'I Was Scared': Kidnapped Singer Becomes a Star

Vickie Jones took an unexpected road to success
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 7, 2018 5:30 PM CDT
Kidnapped to Impersonate Aretha, She Became a Star
A singer bows to the crowd. We can imagine it's Vickie Jones.   (Getty Images)

She started as Mary Jane Jones, became Vickie Jones, performed as Aretha Franklin, and returned to the life of Mary Jane Jones—with a kidnapping, an arrest, and a spell of stardom in between, the Smithsonian reports. Jones was a standout gospel singer in ramshackle West Petersburg, Virginia, in the 1960s and moonlighted as a soul singer in nightclubs to keep her four young boys fed. Wearing a wig and performing as "Vickie Jones" (so she wouldn't be kicked out of church for singing the "devil's music"), she sang songs by her idol, Aretha Franklin, and even looked like her. "What you want," she'd sing, "Baby, I got it!" And that's when New York hairdresser Lavell Hardy, 24, persuaded the 27-year-old to accept $1,000 a night opening for the real Aretha. So Jones took the bus with him to Melbourne, Florida.

There, Hardy revealed that he really wanted her to impersonate Aretha and threatened to throw her "in the bay" if she refused. "I was scared," she said later. On two hamburgers a day, Jones sang local Florida gigs as Aretha—making her one of many black copycat performers in a time before the Internet and cable TV—until the law caught up with them and Hardy was kicked out of state. Released by an admiring prosecutor, Jones made headlines for her arrest and enjoyed her own touring career, even singing with Duke Ellington's band. But after a year, she moved back home to raise her boys and keep them from her alcoholic ex-husband. She never sang professionally again and died in 2000, but kept a copy of Jet magazine with her on the cover to remind her boys "that they could be anybody they wanted to be," says the Smithsonian. Click to read the full story. (Read more singer stories.)

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