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Doris Troy, 67; ‘Just One Look’ Singer

Times Staff Writer

Doris Troy, the soul/gospel singer and songwriter best known for her 1963 pop hit “Just One Look” and as the inspiration for “Mama, I Want to Sing,” a black gospel musical based on her early years in Harlem, has died. She was 67.

Troy, a top session singer heard on the Rolling Stones’ 1969 hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and on Pink Floyd’s 1973 album “Dark Side of the Moon,” died Monday in Las Vegas of emphysema.

She was a background singer on numerous early Atlantic Records sessions, singing with Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick behind Solomon Burke, the Drifters, Chuck Jackson and other acts. But she achieved fame with Atlantic’s release of “Just One Look” in summer 1963.

A hard-edged, mid-tempo, R&B-flavored; love song that Troy also co-wrote, “Just One Look” was her only Top 10 hit, but it proved to be an enduring source of royalties.

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The song was first covered by the Hollies -- their version reached No. 2 on the British charts -- and over the years it has been recorded by Anne Murray, Linda Ronstadt and many other artists, as well as being featured in the 1990 film “Mermaids” and in commercials for Hyundai, Mazda and Pepsi.

“Just One Look” also was spotlighted in “Mama, I Want to Sing,” the musical written by Troy’s sister, Vy Higginsen, and Higginsen’s husband, Ken Wydro. The show opened in an abandoned theater in Harlem in 1983, and became a long-running hit. Time magazine called it one of the best theatrical productions of 1984.

Troy played the role of her own mother in “Just One Look” for 14 years. That included a six-month run in London’s West End and performances in Japan and throughout the United States.

Born Doris Higginsen in New York City, she was the daughter of a Baptist minister in whose choir she sang as a child. She took her stage name from Helen of Troy, and wrote songs under her maternal grandmother’s surname, Payne.

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In 1969, she moved to England, where she was known as “Mama Soul” and where she became the only female soul singer signed to the Beatles’ Apple label, on which she recorded one album.

Troy looked back fondly on her days as a member of the British music scene.

“I gotta tell you, it was heaven,” she told a Los Angeles Times writer in 1987. “I was a queen over there -- royalty. I traveled all over Europe. I was hanging out with the stars. I even went to Mick Jagger’s wedding in St. Tropez. People loved me. I had no competition over there. I was the big American black singer. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It was heaven, I tell you, just heaven.”

Troy, who moved back to the United States in the mid-1970s and settled in Las Vegas, appeared on more than 50 albums, including ones by Peter Frampton, Dr. John, Bob Marley, Billy Preston and Carly Simon.

Troy received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1996.

In addition to Higginsen, she is survived by another sister, Joyce Davis.

A memorial service is planned for March in New York City.


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