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Barbara Ann Alston (1943 - 2018), co-founder of girl group the Crystals

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Sang lead on many of their early hits

Barbara Ann Alston, co-founder of the girl group the Crystals, died Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, in Charlotte, following a battle with the flu, according to multiple news sources. She was 74.

The Crystals were one of the most popular female vocal groups of the early 1960s. Their hits included “He’s a Rebel,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” and “Then He Kissed Me.” Alston sang lead on their first hits, “There’s No Other (Like My Baby),” “Uptown,” and the notorious “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).”

The latter didn’t chart successfully, and the subject of domestic violence caused many involved in the production to later disown the song, including songwriter Carole King, who wrote the music alongside lyricist Gerry Goffin. Alston herself was described as “uneasy” about the song.

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A talented singer, Alston was naturally shy, and a reluctant frontwoman. Although championed as the lead singer by producer Phil Spector, she gave way to fellow Crystal La La Brooks, who sang lead on many of their later hits.

“My sister says mom wanted to do the choreography and stuff like that,” daughter Donielle Prophete told BBC News.

The group was formed by Alston along with friends, Dee Dee Kennibrew, Mary Thomas, Patricia Wright, and La La Brooks. They all had a background in singing with the church.

Alston’s uncle, a big band musician named Benny Willis, helped put the group together while they were still in school and got their demos to producer Phil Spector, who would dominate early 1960s pop music with his distinctive “wall of sound.”

The Crystals were a part of his stable of female vocal groups that included the Ronettes and Darlene Love and the Blossoms. They were also featured prominently on his classic Christmas album, “A Christmas Gift for You.” The Crystals’ version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” influenced many later artists, including Bruce Springsteen.

Alston left the Crystals in 1964, but recalled her time with the group fondly, according to her daughter.

“She always talked about singing with them, the work they created together. She loved the sisterhood part of it, the travelling,” Prophete said. “She would always sing around the house, especially around Christmas.”

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