I first posted Jeri Simpson’s “In My Black Lace” back in 2006. It has been one of the great mysteries around here, a marvelous, truly one-of-a-kind recording whose story I’d long given up hopes of ever learning. But I’m happy at last to have some more conclusive details on Jeri Simpson. Many, many thanks to her niece Susan and nephew James, who contacted me recently.
Born Louise Geraldine Simpson in the 1920s, Jeri Simpson came up in a musical family in the Chicago area. It was, more to the point, a large family – Jeri, as she was better known amongst her family, was the youngest of ten children. Music was a strong presence in the Simpsons’ lives, with the five girls of the family forming a singing group growing up. (Susan’s mother Laura sang and played piano for the family.)
Two of the brothers – Jack and Bill, the authors behind “In My Black Lace” – were also drawn to singing and writing songs early on. Incidentally, another sister, Doris, later achieved some fame as screen siren Doris Merrick.
Jeri had been in California for some time already – since the late ‘30s – when she recorded “In My Black Lace” in 1957. The session occurred in Los Angeles when Jeri was in her mid-thirties, and somewhere around the time of her marriage to Jay Ranellucci. Ranellucci worked deep in the music industry as a recording engineer and mixer for a decades-long stretch at Capitol Records between 1957 and 2007. (Ranellucci’s resume included not only the jazz-pop of Peggy Lee and Nancy Wilson, but also crucial early rock ‘n’ roll by Gene Vincent, country by Hank Thompson and Merle Haggard, FM radio rock by Steve Miller and the Band, and psychedelic jazz excursions by David Axelrod and the Fourth Way – among many others.)
It seems likely, given Jay Ranellucci’s connections to the music industry and, in particular, to Los Angeles-based jazz guitarist Barney Kessel, that he also played some role in engineering the “In My Black Lace” session. Either way, it is a captivating recording to this day, an expertly produced exercise in moody jazz, Jeri borrowing a bit of Julie-London-style sensuality while imbuing it with her own wholly unique “exotic” flavor.
Jeri had, according to family members, a “sultry,” “sexy” aspect. No surprise, given the evocative atmosphere of “In My Black Lace.” But she was also a housewife and mother (one daughter) who raised dobermans and rottweilers as a hobby, and alas this 45 seems to have been her only commerical recording, at least to anyone’s knowledge.
Given the quality of both “In My Black Lace” – which seems clearly to have been written for Jeri – and its flipside “Sugar” and Simpson’s obvious vocal talents, it’s too bad. But as her niece Susan noted, “[she] wanted to be a singer but never pursued her dream.”
Jeri Simpson passed away in 2012.