Barbara Alston, Who Sang With the Crystals, Dies at 74
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIKMARCH 6, 2018
The Crystals, from left, Barbara Alston, Dolores Kenniebrew, Frances Collins and Dolores Brooks, at London Airport in 1964, when Ms. Alston and Ms. Kenniebrew were the only remaining original members of the group. Keystone/Getty Images
Barbara Alston, a founding member of the 1960s girl group the Crystals, who sang lead on the band’s first two hits, “There’s No Other Like My Baby” and “Uptown,” died on Feb. 16 in Charlotte, N.C. She was 74.
The cause was complications of the flu, her daughter Donielle Prophete said.
Ms. Alston was a choir-trained teenager in Brooklyn when she formed the Crystals with her high school friends Mary Thomas, Dolores Kenniebrew (who is known as Dee Dee), Myrna Giraud and Patsy Wright. Their harmonious songs, often about young romance, were like those of many other popular all-female R&B vocal groups in the early 1960s, like the Shirelles and the Ronettes.
The producer Phil Spector signed the Crystals in 1961, and they became an early example of his dense, layered “wall of sound” production style. Ms. Alston’s clear, bright voice made her a natural lead for the wistful “There’s No Other Like My Baby,” written by Mr. Spector and Leroy Bates. It reached No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1961.
The group’s second single, “Uptown” (1962), an upbeat number about the consolations of tenement life, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, featured playful Spanish guitars and castanets and reached No. 13 on the chart.
Uptown – The Crystals (Original Quintet) 1962
Uptown – The Crystals (Original Quintet) 1962 Video by 60s70sTheBest
But the band’s next single, “He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss),” an unsettling song about infidelity and domestic violence written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, flopped.
“ ‘He Hit Me’ was absolutely, positively the one record that none of us liked,” Ms. Alston was quoted as saying in “Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector” (2008), by Mick Brown.
The group, which quarreled with Mr. Spector for years over royalties and other issues, went through several lineup changes and eventually shrank to four members. Their only chart-topping hit, “He’s a Rebel” (1962), was actually sung by another group, the Blossoms, whose lead singer was Darlene Love; Mr. Spector released it as a Crystals record because he thought the song would be more successful if it came from an established group.
Ms. Alston moved into the background when Dolores Brooks, known as Lala, became the lead singer for the Crystals’ later hits, including “Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home),” which reached No. 3, and “Then He Kissed Me,” which reached No. 6, both in 1963.
Ms. Alston, who was shy and suffered from stage fright, was relieved to step out of the spotlight, her daughter said. She left the Crystals in 1965 to raise her first son, Tony, and the group broke up in 1967.
Barbara Ann Alston was born in Baltimore on Dec. 29, 1943, to Ethel Banks Alston and John Westry. She moved to Brooklyn with her mother and graduated from what is now the W. H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education High School there in 1961, shortly before the Crystals were signed.
Her two marriages, to Daniel Prophete and Kenneth Pitter, ended in divorce. She is survived by a sister, Jacqueline Dixon; two daughters, Donielle Prophete and Kemberly Pitter; another son, Kenneth Pitter Jr.; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Her son Tony, who was transgender and also went by Toni, was shot and killed in 2010 in a case that has not been solved.