Betty Jean Dempsey, soulful country singer
Saturday, May 14, 2005
BY GEORGE BERKIN
When Betty Jean Dempsey played the Honky Tonk Cafe at a VFW post in Nutley last year, she brought a voice honed by three decades of playing country and western music and a soul that was born and raised in the Deep South.
Singing with Mack Sullivan and the Oklahoma Wranglers, Ms. Dempsey brought her gift to "He's a Live Wire" and other tunes.
"The crowd loved it," said Tex Doyle of Clifton, a frequent singing partner.
Ms. Dempsey, who arrived in New Jersey from Baton Rouge, La., on the cusp of adulthood and went on to play in clubs and other venues throughout northern New Jersey, died last Saturday. She was 57.
A longtime Jersey City resident, she returned to her Southern roots when she moved to Greensboro, N.C., about three years ago, but occasionally she visited New Jersey.
She died in Greensboro's Wesley Long Hospital of complications from lung disease, family members said.
"She sang the old country music," with a style influenced by Patsy Cline, Tanya Tucker and Loretta Lynn, said her daughter, Katherine Morris of Brick.
As a young child in Louisiana, one of five siblings, Ms. Dempsey learned to play the trumpet and acoustic guitar, Morris said. And at an early age, her father brought her onstage.
Ms. Dempsey was "a bit shy, but once she got up there, she sang her heart out," her daughter said.
At 18, she wrote or co-wrote and recorded four records for K- Ark in Nashville, Tenn., including songs whose titles fairly twang: "Lonesome Without You" and Crazy Crazy Crazy Heart."
Ms. Dempsey's father, Jack, did construction and electrical work. When her family moved to Jersey City, her club career took off.
She played The Hurricane in New York, headlining with singer Eddie Rabbit before he achieved a national reputation.
She also played Charlie's Corner, now Krajewski's, in Secaucus, the Rocking Horse in Union City, the Rainbow Inn in Wood-Ridge and the Blue Ribbon Inn in Hillside.
Over the years, Ms. Dempsey garnered some awards. On April 25, 1970, for example, she was named "best female artist" for an 11-state area during ceremonies at The Golden Nugget in Newburgh, N.Y.
But her career never turned national.
At the Palomino Club in Wallington, the owner, Mack Sullivan, hired her to sing, and then suggested a nationwide tour, Ms. Dempsey's daughter said.
Ms. Dempsey turned him down. A single mother, Ms. Dempsey wanted to make sure her only daughter had a stable home life, Morris said.
"When I hear her sing in public, or at home when I listen to her tapes, it often brings tears to my eyes," her daughter said. "It may be the intensity of her voice and her feeling behind the music she sings or because I know she worked so hard her whole life playing music and she deserves to have gone further than playing in some nightclub or wedding."
On a recent Christmas, Morris added, she visited her mother and found her whole bedroom was covered with Christmas cards. "I asked her, 'Who are all of these from?' She told me they were from her fans, people that follow her around all the time to watch her sing."
On Thursday, the radio station at Fairleigh Dickinson University will play a retrospective of Ms. Dempsey's career, her daughter said. The show, on WFDU 89.1 FM, is to air sometime between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
In addition to her daughter, Katherine Morris, Ms. Dempsey is survived by two brothers, Calvin Dempsey of Knoxville, Tenn., and Robert Dempsey of Ridgefield Park; her mother, Leona Dempsey of Greensboro ; and two granddaughters, Amanda and Rachael of Brick.
Funeral services were held yesterday in Queen of Peace Church, North Arlington. Burial was in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington. Arrangements were by the Wilfred Armitage Funeral Home, Kearny.
Betty Dempsey was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She grew up in a family of 5 kids with two Brothers and two sisters, Mother, Leona Dempsey and Father, Jack Dempsey. Betty played the trumpet and the Guitar in Grammar School. She practiced often and the family loved to get together and sing country songs. Soon she became a rhythm guitarist and started giving guitar lessons at the age of 16 to other students. Betty's father often took her to local clubs and made her get up on the stage to sing. Betty is a bit shy but once she got up there she sang her heart out.
At the age of 18 she recorded four (4) records for K-ARC Record Company in Nashville, TN. "The Memory of You," written by Betty Dempsey and George Elliot, "Lonesome Without You," written by Betty Dempsey, "Crazy Crazy Crazy Heart" and "Part of a Home" also written by Betty Dempsey. She plans on recording these songs again in the near future. She also recorded a song for Potria record Company, called "Tears Lonely Tears," written by F. Hober. Her most recent recording includes two original songs titled "It's All Gone," written by Sonney Throckmorton, TN and "These Empty Arms," written by John Troy, NJ. Betty's Father was an electrician and traveled often to do jobs around the United States so at the age of 18 she moved up to Jersey City, NJ with the whole family. On April 25, 1970 Betty won an award covering eleven north east states as "Best Female Artist" at "The Golden Nugget" located in Newburgh, NY.
Betty started playing country music at several local country clubs such as "The Hurricane" in New York where she played with Eddie Rabbit and Walt Conklin, "The Coral Bar" in East Paterson, "The Pavillion Lounge" in Budd lake which seated over 300 people. "Charlie's Corner," now known as "Krajewski's" in Secaucus, NJ. She played there for several years at other clubs such as the "Rocking Horse" in Union City, NJ, "The Rainbow Inn" in Woodridge, NJ, "The Blue Ribbon Inn" in Hillside, NJ and the "Palomino Club" in Wallington where she played with Mack Sullivan and the Oklahoma Rangers. She was hired at the Palomino Club by the owner Mac Sullivan who stated he don't usually hire woman singers but when he heard Betty sing he changed his mind. Betty was propositioned to take a bus tour throughout the states in 1978.
Betty turned this opportunity down in order for her only daughter Kathy to have a stable home life. When I hear her sing in public or at home when I listen to her tapes it often brings tears to my eyes. It may be the intensity of her voice and her feeling behind the music she sings or because I know she worked so hard her whole life playing music and she deserves to have went further than playing in some night club or wedding. I remember going to her house last Christmas and her whole bedroom was covered with Christmas cards and I asked her who are all of these from? She told me they were from her fans. People that follow her around all the time to watch her sing. I couldn't believe it.
Over the years she recorded three or four more demo tapes. Her most recent made about 4 years ago. She finally recorded her own song that no one else sang called "It's All Gone" written by a song writer in Tennessee. They played the song on the air at Fairley Dickinson University 89.1 and the DJ Paul Baine called Betty in to do an interview over the radio and played her new song for her. I thought for sure someone would hear her story and hear her song and I thought finally her hard work might pay off. I Just want to say if anyone out there has an interest in a powerful country voice with feeling behind it go and see Betty sing. She plays all kinds of Country from old to new. All of her fans know her as MS. BETTY DEMPSEY but I am so proud to be able to call her MOM.
Check out the artist's website:
1. It's All Gone
2. Once A Day
3. Blue Rose Is
4. He Thinks I still care
5. Pass Me By
6. Hillbilly Girl With The Blues
7. These Empty Arms
8. Somewhere Tonight
9. Honky Tonk Heart
10. Diggy Diggy Lo
11. Down Down Down
12. Texas When I Die
13. There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight
14. If My Heart Had Windows