Beverly Ross, teenage songwriter in Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Youth, dies at 87

Beverly Ross, who with hits like “Lollipop” became one of rock ‘n’ roll’s best early-stage songwriters but ended her career early after a working relationship turned sour, died Jan. 15 at a Nashville hospital. She was 87 years old.

The cause was dementia, said his nephew, Cliff Stieglitz.

In high school, Ms. Ross rode the bus from her family’s home in New Jersey to hang out in the Brill Building, then New York’s center for music publishing. There, she managed to strike up conversations with songwriters like Julius Dixon.

In 1954, when Ms. Ross was just 19, she collaborated with Mr. Dixon on his seminal song, “Dim, Dim the Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere)”. A Bill Haley & His Comets recording reached No. 11 on the Billboard singles chart, just months before the band’s “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” became the first rock ‘n’ roll song to hit. achieve first place. 1.

Rolling Stone would later describe “Dim, Dim the Lights” as “the first ‘white’ song to go R&B”. It had bluesy electric guitar riffs, upbeat bass and flirtatious lyrics, though it maintained a teenage innocence, inspired by high school crushes and board games like spinning the bottle: “I’m full of soda and of crisps / But now I want to taste / Of your soft lips.

This combination of upbeat beats and lightly romantic themes became Ms. Ross’s formula.

She and Mr. Dixon scored another hit with “Lollipop,” a song as sweet and compact as the titular candy. A 1958 recording by the Chordettes reached No. 2 and became an enduring pop culture earworm, with appearances on “The Simpsons” and in a commercial for Dell computers.

By the early 1960s, Ms. Ross had become, along with Carole King and a few others, one of rock’s finest female writers, “one of the few female writers to vehemently succeed in a male structure”, wrote Mark Ribowsky . in “He’s a Rebel: Phil Spector, Legendary Rock and Roll Producer” (2000).

Ms. Ross has also co-written songs recorded by stars like Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison. But in a few years, his career would suddenly collapse.

According to Ms. Ross’s account, in 1960 she struck up a working friendship with a then-obscure aspiring songwriter who could benefit from her influence: Phil Spector. The two worked on song ideas, cut a demo tape and opened up about their family issues. Ms. Ross introduced him to industry players.

While they were cobbling together a riff together one night, Ms Ross recalled, Mr Spector suddenly declared he had business to attend to and ran out the door.

Soon, Ms. Ross was shocked to hear the riff, in Ben E. King’s hit song “Spanish Harlem.” Mr. Spector had used it without giving credit to Ms. Ross (he and Jerry Leiber were the credited authors) – and he had also begun to ignore it.

From then on, she refused to work if it brought her into Mr. Spector’s orbit, but she was still determined to prove she could write hits and co-wrote several more in the early 60s, including “Judy’s Turn to Cry”. which, as recorded by Lesley Gore, reached #5.

Then she quit, sinking into what she described to Mr Ribowsky as “a suicidal depression”.

“This strange decision I made away from the enormous acceptance and potential I had worked so diligently to achieve left me hanging in nowhere,” she wrote in a flat memoir and decisive, “I Was the First Woman Phil Spector Killed” (2013), “but I may have saved my sanity by doing it.”

Yet Ms Ross also lived with regret. “I should have bowed and realized I was asked to write for ‘rock ‘n’ roll royalty,'” she wrote.

Beverly Ross was born September 5, 1934 in Brooklyn and grew up in Lakewood, NJ. His father, Aron, worked as a cobbler with his brother in New York, then as a chicken farmer in Lakewood. His mother, Rachel (Frank) Ross, worked as an accountant for the shoe company and helped on the farm.

Bev, as she was called, aspired from an early age to a career in music, but she didn’t know where to start. She met some musicians performing at a hotel where her sister worked in Lakewood, and she made a deal with one of them: he would tell her how to break into the industry if she offered him a date with his sister.

It turned out that all the man had to do was tell Bev about the Brill Building.

Ms. Ross’ burst of songwriting success provided her with an income in the form of royalties on which she lived comfortably. She resided for many years in an Upper West Side apartment, but then bought a house in Nashville and began writing country music.

She is survived by her companion, Ferris Butler, comedy writer. They married in the mid-1970s and later divorced, but they reconnected and remained together for the last years of his life.

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