Barbara Jean Acklin was born into a musical family in Oakland, California on February 2nd, 1943. Belonging to a music-lover family, her grandmother Asa Eskridge was the blues singer and her cousin Monk Higgins was the arranger and keyboard player. Later her family moved to Chicago, Illinois where she polished her vocal skills by joining the church choir (Big Zion Baptist Church). This was all due to her parents’ encouragement that she became a soloist by the age of 11 in the same choir. After getting her vocals refined, she started working in clubs on the south side of Chicago.
Being an only daughter to her parents Herman and Hazel Acklin, she was always given special attention in every matter. While singing in clubs, she continued her study as well. She was a student of Dunbar Vocational High School. After finishing vocational school, she was immediately hired as a secretary by her cousin, Monk Higgins (also a saxophonist) who worked as a producer for the local label, St. Lawrence Records. This was the time when she did her first single, produced by her cousin.
While being a part of the Legendary Chess Label in Chicago, Acklin did background vocals for artists like Minnie Riperton, Etta James, Fontella Bass, and Koko Taylor.
In 1966, Acklin submitted demo recordings at the Chicago office of Brunswick Records, where she was a receptionist. Since Acklin was still dreaming to become a recording star, she incessantly asked Brunswick’s producer Carl Davis to record her demo. Acklin was advised by Carl to focus on songwriting first, which motivated her to co-write a great song with the help David Scott of the Five Du-tones. The song was known as “Whispers (Gettin’ Louder)”, and was admired by Carl a lot.
The song was recorded by Jackie Wilson (also known as Mr. Excitement) whose successful days were ended. Barbara just handed over the song’s lyrics to Davis and requested him to ask Jackie Wilson to sing it. Davis asked Barbara to get in the studio as well, which was quite surprising for her as just a receptionist. She went in and started singing the song to Jackie. That was the lucky moment for Barbara – her singing ability surprised Jackie so much that he used her tone to sing the song. And that song was a smash!
Soon, after getting a lot of popularity, the song became Jackie’s biggest hit and certified Barbara’s status as a singer and a songwriter. The track reached #5 on the Billboard R&B chart and #11 on the Hot 100. Astonishingly, after a three-year absence, Jackie was restored to the US Top Twenty because of this hit. But unfortunately, the song never got any spot in the UK.
Jackie Wilson was so happy from Acklin that he offered her an amazing opportunity to ask for anything and he will do it for her. Acklin replied that she wants a recording contract with Carl Davis, and that is exactly what happened afterward. She got the contract but her first two singles for Brunswick got flopped. This didn’t let her down, instead, she worked harder and made to the Rhythms-and-Blues Chart with another song “Show me the way to go” – a duet with Gene Chandler of “Duke of Earl” fame.
This song was the part of the album “Love Makes A Woman” in 1968. The album also featured the title track, which became the biggest hit of her career. It peaked at #15 on the Billboard pop singles chart and #3 on the R&B chart in that same year.
Acklin still kept herself busy writing songs. She also had a chance to work with one of the Brunswick artists, Eugene Record, the lead singer of The Chi-Lites who eventually got married to her.
In 1969, Acklin released her second album “Seven Days of Night” and a duet with Chandler which were both followed by the previously released album “Love Makes A Woman”. These highly rated soul albums were also compiled together on one CD for release in the UK. Later the same year, she came up with the single “After You”, and released her third album “Someone Else’s Arms” in 1970. Acklin had a total of five albums of her entire career which include the last two albums, “I Did It” (1971) and “I Call It Trouble” (1973).
Another excellent song by Acklin was “Am I the Same Girl”, released in 1968. It was produced by Eugene Record, her husband. The song included musicians like Eldee Young on bass and Isaac Holt on drums. Later in 1988, Dusty Springfield (a British singer) covered this song and took it into the UK Top Fifty.
Acklin and Record’s unity in songwriting became a success. The 5-minute track “Have You Seen Her”, which was the last track from The Chi-Lites’ record (For God’s Sake), was in heavy rotation on soul stations – it climbed up to #1 spot on the R&B chart, #3 on the US Pop chart and also made the UK Top Ten twice (#3 in 1972 and #5 in 1975). This track was followed up by three other big hits co-written by Record and Acklin that are as follows:
- “Stoned Out of My Mind” (ranked #2 on R&B chart, 1973)
- “Toby” (ranked #7 in R&B chart, 1974)
- “Too Good to Be Forgotten” (ranked #10 on UK chart, 1975)
After working under Brunswick records, she moved to the Capitol Records in 1974 and released the single “Raindrops” which she co-wrote with the Brunswick’s producer, Willie Henderson. The song was her biggest hit to date — it stayed on the #14th spot of the R&B chart for six years. Acklin released the album “A Place in the Sun” afterward.
Rapper MC Hammer covered the song “Have you seen her” on his super hit album “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ’Em”. It was the first best-selling rap album in history – selling millions of copies. No wonder the song was written by Acklin and Record. Later in 1992, a British pop group “Swing Out Sister” had a hit with Acklin’s song “Am I the Same Girl”.
Barbara Acklin was a gem of a performer – despite her remarkable songs and success; she could have achieved more recognition. In 1998, at the age of 55, she was living in Omaha, Nebraska and also about to work on a new album. She was so excited about that. Days after the phone interview regarding the album with Chicago cable TV host, Royce Glamour, she was taken to the hospital where she passed away from pneumonia on November 27, 1998.
Acklin left behind two offspring: a son, Marcus White; and a daughter who is an amazing singer, Samotta.
Some Notable Discography of Barbara Acklin:
- After You (1969)
- Am I the Same Girl (1969)
- Give Me Some of Your Sweet Love (1975)
- I Call It Trouble (1972)
- I Did It (1970)
- Just Ain’t No Love (1968)
- Lady Lady Lady (1971)
- Love Makes A Woman (1968)
- Raindrops (1974)
- Special Loving (1975)
- Show Me the Way to Go
- I’ll Bake Me A Man
- To Sir with Love
- From the Teacher to The Preacher
- After You
- Stop, Look and Listen
- Fool Fool Fool
- Someone Else’s Arms
- Yes, I See the Love
- Be by My Side
- Make the Man Love You
- Portrait for A Broken Heart
- You’ve Been in Love Too Long
- Little Green Apples
- It’s A Groovy Idea