Tue | Dec 10, 2019

The Music Diaries | The Manhattans an elite harmony group

Published:Sunday | June 25, 2017 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
The Manhattans performing at To Mom With Love at the Golf Academy, New Kingston,
The Manhattans performing at the National Indoor Sports Centre, Independence Park on Sunday, November 26, 2006.
Winfred 'Blue' Lovett (right) and Gerald Alston.
Gerald Alston

The Manhattans belongs to an exclusive fraternity of four-part harmony soul groups that emerged in the early 1970s in the United States. The Spinners, The Chi-Lites, The Stylistics and The O'Jays were others that stood out as harmony kingpins.

Led for over 45 years by Gerald Alston, the multi-award-winning Manhattans did well to excel in that competitive climate. They are still active on the international circuit, though with a totally different line-up from that which did their first hit recording in 1965, I Wanna Be Your Everything. The lead vocalist was George Smith. Completing the foundation quintet was Edward Bivins, Winfred 'Blue' Lovett, Kenneth Kelly and Richard Taylor.

Formed in Jersey City, New Jersey around 1962, the group was deeply rooted in doo-wop at the outset and managed to follow up with a string of moderately successful hits written by various members. When George Smith died, it dealt the group a seemingly crushing blow. However, it turned out to be more like a blessing in disguise, as his replacement, Gerald Alston, signaled the beginning of their meteoric rise.


Real prominence


Alston's signing to the Manhattans almost coincided with the group's signing to the larger-than-life Columbia Records in 1972. The group came to real prominence the following year. The floodgates seemed to have opened with an unending flow of hits, beginning with the Edward Bivins-penned There's No Me without You. It was almost like romance made audible as Alston sings in the opening stanza:

"There's no house without a home and there's no man who wants to be alone."

The hits continued throughout the 1970s with soul-searching, R&B-flavoured songs. But when bass man Blue Lovett wrote and performed the opening rap on the 1976 chart-topping Billboard pop and R&B hit, Kiss and Say Goodbye, the Manhattans had taken romantic soul songs to the highest level. Lovett recites in the opening lines:

"This has got to be the saddest day of my life

I called you here today for a bit of bad news

I won't be able to see you anymore

Because of my obligations."

Alston then sings:

"I had to meet you here today

There's just so many things to say."

Taylor left in 1976 to concentrate on religious studies and the group continued as a quartet. They found further success in 1980 with Shining Star (number five on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and number four on the R&B chart). It became the recipient of a Grammy award the following year.

Other songs that entered the American R&B top10 charts were: Don't Take Your Love from Me in 1974, Hurt in 1975, I Kinda Miss You in 1976, It Feels So Good to Be Hurt So Bad in 1977 and Am I Losing You? in 1978 - the only one that did not reach the pop charts. The very beautiful We Never Danced to a Love Song in 1977, written by Edward Bivins and Gerald Alston, and Just One Moment Away in 1981, reached numbers 10 and 19 respectively on the US R&B charts.

The album Too Hot to Stop It, dedicated to Smith and done in a doo-wop style to emphasise the group's doo-wop roots, was issued in 1985 in celebration of the Manhattans' 20th anniversary. Alston left for a solo career three years later. In the meantime, the line-up changes and membership dropouts, for various reasons, continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as the group went into a decline

After an illness and being out of the music business for some time, Blue Lovett returned to the scene in the mid 1990s and, in a renewed thrust, linked with Alston and recruited two new members - Troy May and David Tyson. Since then, they have been recording and touring regularly.

One of their trips took them to Jamaica in 2006, when I had the privilege of interviewing Alston and Lovett on Klas Sports Radio as a preview to a Mother's Day show on May 14. In 2014, they were back in Jamaica with Alston, Lovett, May and Tyson wooing 10,000 hysterical fans at the Lime Golf Academy, New Kingston. They promise nothing less come July 8, at the National Arena.

Lovett passed away in December 2015.