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On January 26th, 2013 guitarist, composer, arranger, singer, songwriter, co-lead singer, and co-founding member of The Ohio Players-Leroy Sugarfoot Bonner (Leroy Roosevelt Bonner) was born in Hamilton, Ohio. Bonner is one of the many Funk musicians that came from the Ohio region. He was born between Cincinnati and Dayton, and was the oldest of 14 siblings. He left home in his early teens to pursue music and moved to Dayton. It’s there that he met the artists that would become The Ohio Untouchables (later The Ohio Players). They were largely an instrumental outfit that formed in the late 1950s, that opened for and backed other popular musicians touring in the area, as well as other local acts like The Falcons. The band also released a few recordings with Bonner on guitar, and sparse vocals from 1962-1964 (mostly sounds & harmonies, not words).
He had a twangy funky voice that is very distinct. However, Bonner didn’t want to sing originally, nor did any of the other members of the band. They sang out of necessity, utilizing the musicians in the band because it was hard for them to retain a lead singer. They performed, toured, and backed The Falcons thru the mid to late 60s. In 1969 they signed to Capitol Records, and released their debut LP Observations In Time. It was mostly a cover album, with a few original numbers thrown in. They left Capitol and signed to Westbound in 1971. And a year later they released Pleasure and scored a hit with Funky Worm. After leaving Westbound in 1974, Walter Junie Morrison left for a solo career and the rest of the band signed with Mercury. This forced Bonner to sing lead on almost all the tracks. They released Skin Tight in 1974. It was a hit, as were all their LPs on Mercury. He was 69 when he died.
On January 26th, 2011, singer, songwriter, and lead vocalist for The Marvelettes-Gladys (Catherine) Horton (r) passed away in Sherman Oaks, California. The Florida native moved to the suburbs of Detroit with her foster parents when she was three. Doo Wop was popular, and she quickly took a liking to singing. She practiced her skills all the way through high school. She was an active member of The Glee Club, where she met her former Marvelettes. They called themselves The Casinyets (Can’t Sing Yet), and started performing at local talent shows. They won an audition at Hitsville USA (Motown) and were signed. At the time, Berry Gordy informed them that their contract was ‘conditional,' and that they had to come with an original song-which was a very rare move for the overly controlling Motown machine.
They also had Georgia Dobbs on lead vocals. She co-wrote Please Mr. Postman as their first single, but her family refused to let her appear in nightclubs-which forced her to quit. Shameful…anyways, they changed their names to The Marvelettes, and Horton (l) was thrust into the lead singing position, pulling off a smash performance on their first single-Please Mr. Postman (Tamla, 1961). It was Motown’s first Pop #1 and made The Marvelettes overnight sensations. Horton went on to sing lead for the group from 1961 to 1965, creating the hits Too Many Fish In The Sea (1964), Playboy (1962), and Beechwood 4-5789 (1962). In 1965, Wanda Young took over the role of lead vocalist. Horton had left the group in 1967, and music overall, before returning in the late 90s to record with Wanda Young for a revamp of The Marvelettes. She was 65 when she died.
On January 26th, 1964, singer, songwriter, producer, actress, twin sister of Wendy Melvoin, co-lead singer for The Family, and former lover of Prince-Susannah Melvoin was born in Los Angeles, California. Melvoin comes from a musical family that moved to Minnesota when she was a child. Her father Michael Melvoin was a jazz pianist, and former president of the recording academy NARAS. Her older brother Jonathan was the keyboardist for various bands, and her sister Wendy was a member of The Revolution (guitarist/songwriter/singer). Prince met Susannah via his association with Wendy. They dated before he decided to form a band around her, with members from his band and from The Time. The Family featured Jerome Benton on backing vocals, Jellybean Johnson on drums, St Paul on vocals & keys, and Eric Leeds on sax & flute.
They released their self-titled debut LP in 1985, featuing the uptempo hit Screams Of Passion and a ballad made infamous by Sinead O’Connor-Nothing Compares To You. The latter was written by Prince-about Melvoin. The band only released one LP-on Prince’s Paisley Park label, so she joined The Revolution in 1986 and sang background vocals on both Parade and Sign 'O’ The Times (she also co-wrote Starfish & Coffee). In the 90s, she did session work and backing vocals for Eric Clapton, Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Mike Oldfield, and her sister’s band-Wendy & Lisa. She also co-wrote and produced a few tracks for Madonna and Arc Angels. From the 2000s to the current date, she occasionally acts, writes, and performs with a revamp of The Family-fDeluxe. Susannah Melvoin turns 55 today.
On January 26th, 1958, singer, songwriter and legendary R&B/Jazz vocalist-Anita (Denise) Baker was born in Toledo, Ohio. She was raised in Detroit by foster parents from the age of two, until she was 12 (her mother abandoned her). Baker’s foster sister took on the duty of raising her through her teen years. I’m sure the leniency of her sister allowed her the opportunity to hone her chops in nightclubs during those years. In 1975, she met Chapter 8’s bandleader David Washington after a performance. She joined the band, made a lot of noise on the local scene, and eventually got picked up by Ariola Records in 1979. They released their self-titled debut that same year. Baker also scored a minor hit, and some recognition, with her solo ballad-I Just Wanna Be Your Girl. Later that year Ariola was bought out by Arista, who dropped Chapter 8 from the label noting that Baker didn’t have ‘star-potential’. She stepped away from music, returned to Detroit, and got a 9-5.
In 1982, she ran across Otis Smith, who used to work for Ariola, and was one of the champions for Chapter 8 on the label. He got her to sign to his own label-Beverly Glen Records. She released her classic solo debut-The Songstress in 1983. She scored four hits off the LP, with three sample thick cuts-like Angel, Will You Be Mine, and You’re The Best Thing Yet. Baker’s career was on the verge of taking off after this release-so much so that the major label Elektra signed her, but in doing so, breached her contract with Otis. As a result, she was caught up in legalities from 1984 to 1985. After everything got settled, she finally started recording her second album. Baker had a unique contract with Elektra that allowed her to keep creative control over her music and to reach back and call in her preferred producer (former Chapter 8 band mate Michael J. Powell) co-produce the certified classic Rapture in 1986. Baker continues to sing and perform, she’s 61 today.
On January 26th, 1943, classically trained musician, composer, singer, arranger, producer, record executive, and Soul Music mogul-Thom Bell (Thomas Randolph Bell) was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He migrated to Philadelphia with his family when he was very young. He started studying classical music shortly, after and was signing and playing with Doo Wop groups during his teens (with the likes of Daryll Hall, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff in the late 1950s). In the early 1960s, he was hired as a session musician and arranger for Cameo Records. He met The Delfonics in 1967, and produced a string of hits for them. He relied on his classical background, and put it into his melodic and soulful compositions foe songs like Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) and La-La (Means I Love You). In the 70s, he worked with Gamble & Huff’ artists like The O’Jays (he produced & arranged Back Stabbers for them). Archie Bell & The Drells, Dusty Springfield, and Jerry Butler also were ‘blessed’ with some of Bell’s production work.
In 1971, he hooked up with his soulmate for songwriting-Linda Creed to produce several hits for The Stylistics including: Stop Look Listen (To Your Heart), Break Up To Make Up, You Are Everything, Betcha By Golly Wow, and You Make Me Feel Brand New. In 1972 he linked with The Spinners, and produced I’ll Be Around, The Rubberband Man, and Could It Be I’m Falling in Love. Through the mid 70s and early 80s, Bell produced hits for Dionne Warwick, Billy Paul, Johnny Mathis, Ronnie Dyson, Deniece Williams, Elton John, The Temptations, Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Ingram, Phyllis Hyman, and many more. He was criticized by Funk purists for producing songs that appealed to a crossover audience; but his musicianship can’t be denied. The songs he produced are classics to this day, and continue to be covered by others. He was 75 when he died.
HONORABLE MENTION: On January 26th, 1996 double bassist, arranger, composer, and orchestra conductor-Henry Jay Lewis passed away in Los Angeles, California. The LA native was the first Black to join The Los Angeles Philharmonic when he was 16 (1949). He was classically trained on piano, string instruments, and the clarinet. In the mid 1950s, he served in The Korean War and conducted The Seventh Army Symphony (he was also a musician). When he returned to the states, he resumed with the LA Philharmonic and became co-conductor in 1961 (til 1965). He became director of The New Jersey Symphony in 1968. He was 63 years old when he died.
On January 26th, in 1989, singer, songwriter and Soul Music innovator-Donnie Elbert passed away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The NOLA native moved to Buffalo, NY when he was three years old. He got his start on piano and guitar, forming the doo wop group The Vibraharps in his late teens (1955). He acted as the band’s backing vocalist, lead, arranger, songwriter, and guitarist. He went solo in the late 1950s, and had some success in the 60s & 70s, mostly cover versions of classic pop and soul hits. He retired from performing in the 1980s and became an A&R for Polydor's Canadian division. He was 52 when he died.
On January 26th, 1980, singer, songwriter, producer, film director, screenwriter, actor, arranger, composer, guitarist, drummer, bassist, pianist, and music icon-Prince made his national television debut on American Bandstand. He was 21 at the time, and had been under contract with Warner Brothers for three years. He performed his then hit single-I Wanna Be Your Lover. When Dick Clark interviewed him after the set, Prince-in true Prince fashion-‘froze up’. The critics called it freezing up, but true Prince fans know that he was too cool to answer any questions. His music had already spoken for him.
On January 26th, 1948, drummer, guitarist, songwriter, session musician, member of Mountain, and the man responsible for bringing us the classic drum break on the track called Long Red ("Well clap your hands to what he’s doing") Corky Laing (Laurence Gordon Liang) was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He played with Mountain and The Leslie West Band from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. He’s most known by Hip Hop heads for playing the drums over one of the most sampled breaks of all-time-Long Red (Well Goddamn, louder!). His funky rhythms and syncopation go without saying. He’s 71 today.
For more information on any musician or event reviewed in posts, or for additional information on The Wandering Eyes Blog overall, use the search bar and search the artist or event using keywords. It’s like a Google search for the site. A myriad of information, covering several topics exists on this site going back to 2013 when it was created. PEACE