BY WALTER OPINDE
On this date, 29th June 1943, Little Eva, a singer best known for the overnight stardom brought to her through her #1 smash “The Loco-Motion,” was born. Plucked from obscurity by songwriters- Carole King and Gerry Goffin, for whom she was babysitting, Little Eva reached the top of the charts with the dance song “The Loco-Motion” in 1962. She appeared on the popular TV dance show American Bandstand, and her follow-up single, “Keep Your Hands off My Baby,” and finally made it to the top 20 later that year. Unfortunately, her later efforts failed to catch up with her fans.
Singer Little Eva was born “Eva Narcissus Boyd,” in Belhaven, North Carolina. From anonymity, Little Eva reached the top of the pop charts with the infectious dance song, “The Loco-Motion,” only to discover that fame can be fleeting. She first started singing in church as a child. Moving to New York City around 1960, Eva hoped to make it in the music business. She landed a gig singing with the Cookies, a vocal group, and found some studio work doing backup vocals. Nevertheless, many of her critics argued that her ticket to success actually came from the babysitting job.
The husband and wife, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, a songwriting team, had a young child and were expecting a second one when Kings asked Little Eva if she would be interested in babysitting for them. She agreed, unaware of what lay in store for her. Intrigued by such hit dance songs as Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” Goffin and King wrote “The Loco-Motion.” (Some reports claim the song’s dance was inspired by some moves that Eva would do around the Goffin-King home). They asked Little Eva to record the song’s demo, which turned out so well that it was eventually released as a single. The song reached the number one on the pop and the rhythm and blues charts in 1962 and made Little Eva a star. She appeared on the popular television dance show, American Bandstand, and traveled around the country; and even abroad, to perform.
The follow-up single, “Keep Your Hands off My Baby,” made it into the top 20 later that year. In 1963, she had some success with “Let’s Turkey Trot” and “Swinging on a Star,” a duet with Big Dee Irwin, but later efforts failed to catch on with music fans. Little Eva remained a popular live performer for some time before she left New York and returned to her hometown in the early 1970s. Separated from her husband, James Harris, Little Eva raised their three children on her own, working menial jobs to make ends meet. The couple later reconciled before his death in 1983.
In the late 1980s, Little Eva returned to music, recording Back on Track (1989). She also began touring again with an oldies show, which also featured such acts as Little Richard. For years, Little Eva enjoyed performing as part of early 1960s music tours. She had to stop in 2001 when she became too ill to work. Little Eva died of cervical cancer on 10th April 2003.
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