Soul

Martha High

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Martha High, James Brown’s longest running female vocalist, in Annapolis, MD in 2014.

Try Me – Martha High

Martha Harvin had a difficult decision to make. She loved the touring with Mr. Please Please Please, aka James Brown, but the rest of her group, The Jewels, was growing tired of being on the road.

She’d been with The Jewels—Sandra Bears, Grace Ruffin, and Margie Clark—since they began rehearsing together in Bo Diddley’s Road Island Avenue NE basement in Washington, DC. The girl group had several hits and received national attention with their 1964 single “Opportunity,” on Dimension Records. They met Brown after a performance at the Howard Theatre.

The Jewels joined the James Brown Revue in 1966 and traveled with them for a year and a half, recording “This is My Story” and “Papa Left Mama Holding The Bag,” on Federal and Dynamite Records respectively, and background vocals on a few of Mr. Dynamite’s songs such as “Ain’t That A Groove” and “Don’t Be a Dropout.”

“I wasn’t ready to leave yet,” says Harvin of the choice she had to make. “I loved the fact of traveling and being with the biggest singer in the world at that time.”

So Ruffin, Clark, and Bears returned to DC as The Jewels, but Harvin decided to stay on with the Revue. For marketing purposes, Brown suggested Harvin replace her surname with “High.”

High became an integral part of Brown’s repertoire, and remained on the James Brown Revue for more than 30 years, making her The Godfather of Soul’s longest running female vocalist. She sometimes even styled his hair.

High briefly left Brown’s show between 1968 and 1970 and when she returned Lyn Collins had emerged as the Revue’s lead female vocalist. In 1972 High, Collins, and another DC resident, Mercedes “Binky” Arrington, performed as a trio in the Revue, the Soul Twins.

High recorded on many of Brown’s releases, including all the background vocals on the 1973 double LP, “The Payback.” Her voice is particularly recognizable on the album’s titular song. In 1973 High released a cover of Brown’s “Try Me” on People Records with the popular classic, “Georgie Girl,” on the b-side. She also recorded background vocals on Soul Brother Number One’s 1974 LP, “Hell.”

The vocalist from DC began to develop as a lead singer when she performed Collin’s “You Can’t Love Me If You Don’t Respect Me” on episode 13 of Brown’s “Future Shock” TV series. In 1977 High recorded a duet of the George Gershwin classic “Summertime,” with Brown, and in 1978 sang lead on “Georgia Disco” and “Soul of the Disco” as Martha and The Lazers on J.B.’s Internationals “Jam II Disco Fever” LP. Both were released on Polydor Records.

In 1979, High recorded her first LP as a lead singer, a self-titled disco album on SalSoul Records produced by Brown. She released one single from the LP, “Showdown/Ding Dong Man,” the latter being an answer to Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell.” High continued to tour with Brown through 2000.

Shortly after she left the Revue, High began to tour with The J.B.’s indispensable saxophone player, Maceo Parker. In 2008 the vocalist recorded a live album with the French funk band, Shaolin Temple Defenders, and the next year released her second solo album, “It’s High Time.” In 2012 High released her third LP, “Soul Overdue,” with British funk band Speedometer on Freestyle Records. High continues to tour worldwide with Parker.

You can purchase High’s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Curtis Pope

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Curtis Pope, trumpeter for the Midnight Movers, poses for a portrait in 2014 at Union Station in Washington, DC.

Follow The Wind – Midnight Movers Unltd.

Wilson Pickett, The Isley Brothers, Sam & Dave, and Gene Chandler share three things in common, they are some of the biggest names in soul music, they all had number one hits on the Billboard R&B singles chart, and at one time they have all featured Curtis Pope on trumpet.

The horn player from North Carolina joined “The Duke of Earl” Gene Chandler’s band in 1965, where he met DC musicians Charles “Skip” Pitts (guitar), bass player Ernest Xavier Smith (bass), Elbert “Woody” Woodson (drums), and Chicago saxophone player and bandleader George Paco Patterson. He soon relocated to Washington, DC because it was a convenient base for traveling to gigs.

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Pope helped arrange Chandler’s hit, “I Fooled You This Time,” in 1966 and shortly after the band left Chandler for the late Stax/Atlantic recording artist Wilson Pickett. The band eventually renamed themselves the Midnight Movers after Pickett’s 1968 hit “I’m A Midnight Mover.”

“Wilson was halfway out of church,” says Pope. “He did the gospel thing very well. You know, the scream…We stayed with Pickett for a long time.”

The Midnight Movers were the touring band for Pickett from 1966 through 1969. During that time members of the band recorded a 45, “Pickin’ and Chippin’/Sweet Darlin’,” on Chicago’s Bunky label as Skip & Ernest. The Midnight Movers left Pickett in 1969 when they had a falling out with the legendary singer.

The band re-emerged as in demand studio musicians in New York City, recording with The Isley Brothers and Sam and Dave. The Midnight Movers were the musicians on the former’s enduring 1969 smash hit, “It’s Your Thing,” and “Freedom.”

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In 1970 the Midnight Movers released their debut LP, “Do It In The Road,” on Elephant V Ltd. Guitarist Pitts left in 1971 to join Isaac Hayes’s band. Pitts’ work can be heard as the signature opening wah-wah guitar on Haye’s #1 hit “Theme From ‘Shaft’.” The guitarist passed away in 2012.

The band released a few singles after their debut album, including 1972’s “Put Your Mind In Your Pocket” on Renee Records.

In 1974, the Midnight Movers, Unltd. released their sophomore LP, “Follow The Wind,” on Buddah Records with new members Bernard Wills, and Raymond Patterson on guitar and Blake Hinds on bass. The title track received a small amount of airplay but the LP went largely unnoticed and the Midnight Movers went on hiatus shortly after. The song “Lost For Words” has since been sampled by John Legend, Wiz Khalifa, and Talib Kweli.

While things were quiet with the Midnight Movers, Pope briefly joined Washington DC’s arguably biggest act, The Soul Searchers, and in 1979 he toured with The Blackbyrds.

In 1982 Pope reconnected with Pickett and the Midnight Movers became the star’s touring band once again, this time with all new members except for Pope. Every now and again other original members would return to tour with the band. The later generation of Midnight Movers stayed with Pickett for more than 15 years.

Pope continues to perform corporate events and weddings with a new crop of Midnight Movers and is currently recording new music.

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Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Skull Snaps

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It’s A New Day – Skull Snaps

Samm Culley spotted something unusual while watching cars pass under the highway as he often did. It was the tour bus for “Mr. Personality,” singer Lloyd Price.

“One day I’m going to be on that bus,” thought young Culley. It would take a while but eventually his dream would come true.

Culley’s musical career began as a keyboard player for Maryland Eastern Shore act Tiny Tim and the Hits, where he met fellow singers Tom Price and Bill Collier. In 1958 Tiny Tim and The Hits released a 45 on Roulette Records—“Wedding Bells” with the b-side “Doll Baby.”

The trio soon left Tiny Tim to form their own group with singer Irving Waters called The Diplomats. While most young people in Maryland were going out on Saturday nights the quartet practiced singing. The Diplomats—Price, Culley, Waters (pictured left to right), and Collier—performed all over the Eastern Shore and were determined to be the first successful group out of the region. Cully moved to Newark, New Jersey after a brief stint in the army and Price and Waters soon joined him.

The Diplomats recorded their first 45, “Unchained Melody/Card On The Table” on Arock Records in 1963 and performed all over New York City including at The Apollo Theater, but still did not have a big song. That changed in 1964 when they met with Washington, DC producer Van McCoy who turned out their first hit “Here’s A Heart.” The song stayed at #1 in DC for nine weeks and The Diplomats returned to South of the Mason-Dixon line to play at The Howard Theatre. Feeling the strains of the music industry, Price left The Diplomats and Culley and Waters found George Bragg to replace him. Being a drummer, the addition of Bragg helped The Diplomats transition from a singing group to a band. The three performed so well together they never even needed to rehearse. It was during this time that Culley’s childhood dream began to take shape. Lloyd Price came by to see a show and was blown away, predicting that the band would literally make people’s skulls snap.

Now named the Skull Snaps, the trio released their only LP on GSF Records in 1970. The band was unable to continue recording as the Skull Snaps due to legal difficulties for GSF records so they released a 45—“Soul Makossa/On Top Of It”—as All Dyrections. The Skulls Snaps disbanded shortly after; Culley went on to record with an early version of The Fatback Band and eventually produced an album for Lloyd Price.

In 1989 Connecticut rapper Stezo sampled Bragg’s drums from the Skull Snaps’ “It’s A New Day” on “It’s My Turn.” The Skulls Snaps track has since been sampled over 270 times, making it one hip-hop’s most ubiquitous break beats. The group saw their popularity rise again and Culley, Waters, Price, and Bragg reunited to record and tour. Bragg passed away in 2007 but the Skulls Snaps recently recorded a new single with Stezo and were followed by a documentary crew for their soon to be released film, “The Legend of The Skull Snaps.”

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You can purchase The Diplomats music here and the Skull Snaps here.

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Herb Fame

Herb Feemster

(We’ll Be) United – Peaches & Herb

Everybody loves a comeback story. This is how popular soul singer Herb Feemster disappeared from the limelight for seven years and triumphantly returned during the final days of disco.

Herb Feemster joined the navy after high school and took a part-time job at Waxie Maxie’s on 7th and T St. NW following his release. He recorded the song “Rudolph Holiday” as Millie & Billie on one of Waxie Maxie’s two record labels. The single didn’t have any impact but Feemster was successful at attracting the attention of none other than producer Van McCoy, one of many from the music industry who frequented the shop.

In 1966 McCoy introduced Feemster to The Sweethings, a Washington, DC based girl group, and brought them both to New York City to record. Feemster recorded “You’re Messing Up My Mind” and “From The Shadows To The Sun” under the name Herb Fame. At the suggestion of McCoy, Feemster and Sweethings lead singer Francine “Peaches” Barker recorded the pop standard “Let’s Fall In Love” together. Though they had just met, the vocal chemistry between the two was palpable. When the record was released a year later, the world was introduced to Peaches & Herb.

Between 1967 and 1971 Peaches & Herb issued more than a dozen chart-topping singles on Date Records including “Close Your Eyes,” which reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, “For Your Love,” “Love Is Strange,” and “(We’ll Be) United,” and two LPs—“For Your Love” and “Let’s Fall In Love.” They performed across the south and Midwest, at DC’s Howard Theatre and The Cellar Door, and also at the Apollo Theatre for a week.

Judging by their performances and photos Feemster and Barker appeared to be madly in love, but the singer concedes the relationship was purely professional.

“There was no personal thing there,” says Feemster. “We were just two people who wanted to sing.”

Exhaustion from nearly four years of constant recording and touring forced Feemster and Barker to end the act in 1970. He entered the Washington, DC police force, but returned to the music industry in 1977 with a new “Peaches,” Linda Greene. Feemster and Greene recorded seven albums together between 1977 and 1983. It was a new era in music ruled by disco, which Feemster boldly embraced.

“If you’re not confident with anything that you do it will not happen,” he says. “I’ve always been confident in me.”

The duo’s 1978 LP “2 Hot,” produced by Freddie Perren of Motown’s The Corporation, proved that Peaches & Herb was back and more popular than ever. The album’s first single, “Shake Your Groove Thing,” became a disco classic, reaching #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their next song, “Reunited,” went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts.

“All artists record hoping, praying, and wishing that they could do something that will last, become number one, or get a Grammy,” says Feemster. “To have that number one or that top five is a feeling that you just can’t explain.”

Peaches & Herb recorded several more hits with Perren’s MVP Productions on Polydor Records, including “Roller Skatin’ Mate” and “I Pledge My Love” and performed with Bob Hope and Sammy Davis, Jr., but Feemster grew disenchanted with the music business again and Peaches & Herb ended in 1983. He returned to the work force, this time as a deputized security officer at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Feemster released “Colors of Love,” an album with a sixth “Peaches,” Meritxell Negre in 2009 and currently performs with the latest “Peaches,” Wanda Tolson. Francine “Peaches” Barker sadly passed away in 2005.

You can purchase Peaches & Herb‘s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Alonzo Hart

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Mix It Up – The Stridells

Walking through the hallways of Alonzo Hart’s Eastern Senior High School in the 1960s was similar to roaming around an audition for American Idol today. Three part harmonies grew louder at the turn of each corner coming form the likes of The Love Tones, The Deacons, Jerry Cummings of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and The Stridells—Hart, Reginald Marsh, Charles Blagmon, and Wardelle “Twin” Everett. The Stridells became a familiar presence to fans of the Showmobile, an orchestra-backed musical lineup that would travel from park to park, and were soon joined by two new members, Wardell “Twin” Everett and Larry Scott.

“We didn’t get into any trouble, we just sang,” says Hart. “If you gave us a light post and somewhere to sing that’s where you would find us.”

Producers Maxx Kidd and Bob Morgan discovered The Stridells at the Showmobile. Kidd and Morgan wrote “Mix It Up” and “I Remember Christmas” for the group, which they recorded at the Hit Factory in New York City over a period of 23 hours and 14 minutes. The 1969 Yvette Records release “Mix It Up” with Johnny Graham on lead vocals became a regional hit, helped by a second pressing on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records.

“Before we recorded this song if we went to a party in someone’s neighborhood we might have to fight our way out,” says Hart. “After we put the recording out everyone was cool with us.”

The Stridells released a second 45, “The Power To Dream“/”Stick-Em-Up Kind Of Lovin” on Morgan Records in 1969, but the response was less enthusiastic. The group began to disagree about heading in a doo-wop or funk direction and they broke up in 1972. Marsh released several LPs as Osiris; Blagmon helped start The Choice Four; Scott and Graham began another group; and as was his destiny all along, Hart became a fifth generation pastor.

“I would just love to run into my boys,” says Hart. “Just to see them, even if we just sat down and break bread that would be worthwhile. I’m going to keep looking for them.”

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Jerome Powell

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Mother Said – Jerome Powell

The Soul Injectors weren’t Jerome Powell’s first band to dissolve. The singer from Northeast had been in the game for a while. First there were The Collegians, who played all over DC but never recorded anything. Then there was Jerome and The Good Knights, but that didn’t last long either. Powell was hoping The Personalities would go the distance, but they didn’t have that spark. So when his fourth band The Soul Injectors broke up Powell wasn’t surprised. He learned that the music industry is a gamble. Some bands make it and some don’t.

Jerome Powell had reason to hope things would work out. He came from a musical family and had several recordings under his belt. His first 45 was “Home To Stay/Live and Let Live” written by Thom Bell and Chubby Checker and Freddie Perren and Jerry Butler respectively, and recorded on Cameo-Parkway Records in 1962. Then in 1972 he went to a Silver Spring, Maryland studio with cousin Archie Powell, who had a hit with The Presidents’ “5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love),” and recorded covers of The Ascots‘ “Mother Said” and “It’s Alright,” which were written by the talented close relative.

Jerome Powell was singing solo at a big name hotel when Gene Donati, who was performing with his orchestra in another room, asked him to join them on stage. The chemistry worked and Powell went on to perform with the venerable Gene Donati Orchestra for more than thirty years at The White House, inaugural balls, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, international embassies, major hotels, and political events. Powell sometimes faced prejudice at the performances but he thought about the people who paved the way before him and kept going. Donati passed away in 2004 and business slowed with the orchestra as more events started booking DJs. He ended up taking a part-time security job to help pay the bills, but Jerome Powell still has the wax of those recordings that he made with Jerry Butler,  Chubby Checker and his cousin Archie, who passed away in 2012.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Irving “Scacy” Haywood

Iriving "Scacy" Haywood

Sunshine Pt. 1 – Scacy and The Sound Service

Irving “Scacy” Haywood was at C G Woodson Junior High School in 1964 when he sang lead vocals on The D.C. Playboys’ “You Were All I Needed” on Arock Records with respected producer Van McCoy and it wasn’t long after that when he helped organize vocal group The Ascots. In the early 1970s Haywood saw new groups cropping up left and right in his hometown so he asked his father for money to post an ad in The Washington Star to start a new group. The elder Haywood didn’t hesitate.

Scacy and The Sound Service performed top 40 material at Byrne Manor and other cabarets around DC along with fellow go-go pioneers The Soul Searchers, The Young Senators, and Black Heat and opened for artists such as Stevie Wonder, Carla and Rufus Thomas, and War. Eager to put out a record Haywood asked his bandmates if anyone had written any songs. New organist Bennie Braxton had an original piece called “Sunshine,” which Scacy and The Sound Service recorded on Scacy Records at Track Recorders in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1972. Outkast sampled the song in 2006.

Shortly after releasing “Sunshine” Haywood received a call from fellow former Ascots singer Archie Powell who asked him to replace a member of his group The Presidents. Haywood toured with them and appeared with them as Anacostia on Soul Train in 1972.

Haywood’s participation in Anacostia was only temporary and afterwards he retired from music, establishing a career at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. In 2011 after a major surgery Haywood was inspired to return to music and won the Prince George’s County and Maryland Senior Idol Competitions by singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Little Royal

Little Royal

Razor Blade – Little Royal and The Swingmasters

It’s difficult to imagine that Royal Torrence had no idea what rock and roll was as a young boy in the south. When the singer joined his Uncle Bill Weaver’s Washington, DC gospel group in his twenties he only knew spiritual songs. Torrence became the leader of the group, which transitioned to rock and roll at Weaver’s suggestion, and was therefore known as Little Royal and the Swingmasters.

One evening in 1963, Torrence had a chance encounter with James Brown at The Howard Theatre. The Godfather of Soul told him they looked like brothers and introduced Torrence to promoter James Dudley. Soon Little Royal and the Swingmasters were touring with Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and The Temptations.

In 1967 Torrence released his first 45—“I Can Tell”/ “You Made Me Love You” on Carnival Records. In 1972 Little Royal and the Swingmasters, which featured horn player Andrew Sims, Marvin Shears on drums, and Burnett Jackson on bass, released their “Jealous” LP on Torrence and producers Huey P. Meaux and Stanley Little’s Tri-Us label. The LP contained the hits “Jealous,” “I’ll Come Crawling,” “Razor Blade,” “Panama Red,” and “Soul Train.”

“Jealous” was produced by Meaux and Little in Houston, Texas and recorded in Norfolk, Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee, and distributed by Starday-King Records, James Brown’s former label. Torrence created a popular dance for the instrumental track “Razor Blade” when he appeared on the Cincinnati, Ohio television program, “Soul Street.” In 1973 Torrence released another 45 on Tri-Us—“Keep Pushing Your Luck”/”(I Want To Be Free) Don’t Want Nobody Standing Over Me.”

Beginning in 1983 Torrence released several crossover beach music singles including “Groovin” and “Down On The Sand” on Firestone and Flame Records respectively, which played from Virginia to Florida.

Little Royal and the Swingmasters rarely play in Washington, DC but still perform on occasion at Westminster DC’s Blue Monday Blues. These days ambiguity surrounds Torrence’s exact location, which is exactly how he likes it.

“Even to today I’m in town and nobody knows I’m in town,” says Torrence. Little Royal & The Swingmasters have been sampled by Masta Ace, Ice-T, J Dilla, and Lord Finesse.

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You can purchase Little Royal’s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Father’s Children

Father's Children

Everybody’s Got a Problem – Father’s Children

As their van tumbled off the highway, The Dreams were probably regretting that their community college gig went so late. It was only after the van landed right side up and everyone emerged unscathed that they realized they had been saved by an act of God. They converted to Islam and changed the group’s name to Father’s Children.

Father’s Children—Hakim Carpenter, Sadik Long, Malik Khabir, Nizam Smith, and Qaadir Sumler (pictured left to right)—played covers regularly but after hearing their music recorded for the first time with producer Robert Hosea Williams, they decided to aggressively pursue original music. In 1973 the band recorded a stack of material with Williams but the tapes were never released and eventually forgotten about. Father’s Children recorded a 45 with two tracks—“Linda“ and “Intellect” at Arrest Records on K Street NW in 1975, which fizzled. They continued to perform including with artists such as Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Miles, Rare Earth, The Staple Singers, Albert King, Eddie Kendricks, Chaka Khan, Roy Ayers, and Herbie Hancock.

Father’s Children shuffled Smith with Tony Vaughn and recorded a self-titled LP in Los Angeles on Mercury Records in 1978, which sold poorly due to insignificant marketing. The group broke up shortly afterwards only to reemerge decades later with Capenter and Sumler and new members, releasing the album “Sky’s The Limit.”

In 2012 music historian Kevin Coombe discovered Father’s Children’s unreleased tracks in Williams’ garage and the album “Who’s Gonna Save The World” was finally released on Numero Group to critical acclaim. The original members still keep in touch and celebrated the long awaited availability of their intended debut album together.

“We still love each other so it’s all good,” says Sumler. “We spent too much time together, too many close moments—sleeping together, eating together, hanging out—a brotherhood.” Father’s Children released their latest album, “Love & Life Stories,” in 2013.

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You can purchase Father’s Children‘s music here and here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

El Corols Band and Show

Johnny Freeman, "Little" Yvonne Wooten, Tiny Barge, and Brenda Brown, left to right at Haines Point in Washington, DC in 2012.

Chick Chick – The El Corols Band and Show

While fans of the late 1960s Western series The Guns of Will Sonnett loved Walter Brennan’s bold catchphrase “No brag, just fact,” only 18 year-old trumpet player Tiny Barge (pictured second from right) of the El Corols Band and Show thought it would make a great chorus for a song.

Formed by several junior high school students in 1958, the El Corols Band and Show played covers of popular songs in clubs and private events around Washington DC and performed with The Temptations at The Howard Theatre, Dionne Warwick at the Shore Hotel, and The Supremes at Carr’s Beach of the Chitlin’ Circuit.

After rehearsing for weeks in a barbershop on H St. NE in 1968 the El Corols Band and Show walked in Aadvark Studios in Silver Spring, MD and cut two songs—the Guns of Will Sonnett inspired “Chick Chick” and “You Gotta Be An Angel” co-written by Tiny Barge and future Motown songsmith Fangette Willett. The band released the 45 on Tiny Records and Rouser Records and radio stations WOOK and WOL helped popularize “Chick Chick” in the DC area.

Over 20 years members of the El Corols Band and Show included Johnny Freeman on trombone (left); Robert Freeman on trumpet; Robert Battle on drums; Milton Grant on bass; Charles Robinson and Dewy Holloway on baritone saxophone; Carter Jefferson, Ron Holloway and Linwood Newbold on saxophone; Eddie Hicks and Gregory “Guitar Greg” Gaskins on guitar; Frank Delany on congas, Tiny Barge, Donald Tillery, and “Sir” Joe Quarterman on trumpet; Karissa Freeman on keyboards, Little Wimpy Johnson, Sydney “El Sid” Peoples, and Jimi “Senor” Smoot on vocals; and the El Coroletts—“Little” Yvonne Glover (second from left), Brenda Brown (right), Renada Dowd, and Arlene Williams. Other band members were Bobby Allen, Edward Freeman, and Earl Brown.

Though the El Corols Band and Show eventually disbanded in the 1970s, they inspired many musicians in Washington, DC and served as a springboard for several members including Elvis’ band mate Guitar Greg, Carter Jefferson, Donald Tillery of The Soul Searchers, Tiny Barge, and “Sir” Joe Quarterman.

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You can purchase “Chick Chick” here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Jimi Dougans

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Jungle – The Young Senators

Jimi Dougans could not have anticipated the historical imprint he would make when high school classmate Frank Hooker introduced the young singer to his band The Dimensions in 1965. Dougans, Hooker, LeRoy Fleming, Wornell Jones, David Lecraft, Calvin Charity, and James Johnson became The Young Senators, the “Emperors of Go-Go,” and the band for legendary Temptations falsetto Eddie Kendricks. The band went through several lineup changes over time. Members also included Howard Crouch, Wayne Hines, Chip Jones, John Engram, Clyde Stubblefield, Philip Guilbeau, Warren Smith, and Charles Newton.

The Young Senators‘ first big break came at Mr. P’s Lounge in Northwest Washington, DC and their legacy was cemented at the go-go venues they performed in such as Byrne Manor and Knights of Columbus. Under the management and production of Harry Young and Burt Rosenberg, The Young Senators recorded the single “Ringing Bells (Sweet Music)” on Innovation Records in 1969. The Young Senators recorded their follow-up single, “Jungle,” at Track Recorders in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1970.

Written by Guilbeau, “Jungle” had two key elements that identified it as an early go-go record. Bassist Wornell Jones sang lead vocals while the rest of the band responded to each line, making it the first “call and response record,” and Dougans played congas, giving the record an Afro-Cuban flavor.

Dougans met Kendricks, his musical mentor, while the singer was with The Temptations. When Kendricks left The Temptations to go solo Dougans volunteered The Young Senators to be his band despite his own reservations about Kendricks’ departure from the beloved lineup.

Dougans, with The Young Senators and later Golden Touch, toured with Kendricks for eight years. Along with his talent as a conga player, Dougans sings in a falsetto that sounded virtually identical to Kendricks’ vocals, which the two showcased during encores. Kendricks would purposefully drop his microphone during a long note and the lights would go out but his voice would continue to be heard. At that point, the lights would come back on and Dougans would reveal that he was actually the voice behind the note.

The Young Senators became the first outside band to record with a Motown artist when they laid down the tracks for Kendricks’ 1972 sophomore album, “People…Hold On.” Produced by Frank Wilson, the album contained the single “Girl You Need a Change of Mind,” which had a popular percussion break by Dougans. The Young Senators also performed on Kendricks’ 1973 #1 Billboard Hot 100 single, “Keep on Truckin.’”

In 2002 The Young Senators were inducted into the Go-Go Hall of Fame and DC mayor Anthony Williams proclaimed June 11 to be “The Young Senators Day.” After more than 30 years Dougans and former members of The Young Senators, as well as some new ones, are regrouping to perform as The Young Senators Reloaded.

The Young Senators’ music with Eddie Kendricks has been sampled by Lil Wayne, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Diamond D, Fat Joe, Erykah Badu, Killah Priest, and Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna.

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You can purchase Eddie Kendricks’ “People…Hold On” here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Black Heat


No Time to Burn – Black Heat

Black Heat started as a backup band for another Washington group, the Day-Tons, with a core lineup comprised of percussionist King Raymond Green, guitarist Bradley Owens, drummer Esco Croner, keyboardist Johnnell Gray (pictured left to right), and bassist John Byrd.

The band separated from the Day-Tons, retitled as Black Heat, and flourished with the replacement of Byrd with Naamon “Chip” Jones on bass and lead vocals. Black Heat recorded their self-titled debut album in 1972 on Atlantic Records with legendary producer Joel Dorn and soon became one of the earliest go-go bands to receive attention outside of DC.

Black Heat added Raymond Thompson (right) on saxophone and Rodney Edwards (second from right) on trumpet and recorded three more albums on Atlantic with Dorn— “No Time to Burn” (1974), “Keep On Runnin’ (1975), and “Fired Up” (1976). They played in Europe, the Philippines, at Carnegie Hall and on the PBS program “Soul!” and also toured with Earth Wind & Fire, the Ohio Players, the Commodores, New Birth, and Funkadelic. The latter group stole Black Heat’s song “Get Off Your Ass And Jam” for their 1975 album “Let’s Take It to the Stage.” Despite Black Heat’s success members of the group stayed humble.

“Everybody’s not cut out to be a musician. It’s either feast or famine,” says Green. “There were a lot of groups that were probably better than us that never had that opportunity. We were fortunate to be at the right place at the right time and be able to maintain a great sound.”

Black Heat broke up shortly after recording “Fired Up” but their impact has endured as samples in songs by N.W.A., Casual, The Notorious B.I.G., the Wu-Tang Clan, Fat Joe, Biz Markie, DJ Shadow, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, and on the 2011 international hit by Jessie J featuring B.o.B., “Price Tag.”

You can purchase Black Heat‘s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Mark Greene

Not On the Outside – The Moments

Growing up in a musical family in Anacostia, Mark Greene first began to train his falsetto voice by mimicking birds. He joined his first group, The Congressionals, as a teenager, recording a single, “I’m Going to Leave This Town,” which was never released. When Greene was in his early 20s the original formation of Washington, DC based group The Moments—Eric Olfus, John Morgan, and Richard Gross—and producers the Mizell Brothers and Freddie Perren, met with Greene at a recording studio on Vermont Avenue NW and recruited him as their new lead vocalist. Together they traveled to New Jersey to record with Sylvia and Joe Robinson on All Platinum Records (which later became Sugar Hill Records) and recorded the single “Not On The Outside” with lead vocals by Greene. The 45 reached #13 on the Billboard US R&B charts in 1968 and #58 on US pop charts. That same year The Moments also performed at the Apollo Theater, sharing the stage with Michael and Marlon Jackson, Sam & Dave, Clarence Carter, The Unifics, and Margie Hendricks.

Sylvia Robinson shuffled The Moments before the release of their debut LP. Gross, Olfus, and Greene left, though Green stayed on the label as a solo artist, and New Jersey natives William Brown and Al Goodman came in as replacements to sing with John Morgan. Greene released two singles, “My Confession of Love” and “I’m So Lost,” as a solo artist on All Platinum but eventually cut ties with the recording company over a contract dispute. Greene, Gross, and Olfus received credit on The Moment’s 1968 Stang Records LP, “Not on the Outside, But on the Inside, Strong!” which went gold. The latter incarnation of The Moments ultimately changed their name to Ray, Goodman, and Brown when they moved to Polydor Records.

In 1971 Greene and the other former original members of The Moments, Gross and Olfus, recorded three singles together—“Which Way” “How Do You Move a Mountain,” and “Anyone Can”—on the Memphis, Tennessee Stax-Volt label as The Leaders. A majority of the records were stolen off of the shipping truck and the singles ultimately fizzled.

Greene continued to perform as a solo artist and as a featured vocalist with the Washington area group The Exceptions and also also briefly joined Ray, Goodman, and Brown after Harry Ray passed away in 1992. Greene, a multi-instrumentalist, began writing his own material and released a slew of solo jazz, pop, R&B, and reggae material on his own record label, Fajr Records. He was also solicited by the Temptations, The Four Tops, and The Platters.

Greene retrieved the trademark for The Moments name at the top of the millennium and released the CDs “Unspoken Moments” and “Revealing Moments” under the group’s moniker with members of The Exceptions and “Urban Legacy” as The Moments featuring Mark Greene. In 2009 The Moments’ 1968 song “Love on a Two Way Street” was sampled on the #1 hit “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys.

“My purpose is to utilize the talent I have,” says Greene. “My writing abilities and my skills as a singer to maybe enhance society and help…those who have an ear and eye for moral and message music. That’s where I’m at now.”

You can purchase Mark Greene’s work as a solo artist and with The Moments here and here.

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Al Johnson

Court Of Love – The Unifics

Al Johnson moved from Newport News, Virginia to Washington, DC in 1965 to study architecture at Howard University. He quickly found himself in over his head and as a self taught vocalist and pianist, gravitated toward music. Johnson formed a vocal group called Al and The Vikings with childhood friend Tom Fauntleroy and three other Howard students, which manager Guy Draper later changed to The Unique Five. Eventually the five dropped to four and they became The Unifics.

In 1967 The Unifics recorded “Court of Love” in New York City with a local studio band and with arrangement by renowned singer-songwriter and musician Donny Hathaway. Written by Draper, “Court of Love” reached #25 as a single on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also appeared on their LP “Sitting In At The Court Of Love,” released on Kapp Records, a subsidiary of MCA.  In 1968 The Unifics also recorded and released “The Beginning of My End,” which reached #36 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Based on the strength of those releases and other recordings The Unifics toured across the country East of the Mississippi River from 1968-1972, showcasing Johnson’s passionate vocals and the group’s distinctive choreography. During that time, Johnson began writing his own material including their final single, “Dawn of a New Day (In My Life).” When The Unifics broke up over tension related to not having signed with a record label, Johnson was ready to embark on a solo recording career. Johnson recorded three solo albums, “Peaceful (1978),” “Back For More (1980),” and “My Heart is an Open Book (1999),” and produced music for artists such as Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, and Positive Change.

In 2004 Johnson reunited with Fauntleroy and recruited two new members to The Unifics, releasing “Unifics Return.” Johnson sadly passed away in October 2013 at 65.

Will Smith, Faith Evans, Flesh-N-Bone, and Big Remo have sampled The Unifics and Al Johnson.

You can purchase The Unifics‘ music here.

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William DeVaughn

Be Thankful For What You Got – William DeVaughn

William DeVaughn learned to play the piano from watching musicians at the East Capitol Recreation Center in Southeast Washington, DC. Influenced by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, DeVaughn started a trio called the Dacrons with Steve Wade and Leon MacManus. Shortly after the group broke up, he answered an ad in Billboard Magazine from a Philadelphia based record label looking for talent. He brought 10 songs with him that he had written including “Be Thankful for What You Got,” which producer Frank Fiorvanti loved and Devaughn recorded for $900 with house band MSFB. With lyrics like “You may not have a car at all, but remember brothers and sisters, you can still stand tall,” the song had a strongly positive message. The song reached #1 on the R&B charts and #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the spring of 1974. DeVaughn took a leave of absence from his government job and toured the country on the strength of the single and album with the same title. Despite his success, DeVaughn stayed humble, continuing to ride public transportation while in Washington.

After DeVaughn returned from touring he worked at Harmony Hut, a record store in Iverson Mall, learning another side of the music industry. He went back to his government job in 1979, but the legacy of “Be Thankful” endured, being covered by acts ranging from Massive Attack to Yo La Tango to Bunny Clarke and sampled more than a dozen times by artists such as Ludacris, Ice Cube, De La Soul, and N.W.A.

DeVaughn says that aside from recording, his main focus today is helping newer artists learn about the business side of the music industry to avoid the many possible pitfalls. He also continues to perform and record positive music and released the album “Time Will Stand Still” on his label Mighty Two Diamond Records in 2008.

“I want the whole family sitting down and listening to (my) music and there’s nothing that’s really negative,” says DeVaughn. “You can learn something that you can apply to your life.”

Be thankful for what you got

You can purchase William DeVaughn‘s music here.

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