Emmaretta Marks, one of the inaugural members of Hair's Broadway tribe, passed away January 4 after an extended battle with dementia. She was 76.
Born on March 15, 1945 in Washington D.C., Ms. Marks was the eldest daughter of elementary school teacher EmmaLena Reddick Marks and electrician Reuben Edward Marks. In 1964, during her freshman year at Howard University, Ms. Marks snuck backstage at the Paramount Theatre during a performance by rock and roll band The Animals, and began a relationship with lead singer Eric Burden. She dropped her English and Fine Arts dual major to remain in New York with him, and began a successful career as a background dancer and singer for some of the most influential musicians of the 1960's rock scene.
While singing with Al Kooper's The Blue's Project, Ms. Marks auditioned for the Broadway transfer of Hair, joining the tribe as it expanded in size from its original Off-Broadway production. Ms. Marks, Melba Moore, and Lorrie Davis (also known as Mary Davis) made up the so-called "Black Girl Trio," performing the song "White Boys" in costumes mimicking the aesthetics of Diana Ross and The Supremes.
Deep Purple vocalist Rod Evans met Ms. Marks in New York City during the original run of Hair, and wrote a song for her entitled "Emmaretta," which became the lead single for their third studio record.
Following the original Broadway production and first national tour of Hair, Ms. Marks sang with Ike and Tina Turner, and with The Rolling Stones. Ms. Marks claimed to be the creator of the introduction to The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," but this claim has been questioned as several other vocalists have made similar statements and the original paper trail was destroyed.
Ms. Marks had a tumultuous relationship with Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, which came to an end when she became close with Brian Jones, acting as his nurse after a particular bad trip on hallucinogens.
Through fellow Hair cast member Jeannette Jacobs, Ms. Marks was introduced to Jimi Hendrix. With time, Mr. Hendrix came to rely on Ms. Marks, who signed off on every page of his handwritten lyrics, correcting his grammar and spelling (Mr. Hendrix never completed formal schooling). They soon began writing music together, and Ms. Marks can be heard on the majority of Mr. Hendrix's final recordings.
On September 18, 1970, Ms. Marks was en route to audition for the original off Broadway company of Godspell when she received word that Mr. Hendrix had suddenly passed away at the age of 27. She went to the audition, broke down halfway through, and came home to pack up her apartment, fleeing Manhattan with her companion, drummer George Leary.
The pair settled in the Catskills, becoming fixtures of the upstate music circuit. They remained together for the next 50 years.
Ms. Marks is survived by Leary, her younger sister Edwinda D. Marks-Castleberry, brother Reuben E. Marks Jr., and niece Ella Castleberry-Kapote, as well as many loving family members and friends.
Ms. Marks had no formal retirement or life insurance plan; her family is currently taking donations to cover her funeral and burial expenses. You may donate to her GoFundMe here.