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.”
One of the defining voices of the Golden Age of R&B is the O’Jays’ Eddie Levert and the iconic soul singer recently released “Eddie Levert: I Still Have It,” his first solo album in a career that spans more than 50 years.
Since 1958, Levert has partnered with Walter Williams on such R&B classics as “Backstabbers,” “You’ve Got Your Hooks in Me,” “Use Ta Be My Girl,” “Love Train,” “Family Reunion” and “For the Love of Money,” and the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
I recently had an extended conversation with the jovial and accessible soul singer, and in discussing his new collection now available in stores and on ITunes, Levert was surprisingly open and candid about the sudden and painful loss his loveable and extraordinarily talented sons Sean and Gerald.
“This has almost been six years in the [making], because during the process I lost my two boys, which sort of threw me back. Trying to get past that, and then trying to complete the album, it took me almost six years,” he said.
With his legacy in the annals of popular music assured, why even take on a solo project? “I’m going to go back a little before Gerald and them started their ‘Levert’ group,” said Eddie, who obviously passed his sense of humor on to his beloved sons, along with this musical talent.
“I was really going to start a group back then. I wanted to do some things outside of the O’Jays — not leaving the O’Jays, but just trying to be well-rounded in the business — trying to make sure I don’t get stagnant. I always felt like I wanted to keep evolving, so I told Gerald, ‘Look. Your dad’s going to put together a band, and I’m going to record them, and I’m going to call it ‘Levert.’ The next thing I know, he got together with his brother and Marc Gordon, and they started a group, and they called the group ‘Levert,’ and I told him, ‘You stole my idea!’ I had to forget about that, and after they became so successful at it, I said, ‘Well, it wasn’t a bad idea. It worked for them.’ But he’s still a thief!”
Levert ultimately returned his focus to his own career, with the 12-track “I Still Have It,” which he refers to as his “metamorphosis,” being the result.
“Finally I got with some guys, and I had all of these ideas for songs going around in my head,” he recalled. “The business has changed so much since the time I got in the business. There’s no major deals given out by record companies, so if you don’t go and do it yourself, or pay the money for it yourself and then try to get some kind of distribution out there, your chances of getting a deal now are very slim, especially being in my age group. They’re constantly looking for younger and more valuable — more sellable images.”
The first single from the album, titled “The Last Man Standing,” is an inspirational anthem written by Levert. “After my boys died, and I think from talking to other parents who have lost their children — the first thing you do is blame yourself, then all of a sudden you say to yourself, ‘Why wasn’t I there? Why couldn’t I have been there? If I had been there, I could have saved him! I could have done something!’” he said.
“And then you finally get to a place where you realize that you couldn’t have done anything, because it was out of your hands. And then you go through this thing where you want to save everybody. You want to save everybody in your family, so you get overprotective over everybody — your grandkids, your nieces, your nephews, the next door neighbor’s kids — you get overprotective, and so you’re always preaching to them. So everybody gets to the place that when they see you coming... ‘Aw, here comes Eddie! Let’s hide! He’s gonna start preachin’!’ You overreact and you start alienating people. Then you get out of that dark place, and you say, ‘Well, it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be,’ and then you finally get to a place where you put it in God’s hands.
“Then you take a look at the man in the mirror,” Levert said resolutely. “And when you start looking at the man in the mirror, you come up with a song like ‘The Last Man Standing,’ because you go to looking at yourself and you say things like, ‘Low, I’ve been low, with stuff in space with no place to go.’ Cause you’ve done so many things that was frivolous. So now you have to go about changing you in order to change everybody else around you. And they have to see that change. You have to make that change and make it visible for everyone to see that you’ve made that change. And that’s how ‘Last Man Standing’ came about.”
“Eddie Levert: I Still Have It,” also features the Levert compositions “Get Over It” and “All About Me and You.”
Many of Levert’s fans have wondered allowed how the iconic entertainer has managed to survive and thrive in the aftermath of such unspeakable tragedy, and he answers that question with the same heartfelt conviction that pours into every song.
“Because I have other people depending on me,” Levert said. “I have my daughters, I have my grandkids and my nieces and nephews that needed someone to be in their lives. At that time, my grandkids were really in a way, because that was their fathers, and they didn’t have no more of that man image, so I had to pick up the slack. I had to sort of be all of that to them, and I really enjoyed it, because I got closer to them. I got to be part of their lives, and I got to be part of molding them into the people they are now. They’re in college, they’ve got jobs. I’ve still got a few knuckleheads, but they’re less knuckleheads than there is the positive. I’ve got more positive out of all of them than I did the negative.”
Levert is happy to be able to spend more quality time with his family now than when his own children were young, and he was constantly recording and on the road with the O’Jays. “That’s what I’m saying about ‘The Last Man Standing,’” he explained. “I had to transform myself and be that person, and be around for them. I had to become a more ‘hands-on’ person with my family, which I think has done well for me. It really helped me a lot, because to be loved is really a great thing.”
Excited that his solo project has finally come to fruition and available to the public, Philly’s happy-go-lucky adopted son had parting words for his Philly fans saying, “I’d like them to know one thing — that it’s pretty damn good, if they listen to it!”
Some truly amazing R&B acts will join together Friday July 27 on the stage at the Mann for an unforgettable night filled with legend and soul, including the iconic Patti LaBelle, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, Tank, and the truly American musical treasures, The O’Jays.
Having secured their rightful place in music history with 24 Top Ten smashes and 59 total charted songs, The O’Jays have received many honors and awards over the years, including their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
There may have been others who helped them to the top, but Eddie Levert, one of the group’s founders, thinks the thanks should all go to themselves for having providing super smooth music, which led to them now being labeled a “Living Legend.”
Levert says, “Even after more than 50 years in the business, The O’Jays continue to draw in audiences. And that’s because we take great pride in what we do and try to give our all each and every time we perform.”
The original vocal group form Canton, Ohio originated with Levert Sr., Walter Williams Sr., William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles, and they were named after Cleveland DJ Eddie O’Jay. Today, Levert and Williams are the only originals still performing.
“We were originally called the Triumphs then the Mascots and finally the O’Jays when we released a record that required a new name,” Levert remembers. “We decided to use Eddie’s last name and later change it to something we liked better. But it stuck. And so here we are today.”
For Levert, although he sang most of his life, he still considers himself “very lucky to be where I am today. I had a gift for song and a third-grade teacher who made us sing from the diaphragm. She’d stand up in front of us and poke us in the stomach just to make sure we were doing exactly what she told us to do.”
Levert wisely followed orders and has found a lifetime of success along with the others, producing such timeless hits as “Love Train,” “I Love Music,” and many, many more. Their song “For the Love of Money” became the theme song to Donald Trump’s hit reality TV show “The Apprentice.”
The O’Jays have proven time and time again that the mixture of “ol’ school” and contemporary is a winning formula which always reflects their uncompromising stance on love and relationships — such as the one between Levert and Williams.
Because of their lifelong relationship, there’s a bond that keeps them in good stead and strengthens their business relationship, admitting, however, that they had to grow on each other because, Levert insists, they were like two wild bulls when they first became friends.
“We’ve been friends since he was six and I was seven,” says Levert. “And do we wrestle with ego problems? Are you crazy? Of course we do. It never stops. But one key thing we are able to keep in mind is that this is a business and this is what we do, so we can’t let personal problems disrupt what we do. This business is how we pay the rent and feed our families. So we can always get past all the personal and ego stuff that might get in the way.”
In addition to their music, The O’Jays embarked on acting careers and writing books — and, of course, producing great music and winning more awards.
“We’re touring right now, and then we’ll go in the studio to record some new O’Jays material,” Levert explains. “We have lots of plans and lots of things to do. But even after all these years, the best thing we have going for us are our fans and their response to our music even now, even after all these years. All our music has stood the test of time and seems very much in tune with what’s going on today. But most of all, we love the way people respond to it all.”
For times and ticket information, call (215) 893-1999.
When the "Soul Train Awards 2012" air at 8 p.m. on Sunday on BET and Centric, the annual musical celebration, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, will pay tribute to "Soul Train" founder Don Cornelius, who passed away on Feb. 1.
"We're going hard! We're gonna take the whole train and go to Vegas!" Cedric the Entertainer told MadameNoire.com.
In addition to honoring Cornelius, who founded the syndicated version of "Soul Train" in 1971, the 25th awards gala, videotaped at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas on Nov. 8, will present vocal group New Edition with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
At the 2012 ceremony celebrating the "Soul Train" brand and recognizing the "artists who made a great impact on today's music," multi-talented singer/songwriter R. Kelly becomes the most-nominated artist in "Soul Train Awards" history while R&B superstar Usher leads this year's nominations with a total of five. On a sad note, Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse, who passed away earlier this year, received posthumous nominations.
The nominees are competing in a number of categories, including Best New Artist, Best Gospel/Inspirational Performance, Best Hip-Hop Song of the Year, Best R&B/Soul Female Artist, Best R&B/Soul Male Artist, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. The "Ashford & Simpson Songwriter's Award" goes to the songwriter whose influence has been "felt throughout the industry," while "Soul Train" and Centric present the "Centric Award" to an artist whose "essence is a positive reflection of both brands."
The diverse and intriguing list of presenters includes Jamie Foxx, Billy Crystal, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Donny and Marie Osmond, Tom Joyner, Estelle, Melanie Fiona, Kat Graham, Luke James, Jimmy Jam, Jody Watley, Dougie Fresh, Tony Rock, Mike Bivins, Gary Owen, Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones, Kenny Lattimore, Tamar Braxton, Lil Mama, and Julius "Dr. J" Erving, as well as comedian George Wallace, who has been in residence at the Flamingo Las Vegas since 2003.
The star-studded evening includes performances by Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Fantasia, John Legend, Charlie Wilson, Marcus Canty, Leah LaBelle, Elle Varner, 2Chainz, Ne-Yo, Anthony Hamilton, Raphael Saadiq, Eddie Levert and Keyshia Cole.
Highlights of the show include heartfelt words from Don Cornelius' son, Tony Cornelius, and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Eddie Levert belting out "Casanova," which was written and recorded by his beloved son Gerald. The joyous closing number was courtesy of Stevie Wonder, who delivered a rousing medley of his hits including "Superstition," as well as "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours," which has become synonymous with President Barack Obama.
"It's always good to be at the 'Soul Train Awards,'" says R&B/hip hop artist Angie Stone. "It's our people and it's great things, and it's Don Cornelius. His legacy is still surpassed, even in his passing."