Doris Troy, an R&B singer, was born Doris Elaine Higginsen on January 6, 1937, in the Bronx, New York. Her biggest hit as a singer and songwriter, “Just One Look,” was released in 1963 and peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Troy’s father was a Pentecostal minister in Barbados, and she began singing in the church choir. Her parents were opposed to R&B and rock ‘n’ roll music and prohibited their four children from listening to it. Despite the ban, she became an usherette at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre, where she heard and met many of the performers, including James Brown, who was credited with “discovering” her.
Troy formed the Halos, a three-girl group, in 1957 and began writing songs. For her song “How About That,” which became a hit for Dee Clark, a publisher paid her $100. Troy began singing backup for Cissy Houston and her cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warrick for Atlantic Records in 1963 to earn a steady income. They were known as the Sweet Inspirations, and they sang backup for The Drifters, Solomon Burke, and other well-known artists.
After co-writing “Just One Look” with Gregory Carroll in 1963, the couple took the demo to Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler, who immediately signed them. Higginsen changed her name to Troy after the legendary heroine, Helen of Troy, and the record was released under the name Doris Troy. “Just One Look” was a huge hit, and it was later covered by The Hollies and Linda Ronstadt. Doris Troy, sadly, was never able to match her first hit.
Troy visited London in 1964 and fell in love with the British music scene. In 1969, she moved to the United Kingdom and signed with Apple Records, which was owned by the Beatles. Throughout the 1970s, she collaborated with British artists and built a fan base. She once performed a live show with Elton John, who was relatively unknown at the time. Troy performed background vocals on George Harrison’s hit “My Sweet Lord,” Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and Billy Preston’s album That’s the Way God Planned It. When she returned to the United States in 1974, she performed alongside Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, and other notable artists.
Mama, I Want to Sing, a musical she co-wrote with her younger sister, Vy Higginsen, and her husband, Ken Wydro, was perhaps her most memorable stage performance. The musical, based on Troy’s life, starred Troy as her mother, Geraldine. It premiered on March 23, 1983, at the Heckschers Theatre in Spanish Harlem and ran for 1,500 performances before embarking on a national and international tour. From 1986 to 1999, the musical toured Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as performing in the UK’s West End Theatre. The musical was adapted into a film, Mama, I Want to Sing, starring Ciara, Patti LaBelle, and Hill Harper, and was released on DVD in 2012.
Troy was forced to relocate from New York to Las Vegas, Nevada, due to respiratory issues. She kept performing in supper clubs and casinos. Doris Troy, 67, died of emphysema on February 16, 2004, in Las Vegas.