Billy Vera & Judy Clay were less notable for their music than for their historical importance: certainly the first interracial recording duo in soul music, this late-'60s team may have been the first interracial recording duo of any sort. Vera was a New York songwriter with some minor successes (Ricky Nelson's "Mean Old World," Barbara Lewis' "Make Me Belong to You") when he brought his composition "Storybook Children" to Atlantic executive Jerry Wexler. Vera initially tried to record it with Nona Hendryx (then with Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles), but when that idea didn't pan out, he teamed up with Clay. Born Judy Lee, Clay had joined the gospel group the Drinkard Singers (who also featured Cissy Houston) in the late '50s, and had recorded soul singles throughout the '60s without notable success.
"Storybook Children," interpreted by some listeners as a fable of interracial romance (although Vera insists it is about adultery), became a modest R&B and pop hit in early 1968, as did the follow-up single, "Country Girl-City Man (Just Across the Line)." Clay was by far the stronger vocal partner on their material (much of it written by Vera and and noted producer/songwriter Chip Taylor), which was solid (though not great) easygoing soul with heavy pop, at times middle of the road, overtones. Failing to land another hit single, the duo recorded an album, Storybook Children, in 1968 before going their own ways. Clay recorded for Stax and Atlantic in the late '60s, making the R&B charts as William Bell's duet partner in 1968 with "Private Number," and landing her only R&B chart single, "Greatest Love," in 1970. Vera eventually formed the Beaters in L.A., hitting number one in 1986 with "At This Moment," and is very active today as an R&B historian, liner note writer, reissue compiler, and member of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi