The first Bel Canto label 45 was “Didn’t It Rain” b/w “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” a thrilling vocal credited to Evelyn Freeman & the Exciting Voices, which according to Ellison White, had as many as 14 singers, including White and Freeman’s husband, Tommy Roberts, Gwen Johnson, sister of Ray and Plas Johnson, Johnny Woodson of the Kuff Linx, Margaret Bradford and bassman George Bledsoe on violin. That same unit also backed Peggy Lee on her 1958 hit, “All Right, OK, You Win.”
Freeman was sister of Ernie Freeman and had a gospel career before crossing over to R&B. Though “Didn’t It Rain” saw no action upon release, years later the tremendous vocals and throbbing bass line made it an underground hit, especially for those with in-car record players used to provide the soundtrack for cruising the local boulevards. As a result, “Didn’t It Rain” b/w “Water Boy” (from Freeman’s Bel Canto LP) was picked up for release on the United Artists label
Bel Canto was operated by Russ Malloy at 2919 S. LaCienega Blvd. in Culver City and was in existence from mid-1958. Bel Canto turned out to be less interested in vinyl recordings than in newly marketed stereo, releasing their product line on just-introduced two-track reel-to-reel tapes, thought to be the wave of the stereo future. In 1959, their two-track product line was converted to the more popular four-track format.
TRW (Thompson Ramo Wooldridge Inc) bought out Bel Canto and also made deals with Liberty, Dot, Disneyland and Mercury to release their catalog on tape to provide product for release on cartridge tapes and the system needed to play them. Out of this early phase came eight-track and cassette technology of the mid to late 1960s.
At about the same time of the U.A. label reissue of “Didn’t It Rain,” Imperial recorded Freeman on the soundalike, “Didn’t It Rock Pt. 1 & 2,” but the original was by far the best.On the final week of Nov. 1964, a full six years after the song first saw light of day on 45, Wallich’s Music City ranked “Didn’t It Rain” on United Artists at #1 on their Flashbacks list, a tribute to one of the best of 1958, which never hit in its day. Most of the 1964 buyers blasted the bottom-heavy song on their in-car turntables as they cruised the local avenues.
After the demise of Bel-Canto as an active record label, the Evelyn Freeman Singers backed Hollywood Flames lead signer Earl Nelson on “No Time To Cry” b/w “Come On” on Ebb in 1959. However, as Ebb had its greatest success with the Hollywood Flames, this experiment of trying to turn one of the group’s lead singers in to the next Bobby Day, who had a very successful career outside of the Flames, was quickly abandoned and he rejoined the group for a series of Ebb releases as well as being part of the original “Gee Whiz” Bob & Earl on Class.