She was born as Doris Elaine Higginsen, in the Bronx, the daughter of a Barbadian Pentecostal minister. 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. She was working as an usherette at the Apollo where she was discovered by James Brown. She took her stage name from Helen of Troy. Troy worked with Solomon Burke, the Drifters, Cissy Houston, and Dionne Warwick, before she co-wrote and recorded "Just One Look" (the songwriting credits use the name Doris Payne), which hit #10 in the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1963.
"Just One Look" was the only charting US hit for Troy. The song was recorded in 10 minutes in October 1962, with producer Buddy Lucas, as a demo for Atlantic Records. However, after Atlantic Records heard the demo, they decided not to re-record it, instead opting to release it as was. The musicians included Ernie Hayes on organ, Wally Richardson on guitar, Bob Bushnell on bass, and Bernard "Pretty" Purdie on drums. The song has been covered by The Hollies, Faith, Hope & Charity, Major Lance, Linda Ronstadt, Bryan Ferry, Anne Murray, Klaus Nomi, and Harry Nilsson in a duet with Lynda Laurence. Troy's only foray into the UK Singles Chart, "Whatcha Gonna Do About It", peaked at #37 in December 1964.
As her solo career peaked, she sang back-up for The Rolling Stones, Humble Pie, Kevin Ayers, Edgar Broughton, Pink Floyd (on their album The Dark Side of the Moon), George Harrison, Johnny Hallyday, Vivian Stanshall, Dusty Springfield, Nick Drake, Junior Campbell and Carly Simon.
After moving to London in 1969, she was signed by The Beatles to their Apple Records label, and released the Doris Troy album the following year, co-produced by Troy and George Harrison. Troy worked in the UK throughout the 1970s, appearing at Ronnie Scott's Club and recording a live album, The Rainbow Testament. Her People Records album, Stretching Out, was not a big seller.
Mama, I Want To Sing is a stage musical based on her life, and was co-written with her sister, Vy Higginsen, a popular New York City radio personality. It ran for 1,500 performances at the Heckscher Theatre in Harlem. Troy played her own mother, Geraldine. Chaka Khan played her aunt in the London production, as did Deniece Williams. Mama, I Want to Sing! was also made into a motion picture, starring Ciara, Patti Labelle and Hill Harper, which was released on DVD in 2012.
Troy died from emphysema at her home in Las Vegas, Nevada, aged 67.Sings Just One Look & Other Memorable Selections (1963)
Doris Troy (1970)
Rainbow Testament (1972)
Stretching Out (1974)