Born Doris Elaine Higginsen in the Bronx, she later took her grandmother’s name and grew up as Doris Payne. Her parents disapproved of “subversive” forms of music like rhythm & blues, so she cut her teeth singing in her father’s choir (he was a Pentecostal minister).
At the age of 16, Doris was working as an usherette at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem where she was discovered by James Brown. Under the name Doris Payne, she began songwriting and earned $100 in 1960 for the Dee Clark hit How About That.
Taking her stage name from Helen of Troy, she worked as a backing vocalist for Atlantic Records alongside Dionne Warwick, singing backup vocals for Solomon Burke, The Drifters and Dionne Warwick before she co-wrote and recorded Just One Look which hit #10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1963.
Troy – nicknamed ‘Mama Soul’ by her British fans – worked in the UK throughout the early 1970s, contributing vocals on several classic recordings by The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Carly Simon (she sings on You’re So Vain) and on the Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon.
She returned to the United States in 1974, where she continued to perform at nightclubs and casinos. Her life inspired the long-running touring musical Mama, I Want to Sing in which she played and sang the role of her own mother, Geraldine.
Doris Troy died in Las Vegas on 16 February 2004, aged 67.