Can you imagine how many times "Angel Baby" by Rosie and the Originals has been played at school dances, by Art Laboe and on radio stations across America since 1961? I can't. Rosie Hamlin, who wrote the song when she was 14, died in her sleep last week — her death announced on KPFK by artist Lalo Alcaraz — and Gabriel San Roman in the OC Weekly has put together the story of how "Angel Baby" was discovered in San Diego and became an anthem, especially in Mexican American communities of Southern California. Hamlin was Latina.
"When I was 14, I wrote a poem about a teenage love called Angel Baby," Hamlin wrote on her website. A group of her musician friends decided to drive to San Marcos to record the tune at a makeshift studio inside an old airplane hanger. After about 30 takes, the band had a demo in "Angel Baby" to shop, but few record companies gave the song the time of day at first.
Rosie and the Originals decided to take "Angel Baby" over to Kresge's Department Store in San Diego and convinced the manager to play the song over loud speakers. A Highland Records representative just happened to be at the store when he heard the tune and tracked the band down. They handed the demo over and soon after KDAY-LA played the song over the radio before it shot all the way to No. 5 on the national charts. Hamlin was just 15 at the time, but the band later broke up over a Highland Records contract that didn't list her as songwriter. She later married Noah Tafolla, the band's guitarist whom she recorded a full-length album with, and started a family.
The day following Hamlin's death, KPFK-LA's Pocho Hour of Power paid tribute to the singer with host Lalo Alcaraz announcing news before any media penned obituaries. Since then Billboard and Rolling Stone both noted the late John Lennon's professed love and cover of the "Angel Baby" in their pieces. But Hamlin's teenage love tune immediately struck a chord with Mexican-Americans who've kept the "Oldie But Goodie" alive for decades ever since.
"Although Rosie and the Originals had a national hit with Angel Baby it was the Mexican American community that embraced her and showered her with love," writes Ruben Molina in Chicano Soul: Recordings & History of an American Culture. With the first big hit of the 1960s for a Chicano artist, Hamlin also gave young Chicanas their first anthem, Molina adds. The whammy bar-bending opening notes cast a spell that Hamlin's angelic vocals accentuated with her youthful innocence.
Art Laboe posted on his Facebook page: "Your signature song, #AngelBaby, we must have played a million times since it first came out. Your artistry and music has touched so many Rosie and you will be missed."
Former deejay Elliot Mintz writes on Facebook that Rosie's "Angel Baby" was a favorite of John Lennon, Mintz adds. He covered it, as did Linda Ronstadt and many others. "All you need to do is close your eyes. It is an inspired work," writes Mintz. "It touches you in sound and spirit almost 60 years after its creation. Those things can't be explained."
Rosalie Hamlin leaves her husband and three children.