April 30, 2015 – Ben E King was born on September 28, 1938, became perhaps best known as the singer and co-composer of “Stand by Me”—a US Top 10 hit evergreen, both in 1961 and later in 1986 (when it was used as the theme to the film of the same name), a number one hit in the UK in 1987, and no. 25 on the RIAA’s list of Songs of the Century—and as one of the principal lead singers of the R&B vocal group the Drifters.
When you think of Ben E. King, you don’t think of teenage crushes, even though his songs were the soundtrack for hundreds of millions of them. You think of eternal life and everlasting love, or at least the desire for these things.
January 31, 2015 – Don Covay was born Donald Randolph in Orangeburg, South Carolina on March 24, 1938. Covay was the son of a Baptist preacher who died when his son was eight. The family soon after relocated to Washington, D.C., where he and his siblings formed a gospel group dubbed the Cherry Keys; while in middle school, however, some of Covay’s classmates convinced him to make the leap to secular music, and in 1953 he joined the Rainbows, a local doo wop group that previously enjoyed a national smash with “Mary Lee.”
By the time Covay joined the Rainbows the original lineup had long since splintered, and his recorded debut with the group, 1956’s “Shirley,” was not a hit. He stuck around for one more single, “Minnie,” before exiting; contrary to legend, this iteration of the Rainbows did not include either a young Marvin Gaye or Billy Stewart, although both fledgling singers did occasionally fill in for absent personnel during live performances.
January 9, 2015 – Willie Popsy Dixon was born Willie Leonard Dixon in Virginia Beach, Virginia on July 26, 1942.
He was reared by an aunt and uncle. When he was 3, they moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. He grew up in a Pentecostal church, which did much to influence his music, and he attended a Pentecostal boarding school in Tennessee.
“He started playing the drums in church when he was 4 years old,” said his daughter, Desiree Berry of Brooklyn. “My grandfather and a deacon in the church showed him how, and he picked up fast.”
April 14, 2013 – George Jackson was born on March 12th 1945 in Indianola, Mississippi and moved with his family to Greenville at the age of five. He sang southern soul from the 1960s into the 1980s. As a writer, he provided scores of songs for Goldwax and Fame in the 1960s and Hi and Sounds Of Memphis in the 1970s. As a singer, he had a versatile tenor that was influenced by Sam Cooke, and released many records over the years, for a host of different labels, but his recordings never made him a star.
His songwriter relationship with Malaco Records, however saw him pen material for dozens of artists, such as “One Bad Apple” for the Osmonds, “Old Time Rock & Roll” for Bob Seeger and “The Only Way Is Up”, which became a UK No.1 for Yazz and Coldcut, having been written originally for Otis Clay.
Jackson recorded dozens of singles in the 1960s but made his mark as a writer, beginning with FAME Studios. He later was a songwriter for Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. When Malaco bought Muscle Shoals Sound, they hired Jackson to write songs.
February 1, 2013 – Cecil Womack aka Zekuumba Zekkariyas was born on September 25th 1947 in Cleveland, Ohio. He and his brothers Bobby, Harry, Friendly and Curtis, began as a gospel group appearing on the gospel circuit in the mid 50s where they were seen by Sam Cooke of the Soul Stirrers. As Cooke’s protégés they changed their name to The Valentinos and in 1961 began to sing and record for secular audiences, producing hits such as “It’s All Over Now” and “Lookin’ for a Love”.
Cooke’s death at a L.A. motel in December 1964, had dramatic consequences for the Womack Brothers as SAR folded and Bobby Womack, who was now married to Sam Cooke’s widow, Barbara, left the group for a solo career. The Valentinos briefly disbanded before regrouping as a quartet in 1966, signing with Chess Records where they recorded the Northern Soul hit, “Sweeter than the Day Before”, written by Cecil Womack and Mary Wells. However, the group got dropped from Chess in 1968 after only two singles and Cecil Womack who had married former Motown artiste Mary Wells decided to leave the Valentinos.
March 8, 2012 – Jimmy Ellis (The Trammps) was born on November 15th 1937.
The history of the Trammps grew from the 1960s group the Volcanos, who later became the Moods. With a number of line-up changes by the early 1970s, the band membership included gospel-influenced lead singer Jimmy Ellis, drummer and bass singer Earl Young, with brothers Stanley and Harold ‘Doc’ Wade. Members of the Philadelphia recording band MFSB played with the group on records and on tour in the 70s with singer Robert Upchurch joining later. The group was produced by the Philadelphia team of Ronnie Baker, Norman Harris and Young, all MFSB mainstays who played on the recording sessions and contributed songs.
Already in his thirties success came as the lead singer with the Philadelphia disco band, The Trammps. The band’s first major success was with their 1972 cover version of “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart”. The first disco track they released was “Love Epidemic” in 1973. They are best known for their Grammy winning song, “Disco Inferno”, immortalized in the film Saturday Night Fever, released in 1976 becoming a UK pop hit and US R&B hit, then re-released in 1978 becoming a US pop hit.
Other major hits included “Hold Back the Night”-75 and “That’s Where the Happy People Go”-76. In late 1977, they released “The Night the Lights Went Out” to commemorate the electrical blackout in New York on July 13th 1977 .
Music journalist Ron Wynn noted “the Trammps’ prowess can’t be measured by chart popularity; Ellis’ booming, joyous vocals brilliantly championed the celebratory fervor and atmosphere that made disco both loved and hated among music fans.”
He died from Alzheimer complications on March 8, 2012 at age 74.
March 21, 2011 – Loleatta Holloway was born on November 5, 1946. Holloway began singing gospel with her mother in the Holloway Community Singers and recorded with Albertina Walker in the Caravans gospel group. Holloway was also a cast member of the Chicago troupe of Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope. Around this time, she met her future producer, manager, and husband Floyd Smith, and recorded “Rainbow ’71” in 1971, a Curtis Mayfield song that Gene Chandler had recorded in 1963. It was initially released on the Apache label, but was picked up for national distribution by Galaxy Records.
In the early 1970s, Holloway signed a recording contract with the Atlanta-based soul music label Aware, part of the General Recording Corporation (GRC), owned by Michael Thevis. Holloway recorded two albums for the label, both of them produced by Floyd Smith — Loleatta (1973) and Cry to Me (1975). Her first single from the second album, the ballad, “Cry to Me” rose to #10 Billboard R&B and #68 on the Hot 100, but before the label could really establish Holloway, it went out of business.
Top Philadelphia arranger and producer Norman Harris signed Holloway in 1976 for his new label, Gold Mind, a subsidiary of New York’s Salsoul Records. The first release from the album Loleatta was another Sam Dees ballad, “Worn Out Broken Heart,” which reached #25 R&B, but the B-side, “Dreaming,” climbed to #72 on the pop chart and launched her as a disco act.
She contributed vocals to “Re-Light My Fire” for Dan Hartman, who then wrote and produced the title track of her fourth and final album for Gold Mind, Love Sensation (1980). 18 of her songs charted on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, including four #1s. However, it was a ballad that proved to be another big R&B hit for her. “Only You” was written and produced by Bunny Sigler, who also sang with Holloway on the track, and it reached #11 in 1978.
In the early 1980s, she had another dance hit with “Crash Goes Love” (#5 on the U.S. Dance chart, #86 on the US R&B Chart). She also recorded one single, “So Sweet,” for the fledgling house-music label DJ International Records. In the late 1980s, her vocals from “Love Sensation” were used in the UK #1 hit “Ride On Time” by Black Box. Holloway, however, was uncredited for her vocals and Holloway successfully sued the group, which led to an undisclosed court settlement in Holloway’s favor.
In 1992, she also had a hit with dance band Cappella. There, she appeared billed as Cappella featuring Loleatta Holloway on the single “Take Me Away” (UK #25). Holloway’s fortunes dramatically improved, however, when she had her first US #1 hit when Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch featured her vocals in the chart-topping “Good Vibrations” (1991). According to Andrew Barker in Variety (March 22, 2011), Holloway also performed with Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch to promote the single and she received full vocal credit as well as a share of the royalties. This was shortly after the backlash against various acts such as Milli Vanilli and the groups that used the vocals of Martha Wash, but refused to give her credit until she sued.
More recent dance chart entries included “What Goes Around Comes Around” (credited to “GTS Featuring Loleatta Holloway”) in 2000, and “Relight My Fire” (credited to Martin featuring Holloway), which hit #5 in 2003. Whilst not a single, “Like a Prayer”, a Madonna cover, was a track on the Madonna tribute album Virgin Voices. “Love Sensation ’06” and reached #37 on the UK Singles Chart.
Holloway died aged 64 on March 21, 2011 from heart failure.
March 4, 2010 – Ron Banks (The Dramatics) was born in Redford, Michigan on May 10, 1951.
Ron was a singer with the soul music vocal group, The Dramatics from the 1960s until his death. The Dramatics originally known as the Dynamics, changed their name around 1967, when they had their first minor hit single, “All Because of You”.
They did not break through however until their single, “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get,” broke into the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No.9, this was their first million selling disc and was awarded gold disc status by the R.I.A.A. in December 1971.
Through the 1970s, they appeared on Soul Train and continued to have hits, including the No.1 R&B hits, “In the Rain”, “Toast to the Fool”, “Me and Mrs. Jones”, “I’m Going By The Stars In Your Eyes” and “Be My Girl”.
Banks left the group in 1983 to start a solo career which failed as he rejoined the Dramatics.
Ron with The Dramatics also were guests on the Snoop Doggy Dogg song, “Doggy Dogg World”. The song appeared on Snoop’s 1993 debut album, Doggystyle. “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” appeared in the 2005 documentary Sunday Driver, as well as the movies, Wattstax and Darktown Strutters, and the 2007 Petey Greene biopic, Talk To Me. The Dramatics were also interviewed at (but have yet to be inducted into) the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland on February of 2012 .
He died of a heart attack on March 4, 2010 at age 59.
January 13, 2010 – Teddy Pendergrass was born March 26th 1950 in Kingstree, South Carolina. When he was still very young, his father left the family; Jesse Pendergrass was murdered when Teddy was 12. Pendergrass grew up in Philadelphia and sang often at church. He dreamed of being a pastor and got his wish when, at 10, he was ordained a minister (according to author Robert Ewell Greene). Pendergrass also took up drums during this time and was a junior deacon of his church. He attended Thomas Edison High School for Boys in North Philadelphia (now closed). He sang with the Edison Mastersingers. He dropped out in the eleventh grade to enter the music business, recording his first song “Angel With Muddy Feet”.
Pendergrass played drums for several local Philadelphia bands, eventually becoming the drummer of The Cadillacs. In 1970, the singer was spotted by the Blue Notes’ founder, Harold Melvin (1939–1997), who convinced Pendergrass to play drums in the group. When, during a performance, Pendergrass began singing along, Melvin, impressed by his vocals, made him the lead singer. Before Pendergrass joined the group, the Blue Notes had struggled to find success. That all changed when they landed a recording deal with Philadelphia International Records in 1971, thus beginning Pendergrass’s successful collaboration with label founders Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
In 1972, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes released their first single, a slow, solemn ballad entitled “I Miss You”. The song was originally written for the Dells, but the group passed on it. Noting how Pendergrass sounded like Dells lead singer Marvin Junior, Kenny Gamble decided to build the song with Pendergrass, then only 21 at the time of the recording. Pendergrass sings much of the song in a raspy baritone wail that would become his trademark. The song also featured Blue Notes member Lloyd Parks singing falsetto in the background and spotlighted Harold Melvin adding in a rap near the end of the song as Pendergrass kept singing, feigning tears. The song, one of Gamble and Huff’s most creative productions, became a major rhythm and blues hit and put the Blue Notes on the map.
The group’s follow-up single, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” brought the group to the mainstream with the song reaching the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 while also reaching number-one on the soul singles chart. Like “I Miss You” before it, the song was originally intended for a different artist, fellow Philadelphian native Patti LaBelle and her group Labelle but the group could not record it due to scheduling conflicts. Pendergrass and LaBelle developed a close friendship that would last until Pendergrass’ death.
The group rode to international fame with several more releases over the years including “The Love I Lost”, a song that predated the upcoming disco music scene, the ballad “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon”, and socially conscious singles “Wake Up Everybody” and “Bad Luck,” the latter song about the Watergate scandal. One of the group’s important singles was their original version of the Philly soul classic “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, which turned into a disco smash when Motown artist Thelma Houston released her version in 1976. By 1975, Pendergrass and Harold Melvin were at odds, mainly over monetary issues and personality conflicts. Despite the fact that Pendergrass sang most of the group’s songs, Melvin was controlling the group’s finances. At one point, Pendergrass wanted the group to be renamed “Teddy Pendergrass and the Blue Notes” because fans kept mistaking him for Melvin. Pendergrass left the group in 1975 and the Blue Notes struggled with his replacements. They eventually left Philadelphia International and toiled in relative obscurity, until Melvin’s death in 1997. As of 2014, a version of the group still tours the old school circuit, performing as Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes.
Embarking on a solo career Pendergrass enjoyed a string of hit singles and albums throughout the 1970s, including The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me, Close the Door, Love T.K.O and Turn Off The Lights. Between 1977 and 1981, Pendergrass landed four consecutive platinum albums, which was a then-record setting number for a rhythm and blues artist.
Pendergrass’ popularity became massive at the end of 1977. With sold-out audiences packing his shows, his manager soon noticed that a huge number of his audience consisted of women of all races. They devised a plan for Pendergrass’ next tour to play to just female audiences, starting a trend that continues today called “women only concerts.” With four platinum albums and two gold albums, Pendergrass was on his way to being what the media called “the black Elvis“, not only in terms of his crossover popularity but also due to him buying a mansion akin to Elvis’ Graceland, located just outside his hometown of Philadelphia. By early 1982, Pendergrass was the leading R&B male artist of his day, usurping competition including closest rivals Marvin Gaye and Barry White. In 1980, the Isley Brothers released “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time for Love)” to compete with Pendergrass’ “Turn Off the Lights”, which sensed Pendergrass’ influence on the quiet storm format of black music.
Tragically, on March 18, 1982, a car crash with his Rolls Royce Silver Shadow left Teddy paralyzed from the chest down. He kept recording but filed to chart at first, eventually signing a deal and completing physical therapy, he released Love Language in 1984. The album included the pop ballad “Hold Me”, featuring a then-still unknown Whitney Houston.
He performed on 13 July ’85, at the historic Live Aid concert in Philadelphia, and continued to record throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Five times Grammy Award nominee, Teddy retired in 2006, but he did briefly return to performing to take part in the 2007, Teddy 25: A Celebration of Life, Hope & Possibilities, an awards ceremony that marked the 25th anniversary of his accident, raised money for his charity, The Teddy Pendergrass Alliance.
On June 5, 2009, Pendergrass underwent successful surgery for colon cancer and returned home to recover. A few weeks later he returned to the hospital with respiratory issues. After seven months, he died of respiratory failure on January 13, 2010, at age 59
March 19, 2007 – Luther Ingram was born in Jackson, Tennessee on November 30, 1937. Starting out with his brothers as The Gardenias in Alton, Ill., Ingram went on to a solo career with Koko Records, which was distributed by the famous Stax label.
His early interest in music led to him making his first record in 1965 at the age of 28. His first three recordings failed to chart but that changed when he signed for KoKo Records in the late 1960s, and his first hit “My Honey And Me” peaked at #55 on the Billboard Hot 100 on 14 February 1970. Many of his songs appeared in the pop and R&B charts, even though Koko was only a small label, owned by his manager and record producer, Johnny Baylor. Koko and Baylor were closely associated with the Memphis based Stax Records label during the height of its commercial success.
July 6, 2004 – Syreeta Wright was born on August 3, 1946.
Wright was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1946, and started singing at age four. Her father died while serving in the Korean War and Wright and her two sisters, Yvonne and Kim, were raised by their mother Essie and their grandmother. The Wrights moved back and forth from Detroit to South Carolina before finally settling in Detroit just as Wright entered high school.
Money problems kept Wright from pursuing a career in ballet so she focused her attention on a music career joining several singing groups before landing a job as a receptionist for Motown in 1965. Within a year, she became a secretary for Mickey Stevenson, just as Martha Reeves had done before her.
March 24, 1997 – Harold Melvin (The Blue Notes) was born on June 25, 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
He became one of the driving forces behind Philadelphia soul, leading his group the Blue Notes. The group formerly known as The Charlemagnes took on the name “The Blue Notes” in 1954, with a lineup consisting of Harold as lead singer, Bernard Wilson, Roosevelt Brodie, Jesse Gillis, Jr., and Franklin Peaker.
The 1960 single “My Hero” was a minor hit and 1965’s “Get Out (and Let Me Cry)” was an R&B hit.
In 1970, Harold recruited Teddy Pendergrass as the drummer for his backing band. When that same year Teddy took over as lead singer from John Atkins, he became the undeniable superstar of the group, until his departure and subsequent death. The group had a string of hits “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”, “I Miss You”, “The Love I Lost”, and “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, and socially conscious songs such as “Wake Up Everybody” and “Bad Luck” which holds the record for longest-running number-one hit on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart. (eleven weeks).
After Pendergrass left in 1976 for a solo career, Melvin continued to tour with various lineups of Blue Notes until suffering a stroke in 1996. Melvin died on March 24, 1997 at the age of 57. Lawrence Brown died of a respiratory condition on April 6, 2008 at age 63. In addition, three former members of the group would die during the year 2010. First, Teddy Pendergrass died of respiratory failure on January 13, 2010 at age 59, after having previously dealt with colon cancer. Six months later, original member Roosevelt Brodie, who was the second tenor for the original Blue Notes, died July 13, 2010 at age 75 due to complications of diabetes. And just five months later in that year, Bernard Wilson died on December 26, 2010 at age 64 from complications of a stroke and a heart attack. Pendergrass’ predecessor, John Atkins, died of an aneurysm in 1998. David Ebo, who succeeded Pendergrass, died of bone cancer on November 30, 1993 at age 43. Lloyd Parks is still living and is the sole survivor of the original Blue Notes.
April 9, 1988 – Dave Prater (Sam & Dave) was born on May 9th 1937 in Ocilla, Georgia. The seventh of ten children, Prater grew up singing gospel music in the church choir and was a veteran of the gospel group the Sensational Hummingbirds, in which he sang with his older brother, J. T. Prater. Dave Prater met his future duo partner, Sam Moore, in the King of Hearts Club in Miami in 1961 during a talent contest. They signed to Roulette Records shortly thereafter. He was the deeper, baritone and second tenor vocalist of the duo Sam & Dave from 1961 until his death in 1988. Sam & Dave released six singles for Roulette, including two songs that Prater co-wrote with Moore. Prater was typically featured as the lead vocalist on these records, with Moore typically singing harmony and alternate verses.
The two recorded together for several years in and around Miami, Florida, before they were finally signed to the Atlantic Records Label in 1964, but later were moved to the Stax Records Label in Memphis by music producer Jerry Wexler. The duo began working with the writing team of the talented songwriters and producers Isaac Hayes and David Porter and began to release several gospel/soul type R&B hit songs including a series of Top Tens including, ‘Hold On! I’m Comin,’ You Got Me Hummin,’ ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,’ ‘Soul Man,’ and ‘I Thank You,’ all between 1966 and 1968. On the majority of recordings they were backed by Hayes on piano with Booker T & the M.G.s and the Memphis Horns. Nicknamed “Double Dynamite” for their energetic and sweaty, gospel-infused performances, Sam & Dave were also considered by critics to be one of the greatest live performing acts of the 1960s. The duo has been cited as a musical influence by numerous artists, including Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, and Stevie Winwood.
When Stax and Atlantic severed their distribution agreement in 1968 and as a result Sam & Dave became Atlantic recording artists and were no longer able to work with Hayes, Porter and the Stax musicians. The records made by Atlantic did not have the same sound and feel as the Stax recordings, and most only placed in the lower ends of the music charts if at all. The ending of their association with the Stax record label and their own frequently volatile relationship contributed to the break-up of the duo in June 1970.
After the break-up with Sam, Prater went back to their early Miami label, Alston Records, where he recorded one single, “Keep My Fingers Crossed” backed with “Love Business” (Alston A-4596), and also performed sporadically over the next year. They reunited in August 1971 and performed throughout most of the decade through 1981, but their previous stardom had left.
In 1980 after the success of the John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd film, “The Blues Brothers” (which was somewhat based on ‘Sam & Dave’), new interest was found in the group, and they rejoined once again to do a series of concerts. There last attempt at a reunion was a New Year’s Eve concert in 1981.
In 1982, Prater started touring with Sam Daniels. This duo was also billed as Sam & Dave. They performed together until Prater’s death in 1988. Moore attempted to legally block Prater from using the group’s name without his participation and permission, but was generally unsuccessful in stopping the act from performing. The Daniels–Prater incarnation of Sam & Dave played as many as 100 shows per year, including gigs in Europe, Japan and Canada.
In 1985, Prater and Daniels released a medley of Sam & Dave hits newly recorded in the Netherlands, which peaked at number 92 on the R&B chart and was credited to “Sam & Dave”. Moore made the label recall the single for using the “Sam & Dave” name without permission, and the record was relabelled and reissued under the name of “The New Sam & Dave Revue”.
Prater’s last performance with Daniels was on April 3, 1988, at a Stax Reunion show at the Atlanta Civic Center, which also featured Isaac Hayes, Eddie Floyd, and Rufus and Carla Thomas. Six days later, on April 9, 1988, Prater died in a car crash in Sycamore, Georgia, while driving to his mother’s house.
He was 50 years 11 months old.
Prater is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1992), the Grammy Hall of Fame (1999, for the song “Soul Man”), the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (1997), and he was a Grammy Award–winning (1967) and multiple Gold Record award-winning recording artist
July 12, 1979 – Minnie Riperton was born on November 8th 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. The youngest of eight children in a musical family, she embraced the arts early. As a child she studied music, drama, and dance at Chicago’s Lincoln Center. In her teen years, she sang lead vocals for the Chicago-based girl group, The Gems.
At Chicago’s Lincoln Center, she received operatic vocal training from Marion Jeffery. She practiced breathing and phrasing, with particular emphasis on diction. Jeffery also trained Riperton to use her full range. While studying under Jeffery, she sang operettas and show tunes, in preparation for a career in opera. Jeffery was so convinced of her pupil’s abilities that she strongly pushed her to further study the classics at Chicago’s Junior Lyric Opera. The young Riperton was, however, becoming very interested in soul, rhythm and blues, and rock. After graduating from Hyde Park High School (now Hyde Park Academy High School), she enrolled at Loop College and became a member of Zeta Phi Beta sorority. She dropped out of college to pursue her music career.
December 10, 1967 – Otis Redding was born on Sept 9, 1941in Dawson, Ga., Otis Redding, Jr. and his family moved to Macon when he was five years old. At an early age he began his career as a singer and musician in the choir of the Vineville Baptist Church. Otis attended Ballard Hudson High School and participated in the school band. He began to compete in the Douglass Theatre talent shows for the five-dollar prize. After winning 15 times straight, he was no longer allowed to compete.
Otis joined Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers in 1960, and would also sing at the “Teenage Party” talent shows sponsored by local celebrity disc jockey King Bee, Hamp Swain, on Saturday mornings initially at the Roxy Theater and later at the Douglass Theatre in Macon.