NOTE: TV One made last minute changes to the air schedule, and Gerald Levert will now air on Monday, August 20. The next new episode of Unsung, Arrested Development, will air Monday, August 13.
Crowned by fans as “the last soul singer,” Gerald Levert was one of the preeminent forces of ’80s and ’90s R&B. He took his pedigree from his father, Eddie Levert, of The O’Jays, and while still a teenager, formed his own singing group, LeVert, with Marc Gordon and his younger brother, Sean. LeVert dominated the charts. Thanks to infectious hits like “Casanova” and “(Pop Pop Pop Pop ) Goes My Mind,” LeVert scored four straight gold records and five chart-topping singles. From there, Gerald launched a formidable solo career, including a duet with his father, “Baby Hold on to Me,” which also hit number one. But Gerald could never find contentment in his many achievements, and remained driven to top himself throughout his career — a journey which ended tragically with his untimely death in 2006 at the age of 40.
Gerald Levert’s life and career will be chronicled in the next epsidode of TV One’s “Unsung,” airing Monday at 9 p.m. and repeating at midnight.
“He was on a quest to be all that he could be,” explained Eddie Levert of his late son. “The media and the business weren’t giving him the hoopla that they gave the Babyfaces and the other great writers and performers that came into the business. He didn’t feel like he was getting the same recognition and so he kept working harder and harder. He was a workaholic.”
Following the disclosure of Levert's cause of death, a family spokesman stated that all the drugs found in Levert's bloodstream were prescribed to the singer because of chronic pain from a lingering shoulder problem and surgery in 2005 to repair a severed Achilles tendon.
“He’s the one son — and I love all my sons, that goes without saying, and they took on characteristics of mine, and I see it every day, and I have to acknowledge, even with some of the messed-up things they do — he not only took on the mannerisms, he also took on the quest. The quest was to better our family life and our family’s position so that we could have a better life. That’s why I got in show business. And he took on that whole quest, and me — without knowing it — I put that on him. I use to apologize to him for making him like that because this is all I talked about to him…he took on that fight, and in taking on that fight, it made him very vulnerable. I used to have to tell him to save some for himself and not give it all to show business, but he gave it all, and kept none for himself. I think that, in rationalizing, part of why he suffered an early death is he took on the burden and he didn’t know how to save some for Gerald.”
Shortly before his death, Levert completed work on what would be his final album, “In My Songs.” In June 2007, a book Gerald was working to complete entitled, “I Got Your Back: A Father and Son Keep it Real About Love, Fatherhood, Family, and Friendship,” was released. The book was initially planned as a tie-in for a Levert album of the same name. “I Got Your Back” explores Gerald and Eddie’s father/son relationship, the necessity of male bonding, and importance of repairing fractured families. In 2008, the senior Levert suffered another loss when his son, Sean Levert died, at age 39.
“Out of all the things that I have done in show business, some of my greatest moments were with that kid on stage because everything didn’t have to be rehearsed,” recalled Eddie of their on-stage collaborations. “We were so spontaneous. We would have a mapped out show, but at any moment that would turn into something else, you know, it would turn into a revival. We were able to, on the spot, adjust to that. And that was the kind of artist he was. I could sing with this kid all day because there were no boundaries. You know, with a lot of people, you have to spell things out for them to perform. With him and me, we lived in the moment, and whatever comes, that’s what we’re going to do and God put his hand on it and it comes out great.”
And then the father pauses, and in a reflective voice says: “You know, I really miss him. And I really miss him from that standpoint because I got so much courage and some of my greatest moments were with this kid.”
Eddie, now 70, still performs regularly with mighty O’Jays (and will be in Philadelphia on July 27 at The Mann Music Center). The father laughed and noted that his son still informs his performances. “Every day, when I think about Gerald, I go ‘Look what you’ve done to me!’ the reason why I say that is because he stole all of my moves — he got it all from me and y’all try to play me like he didn’t — and now he’s not around, and now I got to act like I still got it.”
Despite a deep sense of loss, Levert says his faith gives him the strength to remember the good times. “I think it’s my love for God, and believing that God doesn’t put something on you that you cannot handle. I truly believe that, because you never get over it. At any point or on any day it can sneak up on you, and there you are blubbering in the car, in the bathroom. There you are using the toilet and then you’re crying. It’s like something that you never get used to, but you live with it. The one solace that I have with it is that he knew that I loved him, and I knew that he loved me. I had one of the most ‘wonderfullest’ times with that kid — I’ve had some of the greatest moments of my career with that kid and I look forward to seeing him again — and telling him off.”