Francine Reed, Atlanta’s “queen of the blues,” was born in Pembroke Township, Illinois, on July 11, 1947. The popular singer moved to Georgia in the early 1990s and added to her already solid fan base by expanding her audience beyond the confines of the metropolitan Atlanta area.
Reed’s career was cemented on the foundation of a musically rich family. (Her sister Margo Reed became a noted jazz singer.) Influenced by a gospel-singing father, she sang at church services and charity events during her youth. As an adult Reed relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, and began singing at nightclubs.
While in Phoenix, Reed set the standard by which other local talent was judged. She often performed as the opening act for such headliners as Miles Davis, Etta James, Smokey Robinson, and the Crusaders. Widely known for her powerful voice and commanding stage presence, she sang an eclectic repertoire of jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues.
Making the acquaintance of Texas musician Lyle Lovett, who was virtually unknown at the time, in a Phoenix nightspot proved beneficial for Reed. In 1985 she began touring as a background vocalist and occasional duettist for Lovett, whose records would soon receive Grammy Awards and enjoy gold and platinum sales. Reed’s tenure with Lovett included duet appearances on many television shows, including The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
In addition to singing with Lovett, Reed performed on Willie Nelson’s acclaimed album Milk Cow Blues (2000), lending her soulful voice to the title track as well as to the song “Funny How Time Slips Away.” She has contributed vocals to other musicians’ recordings as well, including those of Delbert McClinton and Roy Orbison.
Reed demonstrated her musical prowess as a solo artist with several albums of her own after arriving in Atlanta. Her first solo album, I Want You to Love Me (1995), featured a duet with Lovett. The album peaked at number seven on Billboard’s blues chart and prompted the first of several W. C. Handy Award nominations for Reed. Reed’s second album, Can’t Make It on My Own (1996), features a duet with McClinton, and her third record, Shades of Blue (1999), met with critical acclaim.
Reed’s fame can likely be attributed to a particular song rather than to any of her records. Her trademark performance is of the classic blues song “Wild Women (Don’t Get the Blues),” which was written in 1924 by Georgia-born blues legend Ida Cox. Reed’s first album, as well as her 2001 release, I Got a Right. . .to Some of My Best, and Lovett’s Live in Texas (1999), all feature a recording of the song.
Atlanta magazine devoted its June 2003 issue to the city’s music scene, and an accompanying limited edition CD contains Reed’s version of “Wild Women.” In the liner notes the magazine proclaims Reed to be “probably the most beloved singer in the city.”
A frequent performer at Atlanta clubs, including the blues oasis Blind Willie’s, Reed was also a perennial favorite at the city’s Midtown Music Festival, which began in 1994.