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Profile: Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

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Profile: Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

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Claims to fame:

  • Lead vocalist Teddy Pendergrass was one of soul's greatest, most powerful, and most seductive vocalists
  • The Blue Notes carried on a four-decade singing career in all styles of R&B
  • The group was one of the biggest in the "Philly Soul" genre, and a crucial part of that style's development and acceptance
  • Scored the first big disco hits, including disco's biggest ever dance hit, "Bad Luck"
  • Balanced romantic heartbreak with social awareness
  • Pendergrass' highly emotional, epic, spontaneous vocalese inspired whole generations of soul belters

Styles:

Philly soul, R&B, Disco

Principal members:

Harold Melvin (born June 25, 1939 in Philadelphia, PA; died March 24, 1997, Philadelphia, PA): vocals (first tenor)
Teddy Pendergrass (born Theodore DeReese Pendergrass, March 26th, 1950, Kingstree, SC; died January 13th, 2010, Bryn Mawr, PA): lead vocals (baritone)
Bernard Wilson (born Philadelphia, PA): vocals (baritone)
Lawrence Brown (born November 5th, 1944, Philadelphia, PA; died April 6th, 2008, Philadelphia, PA): vocals (bass)
Lloyd Parks (born Philadelphia, PA): vocals (second tenor)

Additional members:

Jerry Cummings, first tenor (1974-1977); Sharon Paige, alto (1975-1980); David Ebo, lead vocals (1977-1980); Dwight Johnson, first tenor (1977-1997); William Spratelly, second tenor (1977-1997); Roosevelt Brodie, Jesse Gillis, Jr., and Franklin Peaker (1954-?); John Atkins, lead vocal (1965-1970)

Formed:

1954, Philadelphia, PA

Early years:

Self-taught pianist Melvin formed the Blue Notes as a doo-wop group way back in 1954, after leaving his first group, The Charlemagnes; the group was just successful enough to maintain a following over the next fifteen years, scoring the occasional hit (1956's "If You Love Me," with Melvin as lead, 1960's "My Hero," their first national R&B hit, and their biggest hit to that point, 1965's "Get Out (And Let Me Cry)," with singer John Atkins. But in 1970 Harold made his most fateful move: while touring with the Cadillacs of "Speedoo" fame, he recruited their young drummer, one Teddy Pendergrass.

Success:

Teddy's booming baritone impressed Melvin so much he replaced Atkins with him as lead; the resultant powerful sound got the group an audition with Philadelphia International Records at the exact time the label's "Philly Soul" was just beginning to make a national impact. The group scored almost immediately with "If You Don't Know Me By Now," "I Miss You," and "The Love I Lost," singles written and produced by the legendary Philly Int'l teams Gamble-Huff and McFadden-Whitehead. By 1975, the group was riding high on the strength of great songwriting and production and Teddy's voice.

Later years:

However, Melvin downplayed his band members, spotlighting himself as the leader though he had almost no direct involvement with the group's music by that time. Pendergrass was therefore one of the most popular singers in the country with no recognition to show for it. When Melvin refused to give Teddy star billing, the singer left for an equally successful solo career only somewhat derailed by a tragic 1982 car wreck which left him a paraplegic. Today, with the blessing of Harold Melvin's widow, late-Seventies members Dwight Johnson and William Spratelly lead a group called simply The Blue Notes.

Other facts and trivia:

  • Pendergrass was reportedly an ordained minister in his youth
  • Teddy eventually formed the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance to help others with spinal cord injuries like his own
  • January 28th is Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes Day in the city of Louisville, KY
  • Teddy was one of the first singers to work with a young unknown named Whitney Houston
  • On Snoop Dogg's 1993 song "Doggy Dogg World" the rapper tells a woman, "You without me is like Harold Melvin without the Blue Notes. You'll never go platinum!"

Songs, chart hits, and albums:

#1 hits:
R&B:
"If You Don't Know Me By Now" (1972)
"The Love I Lost (Part 1)" (1973)
"Hope That We Can Be Together Soon" with Sharon Paige (1975)
"Wake Up Everybody (Part 1)" (1975)
Disco:
"Where Are All My Friends" (1974)
"Bad Luck (Part 1)" (1975)
"Tell The World How I Feel About 'Cha Baby" (1976)

Top 10 hits:
Pop:
"If You Don't Know Me By Now" (1972)
"The Love I Lost (Part 1)" (1973)
R&B:
"I Miss You (Part 1)" (1972)
"Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back)" (1974)
"Where Are All My Friends" (1974)
"Bad Luck (Part 1)" (1975)
"Tell The World How I Feel About 'Cha Baby" (1976)
"Reaching For The World" (1976)
Disco:
"Tell The World How I Feel About 'Cha Baby" (1976)

#1 albums:
R&B:
To Be True (1975)
Wake Up Everybody (1975)

Top 10 albums:
Pop:
Wake Up Everybody (1975)
R&B:
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (1972)
Black & Blue (1973)

Other important songs: "Yesterday I Had The Blues," "Don't Leave Me This Way," "Keep On Lovin' You," "You Know How To Make Me Feel So Good," "I'm Weak For You," "Be For Real"

Covered by: Simply Red, Thelma Houston, Seventh Avenue, Patti LaBelle, Seal, Sybil, Lester Bowie, Jean Carn, Lyn Collins, David Ruffin, Jimmy Somerville, Ray Conniff, Jose Feliciano, Alisha King, Human Nature, Hugh Masekela, Joe Stampley, The Trammps, West End

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