Moonglows, The

views updated

Moonglows, The

Moonglows, The, one of the most innovative of the 1950s doo-wop vocal groups and pioneers of rock and roll. membership: Harvey Fuqua, lead bar. (b. Louisville, Ky, July 27, 1929); Bobby Lester (Robert Dallas), lead ten. (b. Louisville, Ky, Jan. 13, 1930; d. there, Oct. 15, 1980); Alexander “Pete” Graves II, ten. (b. Cleveland, Ohio, April 17, 1936); Prentiss Barnes, bs. voc. (b. Magnolia, Miss., April 12, 1925); Billy Johnson, gtr. (b. Hartford, Conn., 1924; d. 1987).

Bobby Lester and Harvey Fuqua started singing together in high school as a duet. In 1950 Fuqua moved to Cleveland, where he formed The Crazy Sounds with Prentiss Barnes. The group later added Lester and Pete Graves, coming to the attention of disc jockey Alan Freed through Al “Fats” Thomas. Freed changed the group’s name to The Moonglows and recorded one single by the group for his short-lived Champagne label. In 1953 the group signed with Chicago’s Chance label, recording five singles. Adding guitarist Billy Johnson, The Moonglows moved to the Chess label in the fall of 1954. Their first single, Fuqua’s “Sincerely,” with Lester on lead vocals, became a top R&B and major pop hit, but The McGuire Sisters soon covered the song for Coral, scoring a top pop hit. The Moonglows also recorded for the Chess subsidiary Checker as Bobby Lester and the Moonlighters, but achieved no hits. With Lester on lead vocals, The Moonglows’ R&B hits continued through 1956 with Fuqua’s “Most of All,” “We Go Together” and the up-tempo “See Saw” (a major pop hit), followed by Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” with Fuqua on lead vocals. The group appeared in the 1956 film Rock, Rock, Rock and toured throughout the 1950s.

Bobby Lester dropped out of The Moonglows in 1958 and, with Fuqua on lead vocals, the group scored a hit with “Ten Commandments of Love” as Harvey and The Moonglows. Fuqua appeared in the 1958 film Go, Johnny, Go without The Moonglows, and the group soon broke up. In 1959 Fuqua recruited a Washington, D.C.-based group, The Marquees, for further recordings as The Moonglows. One of the group’s co-lead singers was Marvin Gaye. Although none of their recordings proved hits, they did perform background vocals on Chuck Berry’s 1959 hits “Almost Grown” and “Back in the U.S.A.” By 1960 this edition of The Moonglows had disbanded. Fuqua brought Etta James to Chess Records, where the two recorded the smash R&B hit “If I Can’t Have You” as Etta and Harvey.

Harvey Fuqua subsequently moved to Detroit, where he met and married Barry Gordy’s sister, Gwen. In 1961 Fuqua discovered The Spinners and formed the Harvey and Tri-Phi labels with Gwen Gordy, who had formed her own independent label, Anna, in 1958. On Tri-Phi, The Spinners scored a smash R&B/major pop hit with “That’s What Girls Are Made Of,” with Fuqua on lead vocals and Marvin Gaye on drums. In 1963 Berry Gordy purchased Harvey and Tri- Phi Records, and Fuqua went to work for Motown as songwriter, producer and head of artists development. He brought with him Marvin Gaye, The Spinners, Johnny Bristol, Shorty Long and Junior Walker, and later discovered Tammi Terrell.

Harvey Fuqua produced Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s hits “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Your Precious Love.” While at Motown, Fuqua and Johnny Bristol co-wrote Gaye and Terrell’s near-smash hit “If I Could Build My World around You,” David Ruffm’s “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me),” Edwin Starr’s “Twenty-Five Miles,” and Junior Walker and The All-Stars’ “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love).” Bristol and Fuqua coproduced Stevie Wonder’s “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday”; and the original Suprêmes’ final hit, “Someday WeTl Be Together/’ had been written by Bristol, Fuqua and Jackie Beavers—originally recorded by Bristol and Beavers.

In the meantime, Pete Graves had formed a new edition of The Moonglows in 1964, but recordings for Lana and other labels proved unsuccessful. In 1971 Bobby Lester briefly formed his own edition of The Moonglows. Harvey Fuqua left Motown in 1970, forming a new edition of The Moonglows in 1971 with Lester, Graves, Doc Williams and Chuck Lewis for one album issued on RCA. Fuqua soon formed his own production company and brought his discovery The New Birth to RCA. The New Birth achieved a hit with “I Can Understand” in 1973 and “It’s Been a Long Time” in 1974 for RCA, and a top R&B hit with “Dream Merchant” for Buddah in 1975. Bobby Lester revived another edition of The Moonglows in the late 1970s, touring and recording One More Time, but he died of cancer on Oct. 15, 1980. By then Fuqua had formed another production company in San Francisco, producing disco hits for Sylvester on Fantasy Records, including the 1978 R&B hit “Dance (Disco Heat).” Fuqua also produced 1980s recordings for Marvin Gaye and continued to write songs and occasionally perform with The Moonglows.


Look, It’s The Moonglows (1959); The Best of Bobby Lester and The Moonglows (1962). the flamingos and the moonglows:The Flamingos Meet The Moonglows (1962).

—Brock Helander