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Arthur Conley 11/2003

arthur conleyNovember 17, 2003 – Arthur Conley was born on January 4, 1946 in McIntosh County, Georgia and grew up in Atlanta.  He first recorded as a 13 year old in 1959 as the lead singer of Arthur & the Corvets. With this group, he released three singles in 1963 and 1964, “Poor Girl”, “I Believe”, and “Flossie Mae”.

In 1964, he moved to a new label and released “I’m a Lonely Stranger”. When Otis Redding heard this, he asked Conley to record a new version, which was released on Redding’s own fledgling label Jotis Records, as only its second release. That was in 1967. Together they rewrote the Sam Cooke song “Yeah Man” into “Sweet Soul Music”, which, at Redding’s insistence, was released on the Atco-distributed label Fame Records, and was recorded at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It proved to be a massive hit, as it shot to the number two spot on both the pop and R&B charts in the USA and Western Europe, earning Conley the number eleven male artist ranking for 1967. The song paid homage to other soul singers like Lou Rawls, Wilson Pickett and James Brown.

After several years of hits singles in the early 1970s, he relocated to England in 1975, and spent several years in Belgium, finally settling in Amsterdam (Netherlands) in spring 1977.

Arthur Conley was gay, and several music writers have said that his homosexuality was a bar to greater success in the United States and one of the reasons behind his move to Europe and his eventual name change. In 2014, rock historian Ed Ward wrote, “Conley headed to Amsterdam and changed his name to Lee Roberts. Nobody knew ‘Lee Roberts,’ and at last Conley was able to live in peace with a secret he had hidden–or thought he had–for his entire career: he was gay. But famously, nobody in Holland cared about that.

At the beginning of 1980 he had some major performances as Lee Roberts and the Sweaters in the Ganzenhoef, Paradiso, De Melkweg and the Concertgebouw, and was highly successful. At the end of 1980 he moved to the Dutch village of Ruurlo legally changing his name to Lee Roberts—his middle name and his mother’s maiden name. A live performance on January 8, 1980, featuring Lee Roberts & the Sweaters, was released as an album entitled Soulin’ in 1988. In the years after he promoted new music via his Art-Con Productions company. Amongst the bands he promoted was the heavy metal band Shockwave from The Hague.

He died in the village of Ruurlo, after a long battle with intestinal cancer on November 17, 2003 at age 57.

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