Shirley Joyce Layne: voice talent, model, aspiring actress, radio music programmer. And, for a son who had a popular local rock band, probably the coolest mom imaginable.
Among her roles, Layne took on the managing of her son Kevin’s band, Rapid Transit, a popular act in Miami in the 1970s. She landed the group supporting gigs opening for Billy Joel, Black Oak Arkansas, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. She ushered the band onto stages at the Miami Marine Stadium and at live music venues like Fat Cats, Rendezvous and Big Daddy’s that abounded in South Florida in those days.
If this sounds like shades of oh-so-precious “The Partridge Family,” you just didn’t know Shirley Joyce Lane. Partridge Family mom Shirley Partridge would never have been hip enough to put her TV son David Cassidy on stage with long-haired, randy Jim “Dandy” Mangrum from the Southern rock group Black Oak Arkansas.
“Was it the coolest thing? In retrospect, maybe not. But we didn’t think of it in those terms. My mom made things happen,” said her son, filmmaker Kevin Layne, who sang and played drums in Rapid Transit. Now president of Xlerator Media Group, he co-directed the 2009 documentary “William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet” and worked with Gloria Estefan, Paul McCartney, Shakira and Juanes.
Mom, best known as Joyce, was a major inspiration. “She knew music extremely well, knew the arts — specifically films and plays — and dedicated herself to her son for many years and that’s a big reason for the success of Rapid Transit,” Layne said. “At her eulogy, people were saying ‘Your mom was so cool.’ ”
Layne, a Miami Edison High Class of 1948 graduate, died July 22 at 85.
Born in Chicago, raised on her grandparents’ farm in Canaanville, Ohio, Layne worked as a milliner’s model and a dance instructor to put herself through New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts. On her first day at the theater arts school, this guy comes running up the stairs, grabs her, kisses her, and says, “My name is John Cassavetes, who are you?” Her classmates also included Anne Bancroft, famed as Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate.”
Layne married Wesley Layne, a big band singer turned Miami advertising exec, on NBC’s daytime show “Bride & Groom,” an early version of reality TV programming in the 1950s.
The couple, with son Kevin, moved back to Miami in 1956 and Layne was hired by WKAT-1360 AM (during Larry King’s tenure). There, her voice was put to use on hundreds of commercials ranging from spots for Biscayne Dog Track to Britt’s Department Store.
“The way the world was structured in the 1960s to early-’70s, with women in the workplace, they were behind the scenes. But the women were always behind the men, serving them up with the ideas, and she was one of those ladies,” said her son. “That’s how she got started. ‘Bring the girl down the hall, we need a voice-over. Quick!’”
Layne then shifted left on the radio dial to WGBS-710 AM, part of Storer Broadcasting Company, as a music programmer for six major markets through the country. “She loved that,” her son said. “That was something she knew well. She was a music buff.”
By 1970, she had joined the Orange Bowl Committee as an assistant publicity director.
She transitioned to working full time for Rapid Transit. “She’d make the banana muffins, listen to songs, give her opinions, and just support us,” her son said. “She was an amazing mom.”
The family home in North Miami became a sanctuary for musicians and the kids of the neighborhood.
Layne got her son’s rock/jazz/fusion band booked to open Joel’s Streetlife Serenade Tour, which had a date on the University of Miami patio in March 1975. Rapid Transit played former easy-listening station Love 94’s Love on the Beach concerts. And The Manhattans’ 1976 tour, when the R&B group was atop the pop and soul charts with “Kiss and Say Goodbye.”
“Somehow she got us to open for that show,” Layne said. “We were this white, local rock band, but by the time we were done with our set we had some of the crowd with us.”
Beat that, Shirley Partridge.
In addition to her husband and son, Layne’s survivors include her granddaughter, Amber. Services were held.