Chicago’s soul music scene of the 1960s was bursting with talented performers who tried to outsing each other under streetlamps, at countless talent shows and radio-sponsored extravaganzas, and in makeshift echo chambers they explored inside churches and CHA hallways.
Visions of Motown danced in their heads like The Temptations. Their inspirations were Chicagoans Curtis Mayfield, Major “Monkey Time” Lance and Gene “Duke of Earl” Chandler, said rock historian and writer James Porter, host of the Hoodoo Party radio show on WLUW-FM.
Out of this soulful mix, some songs get re-discovered, thanks to re-issues and multimedia exposure beyond the old radio days–TV shows, movies and commercials.
The voice of Maya Lolita Julian – who sang in a Chicago group known as “The Bronzettes”– can be heard on a smoldering 1967 soul single on TV shows includingthe second episode of Season 2 of “Mad Men,” and the pilot for “The Deuce.”
It’s “Temptation is Hard to Fight,” and with its keening pedal steel guitar intro, it really is.
“It’s haunting,” Porter said. “It’s basically a man warning of the dangers of breaking up a relationship. The pedal steel and the loud background vocals kind of add this ominous effect.”
With that and other Bronzettes recordings, Ms. Julian, who died Nov. 30 at 64, “left some footprints behind,” Porter said. “From being used on ‘Mad Men,’ that song had a whole new lease on life.”
“She learned to sing in the projects,” said her brother Michael.
Known to family and friends as Lolita, she grew up the youngest of eight close-knit children in the Ida B. Wells housing complex, Michael Julian said. She went to Harlan High. Her mother Inez worked as a cook at Minnie’s restaurant and her father William worked at U.S. Steel, her brother said.
Inez encouraged her children, including Lolita and her sister Beatrice “Cookie” Julian, to sing. They formed the Bronzettes quartet with Sherry Parham and Tina Collins, Cookie said.
Their mother christened them. “I said, ‘We need a name for our group,’ ’’ Cookie Julian said, “and she sat and thought for a minute, and she said, ‘The Bronzettes!’ They weren’t connected to a Philadelphia group with the same name.
The group received early attention singing at an event hosted by famed deejay Herb Kent. They also appeared on “Soul Train” around 1970, Cookie Julian said.
To collectors, “Temptation is Hard to Fight” is “kind of a legendary song,” said Porter.
It features lead vocals by George McGregor. Its composer is his brother Billy, who had a local hit with “Mr. Shy,” according to Numero Group, the Chicago company that re-issued “Temptation,” first released on the Twilight label.
But the Bronzettes “jumped out from the mix,” Porter said. “I don’t blame them for giving them co-credit.”
“It’s all about that steel guitar which [producer] Jimmy Jones played,” said Ken Shipley, a co-founder of Numero Group.
After somebody told Ms. Julian it was on “Mad Men,” she wondered if they should be getting paid, according to her sister and her son Troy Julian. Shipley said Numero Group was paying Billy McGregor.
“I don’t cry over spilt milk,” Cookie Julian said.
“Temptation” has also been embraced by some fans within the “Northern Soul” movement out of England. “They like soul music so much, they were digging up the songs that weren’t hits,” Porter said.
Ms. Julian died of complications from sickle cell disease in Minneapolis, where she moved about 20 years ago, according to her son.
She’d studied at Pivot Point beauty school in Chicago, so once in Minneapolis, she worked at salons. It wasn’t always easy, her sister said. When women came in saying “I want to look like Farrah Fawcett,” Cookie Julian said, her sister’s attitude was: “I can’t do the impossible.”
Her son said she also worked as a phone operator for the government of Hennepin County, Minnesota.
“My mom at one point drove a yellow Corvette,” Troy Julian said. “She was colorful, flashy, stylish. If she was in a room, you knew she was in a room.”
She was fiery and generous, he said. “I had a friend of mine, she let him and his son move into her home. He stayed for about two, three years. Whatever she had, she’d give it to someone in need.”
In addition to her son and grandson Malakai, and her sister Cookie and brother Michael, Troy Julian said she’s survived by her sister Deborah Watts, her brother Warren, and Kim Jones, a friend who was like a sister. Services have been held.