop in the fall of 1966. The album, Whispers, was released shortly afterward, thus setting the stage for Wilson's mid-'60s comeback and smoothing the way for his only number one R&B single, "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher." To return the favor, Wilson helped Acklin secure a recording contract with Brunswick. Acklin's first chart success came from "Show Me the Way to Go," a duet with Chandler, reaching number 30 R&B in the spring of 1968. In July 1968, Acklin earned her signature song with the extremely catchy "Love Makes a Woman," which went to number three R&B and number 15 pop in August 1968. The song also won a BMI Award.
Another Chandler/Acklin duet followed in October 1968. "From the Teacher to the Preacher" reached number 16 R&B and number 57 pop. Acklin's next charting singles were "Just Ain't No Love," "Am I the Same Girl," "After You," "I Did It," "Lady Lady Lady," and "I Call It Trouble." Acklin's Brunswick albums are Love Makes a Woman (summer 1968), Seven Days of Night (1975), Someone Else's Arms (April 1970), I Did It (December 1970), I Call It Trouble (1973), and Barbara Acklin's Greatest Hits (April 4, 1995).
"Am I the Same Girl" has a peculiar history. The record's backing tracks were used as a basis for Young-Holt Unlimited's instrumental hit "Soulful Strut," with a piano in place of Acklin's vocals. Released before "Am I the Same Girl," "Soulful Strut" did better chart-wise and sale-wise, going Top Ten R&B, number three pop, and selling over two million copies. In the meantime, Acklin was writing songs with fellow Brunswick signee Eugene Record of the Chi-Lites. The collaboration was fruitful. The sparse melancholy ballad "Have You Seen Her" settled at number one R&B and number three pop, earning the Chi-Lites their first gold record. Originally the last track on the Chi-Lites' album (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People, "Have You Seen Her" was getting massive airplay on soul stations despite its unusually long-for-radio length of five minutes. In a bit of déjà vu, another Acklin song had smoothed the way for an act to score a career-defining hit. The Chi-Lites had their first number one pop single, "Oh Girl," in the spring of 1972. The ethereal ballad went to number one R&B for two weeks in June 1972. Other Acklin/Record compositions for the Chi-Lites were the effervescent "Stoned Out of My Mind" and the wonderfully poignant "Toby" (a double-sided hit single and the title track of a 1974 album). "That's How Long," a song written by Archie Powell and Tony Byrd, was on the flip side, making the record a double delight.
In 1974, Acklin departed Brunswick for Capitol Records. Her first single, "Raindrops," was a R&B hit in June of that year. The album, A Place in the Sun, released May 1975 and produced by Chicago soul mainstay Willie Henderson, contained two more singles: "Special Loving" and "Give Me Some of Your Sweet Love." Despite a promising start and critical acclaim, Capitol dropped Acklin from their artist roster. She continued to tour as both a solo artist and as a background singer with the Chi-Lites and other acts.
In 1990, Oakland, CA, rapper MC Hammer covered "Have You Seen Her" on his superstar-making second Capitol album, Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em. The multi-platinum LP established a precedent for being the first best-selling rap album in history, selling millions of copies. Released as a single, "Have You Seen Her" quickly went gold, no doubt fattening the coffers of songwriters Acklin and Record. British pop group Swing Out Sister had a 1992 U.K. hit with "Am I the Same Girl."
In late 1998, Acklin was doing a phone interview with Chicago cable TV host Royce Glamour from her Omaha, NE, home. Acklin was excited about working on material for her new album, and she also noted that she had a bad cold. The following weekend, she was rushed to a hospital where she passed away from pneumonia on November 27, 1998. Acklin left behind a son, Marcus; a daughter who's an aspiring singer, Samotta; a granddaughter, Sheratta; loving friends and family; and a wealth of classic Chicago soul music. ~ Ed Hogan