Frankie Pighee & The Soulettes

For years, it had been assumed that Frankie Pighee’s Boddie recordings featured vocals sung by a man. Born in 1938 in Howard County, Arkansas, Frankie Joycetean “Flappy” Pighee relocated to Cleveland in time to begin her high school education at John Hay. Sporting a brawny, deep, inimitable voice, Pighee cut her teeth at the Progressive Baptist Church, developing a powerful stage presence in the process. Her friendship with Leo’s Casino proprietor Leo Franks won her choice slots before the O’Jays, Temptations, Jackie Wilson, and Otis Redding. Her live show was marked by wild handmade attire and headpieces, which Frankie parlayed into a sideline gig as a seamstress for local luminaries and, in Gladys Knight, at least one national star. A gifted songwriter, Pighee found her 400-pound frame a barrier to stardom as a recording artist. Still, she was much beloved by the Boddies—Louise recalled that the Soul Kitchen label was minted to issue Pighee’s recordings. Unfortunately, 1967's “Soul Feeling” and “If You Don’t Think” were the only Pighee sides to see release. Two years later, Frankie underwetn experimental weight loss surgery and shrank down to less than a third of her former size. Although this physical change impacted her voice and strength, slowing her performances as a side effect, Frankie Pighee’s glowing personality remained a fixture on the local Cleveland scene until she passed on in 2002.

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