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|Origin||Cleveland, Ohio, United States|
|Associated acts||Alan Freed|
|Past members||Harvey Fuqua (deceased)
Bobby Lester (deceased)
Pete Graves (deceased)
Prentiss Barnes (deceased)
Billy Johnson (deceased)
Marvin Gaye (deceased)
Gary Rodgers (deceased)
The Moonglows were an American R&B vocal group who's immense popularity with audiences and regular appearances on the Alan Freed Show heralded the emergence of rock 'n' roll. The Moonglows became the archetype for the doo-wop groups that followed and set in place a unique vocal legacy that later found resonance in the soul music genre.
Originally formed in their native Louisville, Kentucky as the Crazy Sounds, the group moved to Cleveland, where disc jockey Alan Freed renamed them 'the Moonglows' (after his own nickname, 'Moondog'). Freed helped to promote the group during their early years and, in a common practice of the day, often took a co-writer credit as compensation for his efforts. Lead singer Harvey Fuqua served as the group's leader and chief writer. Vocals were split between Bobby "Lester" Dallas and Fuqua, and sometimes, in the group's occasional duet leads, both. The other members were tenor Alexander "Pete" Graves and bass Prentiss Barnes, with Billy Johnson on guitar. The Moonglows recorded one single for Freed's Champagne label in late 1952, and then for Chicago's Chance Records in 1953 and 1954. After a moderately successful release of the Lester led version of Doris Day's "Secret Love" on Chance, the Moonglows signed to Chess Records in mid 1954.
Their first Chess release, 1954's "Sincerely" became a number one R&B hit, and was covered more successfully by The McGuire Sisters. Between 1955 and 1957, the Moonglows reached the R&B chart frequently with hits like "Most of All", "In My Diary", "When I'm With You", "See Saw", "We Go Together", and "Please Send Me Someone to Love." Different styles defined the Moonglows lead singers: Fuqua favored the uptempo R&B/rock numbers while Lester sung more of the romantic ballads, for which the group was better known, and occasionally the two would share the leads, duet-style. Although Lester and Fuqua are credited as forming a spinoff group called the Moonlighters, recording in 1955 for the Chess subsidiary label Checker, they paired on only two numbers released as by the Moonlighters, "So All Alone" and "New Gal." The b-sides of these two songs, respectively "Shoo-Do-Be-Doo" and "Hug And A Kiss" featured the full group. The flip side of "Starlite" called "In Love" also featured a Lester-Fuqua duet. In 1957, the Moonglows appeared in the Alan Freed film, Rock, Rock, Rock. In late 1957, the group recorded "Ten Commandments of Love", featuring Fuqua on lead and guitarist Johnson executing the spoken recitation. This became the group's second biggest hit, after "Sincerely", early in 1958. It was also the first record to be billed on the label as "Harvey & the Moonglows".
The Moonglows singing style is known as "blow" harmony, based on the technical method used by the backing vocalists. This style can be heard in many other groups of the era and beyond, perhaps most notably the Chi-Lites (particularly on their hit "Oh Girl").
Fall-out and the new Moonglows
In 1958, shortly after the Moonglows recorded their final hit, "Ten Commandments of Love", Fuqua re-asserted himself as the group's lead singer, putting Lester further in the background and causing friction among group members. The biggest blow came when Fuqua spotted a young vocal group, the Marquees from Washington, D.C., and took the quartet of Reese Palmer, Chester Simmons, James Knowland and nineteen-year-old Marvin Gaye under his wing. The group had recently recorded (unsuccessfully) on Okeh Records after being discovered by Bo Diddley when Fuqua found them. Recording with fifth member Chuck Barksdale, who had been (and would again become) the bass singer of the Dells, Fuqua hired them as his new Moonglows. This group recorded songs such as "Twelve Months of the Year" (featuring a speaking part by Gaye), "Beatnik" and "Mama Loocie", which (as the first recorded lead by Gaye), was released in 1959. The forming of the "New Moonglows" ended the affiliation of the original Moonglows. In 1959 and 1960, Fuqua also recorded several duets for Chess with Etta James. In July 1959, a group called 'The Ecuadors' "who, according to Fuqua, really were the Moonglows (which included Gaye and James)" reportedly recorded at Chess singing backgrounds for Chuck Berry. The other four Moonglows recruited bass John Bowie to fill their commitments, and then disbanded.
After the Moonglows and splinter groups
In 1960, Fuqua, on the advice of the Chess Brothers, moved to Detroit, Michigan, disbanded the Moonglows, and started working with Berry Gordy's sister, Gwen Gordy. At the time, she was running Anna Records, and he became a record producer and A&R man for the fledgling label. It was during this time that Fuqua discovered Lamont Dozier, Johnny Bristol, The Spinners, Jr. Walker & The All Stars, Shorty Long, and David Ruffin. Later, Gordy and Fuqua married, and later merged their operation with Motown Records. Fuqua would later be credited for bringing Marvin Gaye to the label, which signed Gaye in 1960. as well as pairing him with Tammi Terrell, producing their initial hits along with Bristol.
Pete Graves started another Moonglows group in 1964 with the Drifters' Doc Green and George Thorpe and Bearle Easton, which recorded briefly for the Lana, Times Square and Crimson record labels, before disbanding. Lester, who had returned to Louisville and opened a nightclub, formed yet another Moonglows in 1970, with a Louisville-based group called the Aristocrats, including his cousin Gary Rodgers, Albert Workman, Robert Ford and Clyde McPhatter's son Billy. In 1972, the three original Moonglows who had remained active, Graves, Lester, and Fuqua, joined with new members Doc Williams and Chuck Lewis, and recorded Return of the Moonglows for RCA Records. The group released an updated version of "Sincerely", which became the group's final chart record. Soon after, the group parted ways, with Lester re-forming his Louisville Moonglows. Barnes retired from professional performing after an auto accident in 1969.
Activity in later years and members' deaths
Lester was the first of the original members to die, succumbing to cancer in 1980 at the age of 49. Billy McPhatter was not in the group in 1979, but joined the current members for a performance at Madison Square Garden (originally intended to include Lester), and remained in the group afterwards. Gary Rodgers took over management of the group, and they began calling themselves 'Bobby Lester's Moonglows' (sometimes also referred to as 'Gary Rodgers' Moonglows'). Fuqua reunited with most of his 1972 Moonglows for a 1983 Grammy Award performance, and later toured as 'Harvey and the Moonglows' until 1986. By the 1980s, the McPhatter group included Rodgers, Robert Lee Davis, Pete Lawford, and Bruce Martin. In the early 1990s, McPhatter was replaced by Bobby's son, Bobby Lester, Jr. In 1999, Fuqua and members of 'Bobby Lester's Moonglows' reunited to perform on the PBS special, Doo Wop 50. By this time, the Moonglows were Rodgers, Martin, Lawford, and Gene Kelly.
Fuqua still sang occasionally and produced and managed The New Birth as well as Marvin Gaye's final hit album, 'Midnight Love' (which featured "Sexual Healing") and became Smokey Robinson's road manager. Gaye died in 1984. Palmer became a member of the Orioles, while Barksdale returned to the Dells and has remained with them. Original guitarist Johnson died in Los Angeles in 1987, Rodgers died in 2005, and Barnes died in 2006. Fuqua died Tuesday, July 6, 2010 in Detroit MI.
- Harvey Fuqua: lead vocals, background vocals (1951–1958)
- Bobby Lester: lead vocals, background vocals (1951–1958)
- Alexander "Pete" Graves: background vocals (1951–1958)
- Prentiss Barnes: background vocals (1951–1958)
- Billy Johnson: background vocals (1951–1958)
- William Westbrooks: background vocals (1951–1952)
- Harvey Fuqua and the New Moonglows
- Marvin Gaye: lead vocals, background vocals (1958–1960)
- Reese Palmer: background vocals (1958–1960)
- Chester Simmons: lead vocals, background vocals (1958–1960)
- James Knowland: background vocals (1958–1960)
- Chuck Barksdale: background vocals (1958–1960)
- John Bowen (Barksdale's replacement) (1960–1960)
- Fuqua also served as a background singer but acted more as the group's manager.
- Pete Graves' Moonglows
- Doc Green: vocals (1964–1968)
- Pete Graves: vocals (1964–1968)
- George Thorpe: vocals (1964–1968)
- Bearle Easton: vocals (1964–1968)
- Bobby Lester's Moonglows
- Bobby Lester: vocals (1970–1972, 1979–1980)
- Gary Rodgers: vocals (1970–1972, 1979–2005)
- Albert Workman: vocals (1970–1972)
- Billy McPhatter: vocals (1970–1972, 1980s)
- Robert Ford: vocals (1970–1972, 1980s)
- Pete Crawford (1980s–2000s)
- Bruce Martin (1980s–2000s)
- Gene Kelly (1990s–2000s)
- The revived Moonglows
- Harvey Fuqua (1972)
- Bobby Lester (1972)
- Pete Graves (1972)
- Doc Williams (1972)
- Chuck Lewis (1972)
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 11. CN 5585.
- Warner, Jay. American Singing Groups: A History from 1940s to Today. Google Books link
- Vocal Group Hall of Fame page on The Moonglows
- The Moonglows
- Rockabilly.NL page on The Moonglows
- The Moonglows at Allmusic
- Prentiss Barnes page