"Angel Face" (Elsie Mae Jones Kenley)
The tough-voiced blues shouter known as Angel Face, whose sound is similar to that of Ruth Brown and Lavern Baker, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1930. Her given name was Elsie Mae Jones. (Kenley appears to be a married name.) Angel Face started her career in her hometown, singing with famous New Orleans trumpet player and bandleader, Papa Celestin, an accomplishment she referenced at the 28th Annual White House Correspondents Association Dinner in May 1953.
After leaving Louisiana, Angel Face settled in DC and began singing with Thomas E. “TNT” Tribble’s band as early as April 1953 for their gig at the Flamingo Room in Southeast, DC. In time, though, she left Tribble’s band and joined Tribble’s former bandmate Frank “Dual Trumpet” Motley and His Motley Crew. (As his nickname suggests, Motley was known for his outstanding ability to play two trumpets at once.) Angel Face appeared live with Motley’s band for five weekly performances starting with the July 25th launch of Bob McEwen’s ‘Capital Caravan’ TV show on WTTG/Channel 5 on Saturday afternoons. (‘Capital Caravan’ targeted local African-American youth.) Angel Face and Motley’s band had occasional return engagements such as the first anniversary show in 1954.
Angel Face also made studio recordings with Motley’s band for Mrs. Lillian Claiborne of DC Records. Her 1953 recordings “What’s That Stuff Joe’s Got” and “Keep Your Head Up High” did not sell in large quantities, but she continued to record with the band. In 1954, her song “Don’t Ever Leave Me Again” appeared on Big Town Records, a subsidiary of Bill McCall’s 4 Star Records of Pasadena, California. Notably, the song was later re-recorded by Patsy Cline as Cline’s way of saying “Thank you” to Mrs. Claiborne for her early support of the country artist.
Angel Face and the Motley Crew kept busy with a series of live engagements in areas like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Chicago, Cheraw, SC (Motley’s hometown) as well as Canada through the late 1950s. In March 1954, she performed with him opposite Count Basie at Club Trinidad in Washington, DC, which should be considered a career highlight, as was a 1955 tour with Motley through South Dakota to the 1042 Club in Anchorage in the Alaska Territory. They also performed at DC’s legendary Howard Theatre in 1957.
In the late 1950’s, Angel Face began working with the Swingmasters, a band led by the organist Jimmy Dayton and the drummer Maurice Lyles. They had releases on DC Records and Specialty of California. In 1956, Angel Face released “I Was Framed” on DC Records; “Boomerang Lover” on Hollywood Records; and “I Can’t Look Back” for OKeh Records later that year. By that time, Motley’s band was based out of Toronto, Canada, and Angel Face did not remain with the band. She rejoined Motley during a performance in Toronto, Ontario in 1961. She lived in Fort Worth, TX, for most of 1960s and back in her hometown of New Orleans in the 1970's. She made appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1980 and went on a European tour with trumpeter Wallace Davenport. Angel Face retired in 1985 and passed away in 1991.
"My love for you is more powerful than a ton of TNT"
- I Was Framed