Revisiting Pennye Ford's 'Pennye'

A look back at the talented vocalist's 1984 LP and some of the stories behind its creation.

Accomplished veteran vocalist Pennye Ford was born into an unusually gifted family of musicians. Her father Gene Redd worked as a bandleader, A & R, and songwriter at King Records and Federal. Carol Ford, her late mother, sang beautiful gospel numbers and even cut a few singles like 1964’s “Your Well Ran Dry.”

Ford’s late half-sister Sharon Redd had a successful career that included three solo LPs: Sharon Redd (1980), Redd Hott (1982), and Love How You Feel (1983). In addition to scoring numerous hits like “Can You Handle It?” she also worked with Bette Midler and Luther Vandross.

As if that weren’t enough, half-brother Gene Redd Jr.’s resume of arrangement, production, and writing credits is impressive and extensive. He also worked as a manager and producer for Kool & The Gang. 

Ford (now known as Penny Ford) is frequently identified for vocal work with The Gap Band, Chaka Khan, Snap!, and Soul II Soul, but she also dropped her memorable 1984 debut solo effort Pennye when she was only a teenager.

With producer, songwriter, and Total Experience Records founder Lonnie Simmons at the helm as executive producer, she later admitted to having lukewarm feelings towards the record due to a lack of creative control and what she deemed as outdated production. “I was Lonnie’s first female solo artist,” Ford told Justin Kantor in a 2012 Blogcritics interview. “We were all like puppets. He was the ruler of all the land, so he had to have his hand in it. I was just 18, and I was intimidated by authority in older people.”

Though the album did not meet her creative standards, Pennye holds up quite well 36 years later and contains plenty of gems. The uptempo production on the lead single “Change Your Wicked Ways” provides a nice backing track for Ford’s lush voice while “Dangerous” would make a welcome addition to any throwback DJ set.

Her vocals sounds impeccable on “Never Let You Go,” where they blend perfectly with a beautifully understated, funky composition by Cavin Yarbrough of Yarbrough & Peoples fame. The song is so damn impressive that one can’t help but wonder what Ford and Yarbrough might have accomplished if they’d done an entire project together.

In addition to being an exceptional record, “Never Let You Go” is also notable for its credits—or lack of them. Cavin Yarbrough is appropriately credited for his work, but the liner notes cite him as the song’s lone producer. According to Penny Ford, this is not the case. It seems his wife and collaborative partner Alisa Delois Peoples deserves recognition for producing Ford’s captivating vocals, which shine throughout the song and demonstrate impressive range on the chorus.

If Peoples did co-produce the record, she should be credited for her work appropriately. Her absence as co-producer in the linter notes is troubling—it should have been celebrated as a significant achievement in an era when women were often frozen out production roles. As Ford told Blogcritics, “I remember Lois being able to produce the vocal, which was a milestone—because they never let the girls do anything.”

Despite the unfortunate lack of attribution on the record’s standout song and Ford’s mixed feelings about her early work, Pennye remains a strong album begging for rediscovery from a bigger audience in the digital age. While “Never Let You Go” is the best song on the LP, other strong cuts like “Spend My Time With You” and “Don't You Know That I Love You” make for a great front to back listen.

And even if Penny Ford wasn’t 100% satisfied with her first solo record, she seemed thrilled at the prospect of connecting to new listeners when Pennye was reissued on CD in 2012. “I’m really excited to have that work of mine become a part of this whole digital community,” she told Blogcritics. “It’s great that it’s accessible now, and not just in a pile of plastic in the trunk of some dude’s car.”

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