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In the Spotlight: The Chi-Lites

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In the Spotlight: The Chi-Lites

The Chi-Lites

Formed:

1963 (Chicago, IL)

Styles:

Claims to fame:

  • One of the biggest and longest-lasting '70s R&B bands
  • Recorded for nearly 40 years, and made the charts on and off for 30 of them
  • Their sense of style was a major inspiration on hip-hop
  • A Chicago soul band who could pass for Philly or Memphis soul
  • Lead singer Eugene Record was a rare instance of a songwriter/producer in a vocal group
  • Balanced fierce social activism with sweet romantic ballads

The classic Chi-Lites lineup:

Eugene Record (born Eugene Booker Record, December 23, 1940, Chicago IL; died July 22, 2005, Chicago, IL): vocals (first tenor)
Robert "Squirrel" Lester (born August 16, 1942, McComb, MS; died January 21, 2010, Chicago, IL): vocals (second tenor)
Marshall Thompson (born Marshall Donald Thompson, August 24, 1942, Chicago, IL): vocals (baritone)
Red Jones (born Creadel Jones, September 26, 1940, St. Louis, MO; died August 25, 1994, Glendale, CA): vocals (bass)

Early years:

Like any number of '70s soul groups, the Chi-Lites started out as a doo-wop group -- actually two, the Chanteurs, who recorded in a Drifters-style vein, and the Desideros, who had more of a New Orleans soul sound. Though both were quite popular on the Chicago scene, often facing each other in stage battles, neither was very stable or able to make much noise outside the city. The strongest elements of each joined in 1963 to form Marshall and the Hi-Lites. Two years later, having failed on the Daran, Dakar, Revue and Blue Rock labels, the group, now dubbed the Chi-Lites as a tribute to their home town, signed with Brunswick, which had just been bought out by Nat Tarnopol, manager of their old friend Jackie Wilson.

Success:

By that time, lead singer Eugene Record had been in the business long enough to learn the ins and outs of both writing and production, and he set out to find the perfect hit single for his group. Working with singer Barbara Acklin of "Love Makes a Woman" fame, he came up with the ballad "Have You Seen Her," which had lots in common with the popular "Philly Soul" sound, and it was a smash, followed the next year by Record's own "Oh Girl." Though they never made the pop charts in a big way again, these two successes virtually guaranteed them a place on the R&B charts, where they ruled for the next few years by alternating between love ballads and uptempo, socially aware numbers, also penned by Record.

Later years:

Brunswick ran into trouble with the IRS by mid-decade, however, which exacerbated some tensions already within the group: Jones had already gone, and Record was soon to follow, urged on by Warner Bros., who wanted to make him a solo star. The group replaced them both, but when no hits were forthcoming, they regrouped in 1980, now recording for an indie called Chi-Sound, and still managed to have some chart success; Jones soon retired, however, and Record eventually became a born-again Christian, starting a new career in gospel. Jones reportedly died homeless in California, while Record lost a battle with liver cancer in 2005. Thompson, the only remaining living member, now leads a revamped version of the group.

Chi-Lites honors and awards:

  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2005)
  • R&B Hall of Fame (2000)

Other Chi-Lites facts and trivia:

  • The Chi-Lites' 1971 hit "Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)" was sampled for Beyonce and Jay-Z's massive hit "Crazy In Love"
  • Played for the Nixon White House
  • Marshall drummed for Major Lance at the height of his success
  • "Oh Girl" was one of seven songs Eugene presented to the label on a demo tape, and the last one he thought would get picked for recording

The Chi-Lites' hit singles and albums:

#1 hits (US):
Pop:
  • "Oh Girl" (1972)
R&B:
  • "Have You Seen Her" (1971)
  • "Oh Girl" (1972)
Top 10 hits (US):
Pop:
  • "Have You Seen Her" (1971)
R&B:
  • "Give It Away" (1969)
  • "Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)" (1970)
  • "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People" (1971)
  • "The Coldest Days of My Life (Part 1)" (1972)
  • "A Letter to Myself" (1973)
  • "Stoned Out of My Mind" (1973)
  • "Homely Girl" (1974)
  • "There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God Is Seated at the Conference Table)" (1974)
  • "Toby" (1974)
  • "Bottom's Up" (1983)
Top 10 hits (UK):
  • "Have You Seen Her" (1971)
  • "Homely Girl" (1974)
  • "Too Good to Be Forgotten" (1974)
  • "It's Time for Love" (1975)
  • "You Don't Have to Go" (1976)
#1 albums:
R&B:
  • A Lonely Man (1972)
Top 10 albums:
Pop:
  • A Lonely Man (1972)
R&B:
  • (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People (1971)
  • Greatest Hits (1972)
  • A Letter To Myself (1973)
  • Chi-Lites (1973)
Other notable recordings: "You Did That to Me," "I'm So Jealous," "Ain't You Glad (Winter's Over)," "Never No More," "Pretty Girl," "Price of Love," "Love Me," "(Um, Um) My Baby Loves Me," "Let Me Be the Man My Daddy Was," "The Twelfth of Never," "To Change My Love," "24 Hours of Sadness," "I Like Your Lovin' (Do You Like Mine)," "Love Uprising," "Living in the Footsteps of Another Man," "That's How Long I Love You," "What Do I Wish For," "You Got Me Walkin'," "Marriage License," "We Are Neighbors," "I Want to Pay You Back (For Loving Me)," "A Lonely Man," "The Man & the Woman (The Boy & the Girl)," "We Need Order," "My Heart Just Keeps on Breakin'," "I Found Sunshine," "You Got to Be the One," "Here I Am," "Don't Burn No Bridges" with Jackie Wilson, "The Devil Is Doing His Work," "Happy Being Lonely," "Vanishing Love," "I Turn Away," "My First Mistake," "If I Had a Girl," "The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)," "Higher," "The Only One for Me (One in a Million)," "Heavenly Body," "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You," "Me and You," "Hot on a Thing (Called Love)," "Try My Side (Of Love)," "Bad Motor Scooter," "Changing for You," "Stop What You're Doin'," "Gimme Whatcha Got," "Hard Act to Follow," "There's a Change," "Help Wanted (Heroes Are in Short Supply)," "Hold on to Your Dreams"

Covered by: Paul Young, MC Hammer, UB40, The Jam, Leo Sayer, Amazulu, The Black Flames, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Warren Hill, Tony Hadley, Derrick Harriott

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