Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes were an American singing group, one of the most popular Philadelphia soul groups of the 1970s. The group's repertoire included soul, R&B, doo-wop, and disco. Founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the early 1950s as The Charlemagnes, the group is most noted for several hits on Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International label between 1972 and 1976, although they performed and recorded until Melvin's death in 1997. Despite group founder and original lead singer Harold Melvin's top billing, the Blue Notes' most famous member was Teddy Pendergrass, their lead singer during the success years at Philadelphia International.
The group formerly known as The Charlemagnes took on the name "The Blue Notes" in 1954, with a lineup consisting of lead singer Harold Melvin (born June 25, 1939 in Philadelphia, died March 24, 1997), Bernard Williams, Roosevelt Brodie, Jesse Gillis, Jr., and Franklin Peaker. The group recorded for a number labels without success from its inception into the 1960s. The 1960 single "My Hero" was a minor hit for Val-ue Records, and 1965's "Get Out (and Let Me Cry)" was an R&B hit for Landa Records. During this period, the group's lineup changed frequently, with Bernard Williams leaving the act to start a group called "The Original Blue Notes", and Harold Melvin bringing in new lead singer John Atkins.
In 1970, the group recruited drummer Teddy Pendergrass as the drummer for their backing band. Pendergrass had been a former member of The Cadillacs, and was promoted to lead singer when John Atkins quit the group the same year.
Philadelphia International success
This incarnation of the group, including Melvin, Pendergrass, Bernard Wilson, Lawrence Brown, and Lloyd Parks, were signed to Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff's Philadelphia International label in 1972, and scored several major R&B hits over the next four years. Among the Blue Notes' most important and successful recordings are love songs such as "If You Don't Know Me By Now" (1972, their breakout single), "I Miss You" (1972), "The Love I Lost" (1973), and "Don't Leave Me This Way" (1975), and socially conscious songs such as "Wake Up Everybody" and "Bad Luck" (both 1975). "Bad Luck" holds the record for longest-running number-one hit on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart: eleven weeks. A 1976 cover of "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Motown artist Thelma Houston was a number-one hit on the US pop chart; both it and the Blue Notes' originals are considered defining recordings of the disco era.
Despite success, the Blue Notes' lineup continued to change regularly. In 1974, Melvin Brought in Jerry Cummings to replace Lloyd Parks, and female singer Sharon Paige was added to the lineup. While at the top of their success in 1976, Pendergrass quit the Blue Notes, after unsuccessfully lobbying to have Melvin rename the act "Teddy Pendergrass & the Blue Notes". Pendergrass went on to a successful solo career, cut short by a paralyzing 1982 car accident, although he made a brief comeback at the historic Live Aid concert in 1985.
Melvin replaced Pendergrass with David Ebo, and the Blue Notes departed Philadelphia International for ABC Records in 1977. "Reaching for the World" became the group's final major single, and by 1980, Jerry Cummings, Bernard Wilson, and Sharon Paige had all left the group. Harold Melvin, Lawrence Brown, and new members Dwight Johnson and William Spratelly moved over to MCA Records' Source division in 1980, and recorded two commercially unsuccessful albums.
Gil Saunders took the lead position in 1982, replacing David Ebo. With Saunders, the group had success in the United Kingdom with the album Talk It Up (Tell Everybody), and singles such as "Today's Your Lucky Day" and "Don't Give Me Up". The album did well and is still selling in the UK and the US. Several of the Pendergrass-era hits were re-recorded in England with Gil Saunders on lead. Saunders left the act in 1992, and Harold Melvin continued to tour with various lineups of Blue Notes until suffering a stroke in 1996. Melvin died on March 24, 1997 at the age of fifty-seven. Brown died on April 6, 2008 at the age of sixty-three of a respiratory condition.
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes are arguably the most-covered Philly soul group in history: many of their hits have been re-recorded by other artists, including Simply Red, David Ruffin, Jimmy Somerville and Sybil, while dance music DJ Danny Rampling cites "Wake Up Everybody" as his favorite song of all time. Today, Gil Saunders continues to perform as a solo artist, and still performs all the hits of the past as well as his own material. Several members of various incarnations of the Blue Notes continue to tour as "Harold Melvin's Blue Notes". Harold's widow currently manages Harold Melvin's Blue Notes featuring Lead singer, Donnell "Big Daddy" Gillespie, Anthony Brooks, Rufus Thorne, John Morris and Sharon Paige.
For his album This Note's for You, singer Neil Young named his back-up band The Blue Notes without permission from name rights holder Harold Melvin. Melvin took legal action against Young over use of the Blue Notes name, forcing the singer to change the name of the back-up band to "Ten Men Workin'" during the balance of the tour that promoted the This Note's for You album
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