and other tales
by Marva Holiday, as told to Phil Milstein

She was produced by Sonny & Cher, managed by Sherlie Matthews, and mentored by Charles Mingus. She was a Dating Game Bachelorette, a Jobete staff writer, and ran, literally, with Sly & The Family Stone. Along the way she happened to record one of the enduring classics of Northern Soul. As one of Bonnie's Treasures, she once told a San Diego TV interviewer about the group's recent trip to London. "How was it?" the host asked. "Foggy," replied Marva Holiday.

Straight Outta Compton

I was raised in a jazz-loving family. Charles Mingus, the great bassist and composer, was the father of my late sister Yonnine, and at times like a surrogate dad to me.


Marva with the Rascals, Devonshire Downs,
June 1969 (photo: George Rodriguez).


Charles had a sister named Grace, who I've always called Aunt Grace. Grace was the mother of Darryl "Cappy" Lewis, who was a member of the group The Six Teens, and was later one of the original Elgins [1]. I saw The Six Teens many times on TV, but never realized there was a family connection till Yonnine and I visited Aunt Grace in 1962. While we were there Trudy Williams, the lead singer on their hit "A Casual Look", came over. I was 15, and she couldn't have been any older than 18 or 19, as she was only 12 or so when she recorded "A Casual Look".

We grew up in Compton, an incorporated city south of Watts (which is part of L.A.) and north of Long Beach. Back in the '60s Compton was an agricultural town, and still had a largely white population. It had none of the crime problems we hear about on the news today. For the most part, everyone got along with everybody else. We were aware that it was a bit racially polarized - that the white, black and Latino kids each pretty much kept to themselves. There'd be some minor incidents from time to time, and there were certain parts of town that I didn't feel comfortable visiting alone. But we were just high school kids, and in general we were more caught up in living our teenage lives than with trying to do anything about the racism problem.

One favorite thing to do was to attend the record hops put on by Hunter Hancock [2] at Cressey Park (now Gonzalez Park). When not cruising Compton Boulevard, my friends and I would hang out on the west side of Los Angeles.

My brother Joey was a former gang member. He was a founding member of the Piru gang, which would evolve into the Bloods. By the time he was 21, though, he had left the gang, had gotten a good job and was dating a 26-year-old woman. Things were looking up for him. That is, until he attended a weekend dance at Dootsie Williams' club Dooto's with some friends, where he was shot to death by some kid, a gangster wannabe who simply felt like shooting up the place.

Early Singing Days

I sang in a succession of high school and neighborhood groups. At 14, I was a member of Double Rock Baptist Church's youth choir. When I was 16, a group I sang with seemed very close to being signed to a record deal, but nothing ever came of it.

When I was about 19, my friend Nancy Padròn introduced me to Sam of Sam & The Iridescents, a five-man R&B group [3]. He wanted Nancy and I to join his group, but his manager wouldn't allow it, as he didn't think mixed-gender groups would work. (This was right before The Fifth Dimension hit really big.) By that time I'd found that I love singing, and when I'd see other groups at clubs I'd feel, "I can do that." Sam and I would duet informally, on Marvin & Tammi songs and the like. Whereas before I'd just been having fun with my singing, his encouragement really helped me to get out there and try it on a more serious level.

Sam also introduced me to some people who needed a lyricist. Although I didn't end up writing any songs for them, it was at that time that I started learning how to put songs together.

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Dating Game

Around 1966 a scout for The Dating Game spotted me at Maverick's Flat, a predominantly black club in the Crenshaw area of L.A. I went down for an interview and was picked for the daytime version of the show. Terry Guerin, a friend I'd recommended to the producers (who eventually married Dean Martin's daughter Deana), was picked for the Saturday night version, which had better prizes, and for his date was sent to Pamplona for the running of the bulls. I tried not to let it bother me, but I did notice that the nighttime version didn't include a lot of black contestants.

My date was a probation officer. He was a really nice man, but just not my type. I actually spent more time drinking (although I was still underage, at 20) and hanging out at the bar with the show's chauffeur, who was a hoot!

Several people told me that they were surprised I made it onto the show at all, because I have a light complexion, and with the bright stage lights shining on me they thought I looked almost white. All of the bachelors in my segment were black, and it's possible we might've come off looking like a "mixed" couple, which probably wouldn't have gone over very well with some of the Southern stations. That doesn't seem to be much of a problem on dating shows today, though, so I'd say we've come a long way, baby!

Charlotte, and The Treasures

Nancy and I were trying to join Sam & The Iridescents. Two guys had left and we wanted to fill their spots. Sam's manager, as I said, wouldn't let us into the group, but he suggested I call Charlotte O'Hara, because he knew that Sherlie Matthews and Clydie King had left her group, and that she needed some singers to work with her on upcoming dates. So instead of Nancy and I joining Sam's group, we hooked up with Charlotte as part of hers.

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I had already seen Sherlie and Clydie with Charlotte on an afternoon dance show from L.A. - possibly 9th Street West [4], although I can't quite remember. The group had fascinated me, because mixed-race acts were not the norm at the time, either. Anyhow, we went over and met with Charlotte at her place. She liked us, and we started to rehearse with her.

Charlotte was a lot of fun. She was a hard worker, had a great sense of humor and was a devoted mom to her baby. Also, I loved her place at the top of the Hotel Montecito [5], where we would rehearse. I met Horace Silver [6] in the elevator there, and was so excited by that encounter. Charlotte and I also went out a few times. I took her with me to Maverick's Flat, and she loved it. She had a big-time crush on Tony Lytle, who played trombone with The Seven Souls [7].


Headshot sent out to promote Marva's single. The photo had been taken a few months before as a modeling assignment for photographer Don Cropper, then put to new use at the time of the record's release.

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We only managed to do one gig together, at the Cinnamon Cinder in San Diego. While in San Diego we also did a TV show, called Dance Time. We were on with The Count Five, of "Psychotic Reaction" fame. I hadn't remembered much about the show - other than that a fly landed on my nose while we were singing - until Nancy recently jogged my memory. Apparently we were asked during the interview segment about a trip to Europe that Bonnie & The Treasures had supposedly made. When the interviewer asked me how England had been, I responded, "Foggy." Recently I've been trying to find a tape of that show; I just don't know what archive might have it, or if a tape even exists.

I think Charlotte had hoped that a lot more work would be forthcoming, and we rehearsed as if that were the case. However, nothing really transpired. We did a couple more rehearsals, but then I started working on some demos of my own and we never got back together.

It may have been our ages that prevented us from getting more work. I was 20 at the time, and Nancy, who is a couple of months younger than me, may have still been 19. We never lied about our ages, which might have prevented us from playing regular clubs with Charlotte. The one place we did play, the Cinnamon Cinder, was a teenage nightspot, and didn't serve alcohol.

Sherlie Matthews

When I joined Charlotte's group I also met Sherlie Matthews, who was leaving the group at the time, and we became great friends. I don't remember why Clydie was leaving, but Sherlie was having some success as a songwriter and wanted to focus on that. I was totally blown away to meet the writer of "Baby, Do The Philly Dog" and "Mine Exclusively", both for The Olympics, and "Oh My Darling" for Jackie Lee. I used to sing those songs along with the radio in my bedroom at home, and "Oh My Darling" in particular had been one of my favorites. I could hardly believe I was lucky enough to become friends with the woman who wrote it! [8]

It's Written All Over My Face

I wasn't confident enough in my own writing at the time I decided to record, so I listened to a lot of songs that Sherlie had written, and chose the ones I liked. Actually, Sherl chose "It's Written All Over My Face", as she really liked it. I liked it too, but my favorite was "Rising Higher", which we recorded but didn't get released. Lately we've been looking for that tape in the Crescendo vaults.

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Sherlie wrote and produced a demo, which we cut at Gold Star. I gave a copy of it to my friend Terry Guerin, who thought he might be able to help me get a deal. Terry gave it to a friend of his, who in turn gave it to Gene Norman, of GNP Crescendo, who was a neighbor. Mr. Norman liked the demo enough to offer us a deal, and we cut four sides at Harmony Studios in Hollywood [9].

To this day, I have a couple of regrets about the project. One is that I didn't insist on "Rising Higher" being the single. The other is that I didn't take it upon myself to promote the record, and instead left that up to the label. It took nearly a year for the record to get pressed up and released, and when it did they sent it only to XERB, Wolfman Jack's station across the Mexican border. I had hoped it would be sent to KGFJ or KDAY, two R&B stations in L.A. XERB only played the song for a week or two, and it didn't generate the interest it would have had it been played at the other stations. In hindsight, I should have taken the record around to the stations myself.

Gene Norman was used to promoting folk singers, and apparently didn't know what to do with an R&B artist. When my song didn't do anything big, I think he decided to stick to doing what he'd been doing, which is understandable. I was very surprised to find out in recent years that the song was being played overseas, as part of the Northern Soul movement. While the Brits are aware of it and do play it, it's not an especially big song there. It does get a lot of play in Germany, though.


Cover photo of the Black Magic LP Where Love Is. Standing, left to right: Niggy D'Oberoff, Wayne Douglas, Marva, Anita Porée. Seated on rocker: Jerry Peters. Stinkfoot: Greg Porée. Text on Anita's back ("SEX") and Greg's foot ("STRIFE"), as well as the photo's setting, are references to the song "Vacant Lot".

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Black Magic and Jobete

After "It's Written …" I joined the group Black Magic, with Greg Porée (who I'd met when he played guitar on the Crescendo session), his talented sister Anita, bassist Wayne Douglas, actress/model Niggy D'Oberoff (who'd been known as the "Black Twiggy"), and pianist Jerry Peters [10]. Anita was my lyric-writing mentor. She wrote "Going In Circles" and "Love Or Let Me Be Lonely" for The Friends Of Distinction, and "Boogie Down" and "Son Of Sagittarius" for Eddie Kendricks. I recorded an album with Black Magic, Where Love Is, on which I co-wrote three songs [11]. The record was presented much like a play. We were definitely ahead of our time.

I left Black Magic prior to the album's release, as I was pregnant. I moved, baby in tow, to the Bay Area, and enrolled in Merritt College as a music major. I had planned to transfer to UC Berkeley to get my degree in music. Instead, Sherlie called with an offer for me to join her at Jobete, as a contract songwriter. I moved back to L.A. and signed with Jobete in the summer of 1971. I stayed with them a little over two years. Had I had a hit, I would have stayed longer - actually, we wrote lots of wonderful "hits", but unfortunately Motown chose to sit on them. I only got one release on Motown, "Woman In My Eyes" and "Is The Challenge Over", by Stacie Johnson, which they did not promote [12].

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I was also asked to contribute some lyrics to a Martha & The Vandellas project. I was working with Deke Richards, Fonce Mizell and Freddie Perren. A lot of lyrics were passed back and forth, and I was told that they didn't wind up using any that I had submitted. However, when "Your Love Makes It All Worthwhile" came out I was surprised to hear that it included several lines I had written. I just chalked it up to a learning experience, though, as I don't think it was deliberate. I think the guys really did forget just who wrote what.

I used to lament the fact that I never had a hit record, and never got the exposure I wanted. On the other hand, I was quite the wild child back then, and I think God knew what He was doing. I might not be here typing this now. I was talented, but in a sort of tragic way. It took a lot of spiritual changes for me to grow into the woman I am now. I had some inner demons to slay.

Sonny & Cher

In early July of 1969 Greg Porée and I took his VW wagon to Las Vegas for Sonny & Cher's opening there -- at the Flamingo, I believe it was. He'd been up all night doing charts for the show, and so I was at the wheel. After a while we realized we were running short of time, and so Greg asked me to speed up, saying that he'd pay for a speeding ticket if I got one. About 15 miles outside of Vegas I took an exit ramp, but, thinking it was straight rather than a curved ramp, I took it at about 80 miles an hour. I immediately realized my error, but it already was too late, and we went gliding off the roadway and into the air. We turned over five or six times, and ended up upside down in the back seat of the car. We had no other injuries other than a cut hand on Greg, but his car was totaled. Greg still kids me about asking him at the time, "Greg, are we dead?," and the fact that we're still friends shows what a true class act he is!

Despite the accident, I enjoyed meeting Cher and seeing their show. She was so shy back then. She asked me what I thought of the show. I was so tickled that she would ask a "nobody" like me for my opinion! It was very sweet [13].

Treasured Memories

Most of my memories of the '60s have little to do with my own music career. I met a lot of very talented singers and musicians back then, and I treasure those memories.

I remember going to see Jimi Hendrix open for The Mamas & The Papas at the Hollywood Bowl, and how he was booed by the audience. I also saw him jam with Buddy Miles at Devonshire Downs [14]. Devonshire Downs featured black and white acts, and a black and white (and yellow and brown and red) audience - music was colorblind back then; race was a non-issue. We were all there just for the music.


Marva with her mother and a friend's cat in South Los Angeles.

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Sunset Boulevard was my hang-out. I saw Wilson Pickett and the Temps at The Trip. I saw The Four Tops and Sam & Dave at The Whiskey. I saw The Doors, although I don't remember where. I'd also go over to the Ash Grove and see Taj Mahal and other folk acts. I spent a lot of time at The Magic Mushroom, and practically lived at Maverick's Flat.

I met Bobby Darin at the Motown studios, and am still sorry that I didn't think to tell him how I used to stand in the mirror at home and sing "Beyond The Sea". I didn't think he would want to be bothered, but I now realize that every artist likes to be acknowledged, and to hear that somebody appreciates their work.

In '67 I went to San Francisco and saw Big Brother & The Holding Company and The Charlatans. I also remember seeing the original Fleetwood Mac. I saw Miles Davis and Leon Russell at the Fillmore in the fall of 1970 - Miles even came on and played during Leon's set! I had tickets for Jethro Tull for that night, but some friends had an extra ticket to see Miles. It was a tough decision, as I was a big Jethro Tull fan, but I had grown up on Miles, and this was my chance to see a legend. He was happy and friendly that night, but the next time I saw him, a few years later in L.A., he played his whole set with his back to the audience.

I remember going to see Sly & The Family Stone at the Forum and sitting high in the rafters, looking at the group through binoculars. About a year later, I had become friends with Freddie Stewart, the group's guitarist. I met up with him at a show they did at the Coliseum the night Larry Graham quit the band. I drove there in my little '59 Austin Healey Sprite and hung out backstage with some of the group members. Sly had a reputation for being late, but this time he had arrived quite early, and it was through no fault of his own that the group wound up going on late. The set had barely started when the Coliseum people announced that the concert had to end. Audience members charged toward the band, and we all ran to the limos. With all those people running, I just ran with my friends to their limo, and had to go back later to get my car.

Second Wind

Unlike a lot of others who left the business permanently, I have returned to music on a part-time basis, and am just getting revved up for my second wind. In fact, Sherlie and I and singer Jim Gilstrap recently [15] flew to England to take part in a "Mirwood Revue" at Cleethorpes. Almost our entire repertoire was of songs written by Sherlie. The fans were also very familiar with "It's Written …", which made me feel good. In fact, the entire show was great! I usually sing lead, and was a bit intimidated about singing backup with two very accomplished, experienced and renowned singers like Sherl and Jim, but they were wonderful to me and we had a great time together.

I'm also trying out different types of writing. And I continue to do some singing - mostly weddings and (sadly, far too many) funerals, just "sittin' in". I have no plans to quit my day job, but I'm having a lot of fun making future plans, and fulfilling a few promises I made to myself.


Marva and daughter "Nee" at Marva's first
annual 60th birthday party, Cerritos, California, September 2006.

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I still listen to every kind of music. My daughter Aneesah plays bass in an alternative rock group, and when she's home and sharing her music with me I get to listen to a lot of groups that no one has ever heard of. My son Barry raps. Through his involvement in hip hop I listen to a lot of rappers, and stay on top of what's going on in that genre. I listen to R&B (I love Alicia Keys, India Arie and Outkast), pop, lots of gospel and even some country. The only singers I'm not crazy about are the ones who lip-sync on stage. I know they do it because they find it hard to sing and dance without getting winded, but I'd rather hear someone panting, as long as they are "keeping it real".

Editor's notes:

L.A. vocal group, different from the Detroit-based Elgins of "Heaven Must Have Sent You" fame.


L.A. DJ, a middle-aged white man who ruled the city's R&B radio roost.


Sam & The Iridescents: "Without My Sugar" / "While The City Sleeps" (Capitol 5834, 1967).


Hosted by L.A. DJ Sam Riddle.


A 1930 Art Deco building at 6650 Franklin Ave. in Hollywood, the Montecito Apartments (as it was more commonly known) was home to Ronald Reagan's bachelor pad just before and just after his marriage to Jane Wyman. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places, although probably not because of the Regan residency.


Renowned be-bop pianist.


Local club band which included Bob Welch, later of Fleetwood Mac, on guitar; The Seven Souls: "I Still Love You" / "I'm No Stranger" (Okeh 7289, 1967).


Watch this space for Mick Patrick's interview with Sherlie Matthews.


Marva Holiday: "It's Written All Over My Face" / "Hang Around" (GNP Crescendo 411, 1968).


Developing out of Sonny & Cher's backing group, Black Magic was sort of a funkier Friends Of Distinction (who in turn were sort of a funkier Fifth Dimension). Leader Porée was Sonny & Cher's music director and lead arranger at the time (circa their ill-fated Chastity project), and was writing some material for them, as well. The popular duo in turn served as sponsors of Black Magic, and their Where Love Is album was promoted in trade ads as "A Sonny & Cher Presentation".


Atco 305, 1970.


Stacie Johnson: "Woman In My Eyes" / "Is The Challenge Over" (Motown 1236, 1973), pr. Sherlie Matthews-Deke Richard, both wr. Holiday-Matthews.


Marva's connection to Sonny & Cher in a way brings the Bonnie & The Treasures story full-circle. In a passage in his 1991 autobiography And The Beat Goes On, Sonny Bono wrote, "On the heels of 'Laugh At Me', Phil Spector released 'Home Of The Brave', a forgettable [sic] single by Bonnie & The Treasures. With Cher and me singing backup, it charted at 77." Not only does this statement seem to confirm the suspicion that "Home Of The Brave" was, to some extent at least, a response to "Laugh At Me", more importantly it reveals the otherwise-unknown fact that Sonny & Cher were among the original Treasures.


Horse racetrack turned outdoor concert venue.


June 2005.

Thanks for help with this article go to Simon White, Charles G. Hill, Mick Patrick and Greg Porée. And, of course, the very marvelous Marva Holiday.

Marva's website: