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Conny Van Dyke, One of Motown Records First White Recording Artists, Dies at 78

Conny Van Dyke, one of the first white artists signed to Motown Records, has passed away at the age of 78.

Van Dyke, who also battled colon cancer during her lifetime and suffered a stroke in 2008 that partially paralyzed her and ended her career, died of complications from vascular dementia in her Los Angeles home on Saturday.Her son, Bronson Page, confirmed the news to Variety.

The former Miss Teen USA was born in Cape Charles, Virginia, but raised in Detroit. Her entertainment career began at the age of 15 when she starred in the movie Among the Thorns opposite Tom Laughlin, Bill Wellman Jr. and Stephanie Powers.

She signed with Motown Records in 1961 after being discovered performing at a drive-in theater concession stand. Her first two singles, “Oh, Freddy,” written by Smokey Robinson, and “It Hurt Me Too,” previously written and recorded by Marvin Gaye, were released in 1963. She would later go on to release two country albums, Conny Van Dyke and Conny Van Dyke Sings for You.

“I had Marvin Gaye playing the piano for me, Stevie Wonder playing the bongos. He really was 12 years old,” Van Dyke said in an interview with comedian Skip E. Lowe, recalling her days in Motown’s recording studios. “And then I some backup singers, some girls I learned a lot from. They were a couple years older than me, not much older. … The Supremes and also Martha Reeves & The Vandellas.”

Van Dyke's talents extended beyond music. She had a succesfull acting career as well. Most notably starring as Betsy, Jeremy Slate’s love interest, in the outlaw biker film Hell’s Angels '69 in 1969. Her other film roles include W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings and Framed.

She also appeared on Adam-12, Nakia, and Police Woman, and on several game shows in the 1970s, including Match Game, You Don’t Say, The Cross-Wits, The Hollywood Squares, Tattletales and The Gong Show.

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