This legendary soul giant began his career singing with his grandmother’s Providence-based gospel group
Freddie was born in Providence in 1933. He found early success touring the Northeast and England with his grandmother’s gospel group, Sally Jones & The Gospel Keyes. He next enrolled in medical school at URI, but music became his chosen field when he settled in New York City in 1956.
Between rounds as a small label recording artist and songwriter and a stint in the Korean conflict, he caught the attention of music entrepreneur Don Kirshner who signed him as a songwriter with Aldon Music, then home to Carole King, Barry Mann, Neil Sedaka and Paul Simon. Freddie’s songs from this period were recorded by Ricky Nelson, Paul Anka, Tony Orlando, Gene “Duke Of Earl” Chandler and Clyde McPhatter. His biggest hit as a writer was “The Door Is Open,” a Hot 100 entry for Tommy Hunt in 1962.
Freddie entered the charts as a singer himself the following year with “Hey Girl” written by his friends Carole King and Gerry Goffin. It hit Billboard’s Top 10 and is considered a classic today with covers by the Temptations, Bobby Vee, Donny Osmond, Billy Joel, George Benson and Michael McDonald. Freddie then signed with Columbia Records in 1964 and released two LPs and four singles, but major labels did not know how to nurture R&B talent in the early ‘60s, so, as did Aretha Franklin, Freddie left the label. Bert Berns, on the other hand, was a solid R&B producer and approached Freddie to sign with his newly-formed Shout label in 1966.
Early the next year, Freddie had the #1 R&B song in the US with “Are You Lonely For Me” – another classic with covers by Otis Redding, Chuck Jackson, Al Green and the Grateful Dead. Freddie did well at Shout, but with Berns’ untimely passing in 1967, the label lost its driving force. And so, Freddie’s hit making days came to an end, but he continued recording occasional singles, albums and jingles and even tried his hand at acting. His last album was “Brand New Man” in 2001 and in 2003 he recorded “Brown-Eyed Girl” for the Van Morrison tribute album, “Vanthology.”
Freddie passed away in June, 2007, at the age of 74 leaving behind a legacy as one of the best soul singers and songwriters of the ‘60s and a worldwide reputation that is just as intact today as it was back then. His success remains a great source of pride for the Rhode Island music community.