Wendy Rene, the budding Stax Records singing and songwriting talent who quit music after the death of Otis Redding in 1967 and saw her music revived through samples decades later, died Tuesday in Memphis, Tenn., following a stroke. She was 67.
Born Mary Frierson in Memphis, Rene was given the stage name by Redding after she and two friends auditioned at Stax Records in Memphis in 1963 and immediately received a recording deal as the Drapels. Following their first session, Rene, then 16, showed Stax co-owner Jim Stewart songs she had written and was signed as a solo artist as well.
A rarity for singers at the time, Rene only recorded songs she had written, using Booker T. and the MG’s as her backing band. Her dance track “Bar-B-Q” was successful enough that she left high school to make a go of it as a performer though none of her singles ever reached a Billboard chart.
In 1967, after divorcing her first husband and marrying Stax employee James Cross, Rene retired from the business to spend time with her family. She was scheduled to perform one last show with Redding and the Bar-Kays, but changed her mind at the last minute and did not leave her Memphis home. Redding and four members of the Bar-Kays were killed in a plane crash on their way to Madison, Wis.
Away from music for 26 years, Rene’s “After Laughter, Comes Tears” was sampled by the Wu-Tang Clan on “Tearz.” Wu-Tang’s RZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard would use the track again on “Black Widow Pt. 2” and Alicia Keys sampled it on “Where Do We Go From Here” from the As I Am album. NastyNasty gave the cut a dubstep treatment on “Apologies.”
Rene returned to performing in September 2010, playing a brief set at Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. In February 2012, the Light in the Attic label released the compilation After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax & Volt Singles, Rarities, 1964-1965 that helped bring attention to a singer often compared to Irma Thomas in her prime.