April 1977: Thelma Houston Hits No. 1 with "Don't Leave Me This Way"

Thelma Houston
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Nearly a decade after Thelma Houston unveiled her debut Sunshower album, an elegant album produced and arranged by the acclaimed Jimmy Webb, Houston struggled to find firm footing in the Los Angeles music scene.

Even as some of her singles found mild chart success, including 1970's "Save The Country" and 1974's "You've Been Doing Wrong For So Long," Houston grew disappointed as she continued to wait for a breakthrough moment in her career. 

"These have been tough years, full of disappointed," she shared with Los Angeles Times. "You release a record and you say, 'This is it.' But it's not. You release another one and go through the same thing. It's awful to have to rely on a hit record to get your career going but that's the way it is."

With over eight years of professional perseverance under her belt, the singer kept trying. As she was recording her Any Way You Like It album for Motown in '76, her producer, Tamla stalwart Hal Davis, chanced upon Melvin & the Bluenotes' recording of "Don't Leave Me This Way" and recognized its hit potential.

Houston entered the recording booth and began to sing her interpretation of the disco-flavored song, infusing a deliberate, slow intro with a fiery dance floor beat that would gradually kick the song into the American mainstream. 

Released as a single in 1976, the song slowly inched its way up on Billboard'Hot 100 beginning December 18, 1976 before it peaked at No. 1 in April 1977. "Don't Leave Me This Way" would also earn the singer a Grammy award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female that year. 

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