The Moonglows Biography

This R&B vocal group was formed in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, in 1952. If there were any group that best signalled the birth of rock ‘n’ roll - by which R&B emerged out of its black subculture into mainstream teen culture - it was the Moonglows. The group’s career paralleled that of their mentor, legendary disc jockey Alan Freed, who during his rise in rock ‘n’ roll made the Moonglows the mainstays of his radio programmes, motion pictures and stage shows. He was also responsible for naming the group, who originally performed as the Crazy Sounds. Their membership originally comprised lead singer Bobby Lester (13 January 1930, Louisville, Kentucky, USA, d. 15 October 1980), Harvey Fuqua (b. 27 July 1929, Louisville, Kentucky, USA; his uncle was Charlie Fuqua of the Ink Spots), Alexander ‘Pete’ Graves (b. 17 April 1930, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, d. 15 October 2006, New York City, New York, USA), and Prentiss Barnes (b. 12 April 1925, Magnolia, Mississippi, USA, d. 30 September 2006, Magnolia, Mississippi, USA).

After recording for Freed’s Champagne label in 1953, the group signed with Chicago-based Chance Records, where they managed to secure a few regional hits, most notably a cover version of Doris Day’s ‘Secret Love’ in 1954. Freed used his connections to sign the Moonglows to a stronger Chicago label, the fast-rising Chess Records, and the group enjoyed a major hit with ‘Sincerely’ (number 1 R&B/number 20 pop, 1954). Joining the group at this time was guitarist Billy Johnson (b. 1924, Hartford, Connecticut, USA, d. 1987). Using a novel technique they called ‘blow harmony’, other great hits followed: ‘Most Of All’ (number 5 R&B, 1955), ‘We Go Together’ (number 9 R&B, 1956), ‘See Saw’ (number 6 R&B/number 25 pop, 1956), all of which featured Lester on lead; and a remake of Percy Mayfield’s ‘Please Send Me Someone To Love’ (number 5 R&B/number 73 pop, 1957).

The original Moonglows disbanded in 1958, and Fuqua put together a new group called Harvey And The Moonglows that included a young Marvin Gaye. Featuring Fuqua on lead, ‘Ten Commandments Of Love’ (number 9 R&B/number 22 pop, 1958) was the last of the group’s major hits. In 1960 Fuqua disbanded this group and he and Gaye went to Detroit to work in the city’s burgeoning music industry. Fuqua worked with Berry Gordy’s sister, Gwen Gordy, on the Anna label and Gaye joined Berry Gordy’s Motown Records operation. Fuqua carved out a very successful career as a producer and record executive, working with Motown artists in the 60s and a stable of Louisville artists in the 70s on the RCA Records label. Fuqua, Lester and Graves reunited in 1972, with new members Doc Williams and Chuck Lewis.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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