Rosie Hamlin, lead singer of Rosie and the Originals, the early Sixties group that scored a hit with their timeless single “Angel Baby,” died March 30th. She was 71.
Hamlin’s daughter confirmed her mother’s death on the group’s official site (via Billboard), adding that Hamlin died in her sleep.
“She didn’t perform anymore, and had removed herself from the music scene because of health concerns. She did still paint and tended a very lovely garden. She will be greatly missed by so many,” Hamlin’s daughter wrote. “Thank you for all your wishes and time and kind words. It meant a lot to her.
Hamlin penned “Angel Baby,” her and the Originals’ lone hit, when she was just 14, with her first boyfriend and the Penguins’ “Earth Angel” serving as her primary inspiration. After penning the song over a couple hours on afternoon, Hamlin and some instrument-playing San Diego friends laid down the first version of the track.
“We had trouble landing a record deal. We couldn’t even get an appointment with any of the labels. So we took one of our 45’s to Kresge’s Department Store in San Diego,” Hamlin wrote in her online biography. “They had listening booths in their music section where you could preview records before you bought them. We asked the manager to play our record and see if he could sell it in his store.”
A distributor from Highland Records heard “Angel Baby” and, without officially inking the group to a record contract, took control of the single’s master take and gave songwriting credit to the Originals’ eldest member. The single eventually found its way to famed DJ Alan Freed, who played “Angel Baby” numerous times a day in November 1960; two months later, the single peaked at Number Five on the Hot 100.
However, Hamlin parted ways with Highland after a legal battle over the song’s authorship and ownership. After disbanding the Originals, Hamlin recorded an album with her guitarist husband Noah Tafolla before leaving the music industry by 1963.
“Angel Baby” was one of John Lennon’s favorite songs, with the former Beatle covering the track for his Rock ‘n’ Roll covers LP; although left off that album, his version emerged on the 1986 posthumous release Menlove Ave. and subsequent Rock ‘n’ Roll reissues.
“This here is one of my all-time favorite songs,” Lennon says in the intro to his “Angel Baby” recording. “Send my love to Rosie, wherever she may be.” Artists like Roky Erickson, Linda Ronstadt and even System of a Down would also cover Hamlin’s oldies staple.
In 1995, Rosie and the Originals were featured as part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s exhibit on One-Hit Wonders; Hamlin proclaimed herself the first Latina woman ever enshrined in the Rock Hall.