You would think that a singer who had two #1 hits in the same year would be a familiar name, but I have to confess that I didn’t know much about Evelyn Knight until I ran across her story recently. Of course, I was pretty young when she rose to fame in the post-war years, and I don’t think we had either of her chart-topping records around the house. But the fact is, both “A Little Bird Told Me” and “Powder Your Face with Sunshine” rose to the top position on the charts in 1948.
Born Evelyn Davis in the Washington D.C. area, she began her career while in her teens, appearing on radio and in area nightclubs during the pre-war years. Within a couple of years she’d married a newspaper photographer named Knight, and began using her married name professionally. (She continued to do so throughout her career, even though she later divorced and remarried.)
By the end of World War II she’d worked in clubs in both New York and Los Angeles, gaining a lot of experience as a singer (while also finding time to have a baby boy), and was well-positioned to take the next step in her career, a recording contract with Decca. It didn’t take long for her to find success on the charts, with her debut — “Dance with a Dolly (With a Hole in Her Stocking)” — climbing into the Top Ten, but even though a follow-up also did well, she was unable to keep her momentum going for the next couple of years. However, that ended when she recorded “A Little Bird Told Me” with the Stardusters in 1948, and it created a stir in a couple of ways. It became a #1 hit for the singer, but it also instigated a lawsuit by Supreme Records, whose own Paula Watson had already had a hit with the song (although a lesser one). They contended that Knight’s version was too close a copy, but lost in court.
Meanwhile, she had continued to make records and it wasn’t long before her second big hit came along. “Powder Your Face with Sunshine” shot to the top of the charts and eventually became the singer’s biggest seller, leading to a number of successful records over the next few years. Unfortunately, the 1950s brought a downturn in her popularity, although she did have a successful duet with country singer Red Foley. She also made a number of appearances on TV variety shows, but her career was definitely winding down and within a few years she’d pretty much left it all behind to raise her family. She was 89 when she died in 2007.
Evelyn Knight – “Powder Your Face with Sunshine”