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Profile: The O'Jays

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The O'Jays

The O'Jays

source: microwaves101.com

Formed:

1958 (Canton, OH)

Genres:

Philly Soul, R&B, Pop-Soul, Funk, Disco, Soul

Principal Members:

Eddie Levert (b. June 16, 1942, Canton, OH): lead vocals (tenor)
Walter Williams (b. August 25, 1942, Canton, OH): vocals (baritone)
William Powell (b. January 20, 1942, Canton, OH; d. May 26, 1977, Canton, OH): vocals (falsetto)

Contributions to music:

  • The main artists around which legendary label Philadelphia International was built
  • The most successful of the "Philly Soul" groups, scoring a dozen R&B #1 hits from 1972-1989
  • The most socially conscious of the Seventies soul groups, seamlessly merging protest messages and sweet soul
  • Able to function equally well in soul, funk, R&B, and disco, and still cross over to the pop charts
  • One of the longest-lived vocal groups in history, placing single on the charts for over four decades

Early years:

Although most popular as a trio, The O'Jays got their start in Canton, Ohio, as a five piece way back in the mid-Fifties, when McKinley High School students Levert, Williams, and Powell, along with Bill Isles and Bobby Massey, formed the Triumphs (later the Mascots) after watching a local performance by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Cleveland DJ Eddie O'Jay featured them at several sockhops, suggesting they change their name to "O'Jay's boys." The modified name stuck, and by 1961 they were recording under it for Apollo and, later, the L.A. based Imperial label. They had some success, but no breakout hit.

Success:

Playing the Apollo theater in New York, the group, now a quartet, got some good advice from another soul group, The Intruders, who suggested they try out with the Neptune label, run by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. They scored their first Top Ten R&B hits around this time, and when the label folded, all but Massey decided to stick with the Gamble-Huff combo, despite offers from Motown. They soon became the cornerstone of the duo's new label, Philadelphia International, and scored an amazing, decade-defining run of soul classics starting with 1973's "Bsck Stabbers." Powell, sadly, died of cancer in 1977.

Later years:

Replacing him with Sammy Strain of Little Anthony and the Imperials, the group soldiered on, lasting through the disco wars and into the Eighties. Indeed, they still record today, even though their last major R&B hit hit the charts in 1991. Strain left around that time and was replaced by Nathaniel Best and then Eric Grant, which now comprises today's touring group. In 2002, the O'Jays were nominated for a Grammy for their album For The Love Of...; the group also tours with the Temptations, the Four Tops and the Whispers on a bill called the World's Greatest Vocal Groups.

Other facts:

  • Levert and Williams sang gospel on Cleveland radio in the late Fifties as the Levert Brothers
  • The group's first chart hit was 1965's "Lipstick Traces," a cover of a New Orleans soul classic by Benny Spellman
  • The group's first Gamble-Huff production, 1968's "One Night Affair," was banned from AM radio due to its salacious lyrics
  • In 2007, Sammy Strain sued the group, as well as the Gamble-Huff team, for over $15 million in back royalties
  • Eddie Levert's late son Gerald was the founder of the hit Nineties urban R&B group Levert
  • "For The Love Of Money" is used as the theme for the hit TV show The Apprentice

Awards/Honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2005)
  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2004)
  • GRAMMY Hall of Fame (2006)

Recorded work:

#1 hits:
Pop:
  • "Love Train" (1973)
#1 hits:
R&B:
  • "Back Stabbers" (1972)
  • "Love Train" (1973)
  • "Give The People What They Want" (1975)
  • "Unity" (1975)
  • "I Love Music" (1975)
  • "Livin' For The Weekend" (1976)
  • "Message In Our Music" (1976)
  • "Stairway To Heaven" (1976)
  • "Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love)" (1977)
  • "Use Ta Be My Girl" (1978)
  • "Lovin' You" (1987)
  • "Have You Had Your Love Today" (1989)
Top 10 hits:
Pop:
  • "Back Stabbers" (1972)
  • "For The Love Of Money" (1974)
  • "Put Your Hands Together" (1975)
  • "I Love Music" (1975)
  • "Use Ta Be My Girl" (1978)
R&B:
  • "I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I Was Today)" (1972)
  • "Time To Get Down" (1973)
  • "For The Love Of Money" (1974)
  • "Put Your Hands Together" (1975)
  • "Let Me Make Love To You" (1975)
  • "Survival" (1975)
  • "Work On Me" (1977)
  • "Sing A Happy Song" (1979)
  • "Forever Mine" (1980)
  • "Girl, Don't Let It Get You Down" (1980)
  • "Let Me Touch You" (1980)
  • "Serious Hold on Me" (1989)
  • "Don't Let Me Down" (1991)
  • "Emotionally Yours" (1991)
  • "Keep on Loving Me" (1991)
#1 albums:
R&B:
  • Ship Ahoy (1974)
  • Back Stabbers (1972)
  • Family Reunion (1975)
  • So Full Of Love (1976)
Top 10 albums:
Pop:
  • Back Stabbers (1972)
  • Family Reunion (1975)
  • So Full Of Love (1976)
Top 10 albums:
R&B:
  • The O'Jays Live In London (1974)
  • Message In The Music (1976)
  • Travelin' At The Speed Of Thought (1977)
  • Identify Yourself (1979)
  • The Year 2000 (1980)
  • My Favorite Person (1982)
  • Let Me Touch You (1987)
  • Serious (1989)
  • Emotionally Yours (1991)
  • Heartbreaker (1993)
Other important recordings: "Lonely Drifter," "Look Over Your Shoulder," "The Choice," "I'm So Glad I Found You," "Going, Going, Gone," "That's Alright," "Four For The Price Of One," "Love Is Everywhere," "Now That I've Found You," "Sure Would Be Nice," "Don't You Know True Love," "Branded Bad," "One Night Affair," "Deeper (In Love With You)," "Looky Looky (Look At Me Girl)," "992 Arguments," "Rich Get Richer," "Family Reunion," "When The World's At Peace," "People Keep Tellin' Me," "Ship Ahoy," "Sunshine," "Brandy," "I Want You Here With Me," "Once Is Not Enough," "Your Body's Here With Me (But Your Mind's On The Other Side Of Town)," "Put Our Heads Together," "Just Another Lonely Night," "What A Woman," "Don't Take Your Love Away," "Heartbreaker," "Somebody Else Will," "Baby You Know," "What's Stopping You," "Let's Ride," "Make Up"
Covered by: Bulletboys, Third World, Hall & Oates, The Holmes Brothers, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Bunny Sigler, Sounds of Blackness, The Supremes, The Three Degrees, The Wiggles, Betty Wright
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