As well as recording numerous albums of her own, Yates has toured with Van Morrison and featured on numerous TV shows including those hosted by Cilla Black, Cliff Richard, Kenny Everett and even Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Goodies.
Yates was only five years old when she made her first public appearance at her local marae at Pukepoto in Northland. Her first taste of success came a year later when she won a talent contest singing traditional folk songs ‘Lavender Blue’ and ‘Mary Rose’ at the Kaitaia A&P Hall.
When watching her mother Lillian Yates “put on a beautiful gown and play with her jazz band The Dixielanders on weekends” she somehow knew singing would be a major part of her life.
Her talent was quickly recognised by others and she was asked to sing as support act for The Everly Brothers at the Auckland Town Hall.
Yates' friends at University of Auckland encouraged her talent, urging her to get up and perform one night. Her first professional gigs were at The Tijuana Nightclub in Wellesley Street in 1961, performing with Sonny Day and The Sundowners and Cook Island singing sensation Freddy Tira.
Her talent was quickly recognised by others and she was asked to sing as support act for The Everly Brothers at the Auckland Town Hall the same year.
That year she was also asked to join the Claude Papesch band. Alongside Papesch, the blind keyboardist (formerly of Johnny Devlin’s band The Devils), were Kim Paterson on trumpet, Tony Hopkins on drums (also from Johnny Devlin’s band), Andy Brown on bass, visiting Australian saxophonist Bernie McGann and “three beautiful blind girl singers”.
Yates says that was a “great year of learning from the best” leading to work with keyboard player Dave MacRae and his band at Phil Warren’s The Montemarte club and the Mike Perjanik Band for a residency at The Shiralee club.
Then came an invitation to open the Tahiti cabaret in Noumea for entrepreneur Gilbert Tong. Yates, having majored in French, saw this as an ideal opportunity to improve her language and musical skills.
Her feature performances so impressed the club owners her contract was extended from three months to a year working alongside other New Zealand musicians.
Then came an invitation to join The Quin Tikis Māori showband, which was enjoying great success in Australia.
After three months she decided to go solo. What followed was four years of gigging, starting with the opening of Melbourne’s new Playboy Club and appearances at other clubs and on national TV, studio work and an unexpected backing vocal offer from Dusty Springfield for three weeks at The Chevron Hilton’s Silver Spade room.
This work with bandleader Bob Barnard, she says, was immensely educational, especially “the harrowing experience” of touring Australian and US bases for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in Vietnam in the height of the war.
Needing time out after this she accepted a cruise to the United States with The Dave MacRae Trio.
In the USA Yates was quickly embraced as an integral part of the scene. Based on the recommendation of her newfound mentor, conductor, arranger and composer Russell Garcia, she was recruited to join a Los Angeles vocal group that was being groomed for studio and touring work in the style of The 5th Dimension.
Included in the group were three members of the prestigious Waters Family, the vocal trio who had been LA studio session staples over many years: Julia, Oren and Maxine Waters, and Jacquie Sullivan.
The group, signed to a new record label Media Arts, rehearsed and recorded for 18 months, delivering a repertoire of works written by Dorrie Previn (lyricist and wife of Andre Previn) and Ric Marlow (who co-wrote ‘A Taste of Honey’) and other prominent writers of the day.
Their first experience was as “an as yet unnamed group tentatively operating as Time Capsule,” with Orson Welles. “Although immensely talented and seemingly, commercially viable, political problems eventually led to a parting of the ways between us,” says Yates.
Back in the UK, catching up with Dave MacRae who was touring in the piano seat with the Buddy Rich Orchestra, the couple decided to stay on and were married in 1972. MacRae took a regular spot at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club and was working in the studio with a number of pop acts for producer David Mackay.
Mackay asked Yates to form a new vocal group to support Cliff Richard, who was heading out on a 10 week tour of Britain. “It’s crazy how things happen, Janice Slater, an Australian friend, had also arrived in London and Lokelani Dudoit, a beautiful Hawaiian songbird, knocked on the door and Bones was born.”
The strong vocal group continued to be in demand as backup singers for Cat Stevens, Wham!, Gang of Four, Cleo Laine, Robert Palmer and Petula Clark.
After the tour there was a 13-week TV series and an album with Cliff and then recording with Olivia Newton-John, a tour with Lulu, a TV series with Cilla Black, and ongoing work with visiting US artists.
Bones was invited to join Esperanto, a project headed by Belgian violin prodigy Raymond Vincent, featuring a string quartet, a rock rhythm section, “three raunchy woman”, and later, Australian Glenn Shorrock (Little River Band). The 12-piece orchestra toured Britain and Europe and caught the attention of A&M Records’ Jerry Moss who recorded several albums with them, although Yates only features on the first.
Janice and Lokelani had moved on by the time Bones was asked to tour with Neil Sedaka. In their place were New Zealander Suzanne Lynch with Jacquie Sullivan, who had been part of The Time Capsule group.
The strong vocal group continued to be in demand as backup singers for Cat Stevens, Wham!, Gang of Four, Cleo Laine, Robert Palmer and Petula Clark. Joy also backed Van Morrison for a tour of Ireland and the Cannes Film Festival, joined by other backing singers Katie Kissoon and Doreen Chanter.
“Every TV show led to another tour and or album singing alongside a complete cross section of artists and bands with gigs from Paris to Germany.”
After the Esperanto album, Yates and her partner Dave MacRae decided to do something of their own, putting together Pacific Eardrum. After several months of writing, rehearsing and gigging they began to record.
“After a gig at The Marquee in Soho, we were signed by Charisma records and released two albums of original material and another for CBS New Zealand. Keeping a band together was not easy but we always managed a few jazz gigs, mainly at Ronnie Scott’s, and touring.”
Yates was invited by Cleo Laine to be a part of the three week Wavendon Jazz Educational Workshops (1980 to 1984) which included Norma Winston, Kenny Wheeler, Tony Coe, John Marshall and other jazz greats.
The couple now had a daughter, Jade, and mindful of family commitments, moved back to Australia in 1985.
Yates’ passion for developing and nurturing aspiring singers resulted in her opening the Sing for Joy School and the creation of a new a jazz-gospel vocal ensemble, Jubilation, to support and further develop vocal harmonies, stagecraft and performance skills. Jubilation has recorded three albums.
She also developed the Global Vocal Focal Workshops, an intensive five day residential course to further assist singers to a professional level. From 1993 to 2006 she was vocal tutor in the jazz course at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
On a New Zealand visit in 2005, the Bay of Plenty Times reviewer said: “Jubilation’s gorgeous members wowed the crowds with their rich harmonies, polished performances and genuine enthusiasm for what they do ... Jubilation had the crowd swaying, clapping and they boogied their way to the front of the stage … I guarantee you’ll be moved by the music in more ways than one.”
From 2009 Yates took a lead role in organising the annual Kiwi Waka Festival on Sydney’s northern beaches celebrating Māori, Polynesian and indigenous culture, art and food to coincide with Waitangi Day in New Zealand.
In 2011 Yates and Dave MacRae performed in Sydney and Melbourne festivals as Bloodlines with their daughter, multiple award winning (APRA and Urban Music Awards) singer Jade MacRae, featuring original compositions they all worked on. Their son, Moses MacRae, is a drummer involved in several musical projects.
Yates joined the Australian Institute of Music as a tutor in 2012 where her husband has been a tutor for 17 years. She has recorded several albums with the Dave MacRae Trio including Midnight Blue, a collection of classic jazz and contemporary standards, and Songs from Lady Day, which echoes her nine week sold out season at the Ensemble Theatre in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill in her 90 minute performance as Billie Holliday which toured Australia and New Zealand.
She also toured and recorded, The Glory of Gershwin, a tribute to the Gershwin brothers, which played to capacity houses.
Yates says New Zealand has always been a great source of creative musicians. “One of my favourite UK memories is a gig at The Seven Dials at 7 O’clock on 07/07/1977 with Bruce Lynch bass, Frank Gibson Jr on drums and Brian Smith … there were possibly only seven people in the audience and the stage lit with one naked light globe.”
“Life has been rich and very full and teaching now takes up a lot of our time. I consider myself very fortunate to still be performing and mentoring and teaching some outstanding solo singers and being involved in Jubilation. It’s so rewarding.”