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The group in 1956.
|Origin||Cleveland, Ohio, United States|
|Years active||1953–1958; 1970-1972|
|Labels||Champaign, Chance, Chess, RCA|
|Associated acts||Alan Freed|
|Past members||Harvey Fuqua (deceased)
Bobby Lester (deceased)
Pete Graves (deceased)
Prentiss Barnes (deceased)
Billy Johnson (deceased)
Marvin Gaye (deceased)
The Moonglows were an American vocal group whose most notable hits, "Sincerely", "Most of All", "See Saw" and "Ten Commandments of Love", served "to bridge the smoother approach of groups like The Ink Spots and The Mills Brothers with the earthier sounds of rock and roll".
Fresh off a stint in the Army, friends Harvey Fuqua and Bobby Lester formed as a duo in 1949 in Louisville. In 1951, Fuqua moved to Cleveland and formed the Crazy Sounds with vocalists Danny Coggins and Prentiss Barnes. Lester joined them later.
In 1952, while performing at a Cleveland club, the Crazy Sounds auditioned for the club's management. They soon got in contact with radio host Alan Freed, who upon hearing them, joined the group as their manager. In 1953, Freed renamed the group "The Moonglows", after his own nickname, "Moondog". They signed with Freed's Champagne label but their recordings for the label failed to hit the charts and Coogins left the group, replaced by Alexander Walton, who has been sometimes been named Pete Graves or Pete Walton.
In 1953, they recorded for another small label, Chance, but like their Champagne recordings, the band didn't have much success with the label. In September of the year, Freed won a contract with New York radio station WINS. His success as broadcaster and host of the station led the Moonglows to be offered a deal with Chess Records. Before the Chess deal, the Moonglows found success on Chance with their cover of Doris Day's "Secret Love".
Their first Chess single, "Sincerely", led by Lester, hit number-one on the Billboard R&B chart and also reached the top 20 of the pop chart. The song later found crossover success with a cover from The McGuire Sisters. In 1955, the band picked guitarist Billy Johnson to be their fifth member after Wayne Bennett backed out after the Moonglows' gig at the Apollo Theater. That same year, the group had another R&B hit with "Most of All", followed by a more modest showing with "We Go Together" in 1956. In some recordings, Chess issued them under the name, "Moonlighters".
For most of the Moonglows' tenure, leads were split between Lester and Fuqua. Lester preferred the doo-wop ballads while Fuqua preferred rock and roll numbers. At other times, the two recorded vocal duets. Their next hits of 1956 included "See Saw" and "When I'm With You". While "I'm With You" reached number 15 on the R&B chart, "See Saw" peaked at number five R&B and reached number 25 on the Billboard Top 100. In August 1956, the band appeared in one of the first rock and roll movies, Rock, Rock, Rock, lip syncing to "Over and Over Again" and "I Knew From the Start".
By December 1956, Harvey Fuqua began to handle most of the vocal leads. In June 1957, the Moonglows had an R&B hit with their cover of Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love". In late 1958, the Fuqua-led "Ten Commandments of Love" reached number nine R&B and number 22 pop in which they were billed as "Harvey and the Moonglows". Chess eventually released two EPs and an album, Look, It's the Moonglows, during that period. Following that release, the original group more or less had broken up at the end of the year, only performing together for contractual reasons.
In 1959, Lester began a solo career. That same year, Harvey Fuqua, under the advice of Chess label mate Bo Diddley, worked with The Marquees, where Fuqua first met Marvin Gaye. Relocating the group from their hometown of D.C. to Chicago, Fuqua soon brought Chuck Barksdale to the group after Barksdale's group The Dells was on temporary hiatus following a car accident by one of its members. With this group, Fuqua renamed them "Harvey and the New Moonglows". In April 1959, Fuqua sung lead on the ballad "Twelve Months of the Year", which included Gaye citing a spoken recitation, repeating an early trademark of the actual Moonglows from "Ten Commandments of Love". Later in 1959, Chess issued the songs "Unemployment" and "Mama Loocie", which was Gaye's first lead vocal. Most of the time, Fuqua recorded solo numbers and often promoted his and the "new Moonglows" songs on TV and movies. During this time, the group recorded background vocals for the likes of Etta James and Chuck Berry.
Lester later formed his own Moonglows group but in 1959, also made headlines for personal issues after getting arrested for a narcotics charge in Beaumont, Texas. In early 1960, James Nolan left Harvey's group, as did Reese Palmer. Palmer stated the reason they left was due to raising their families. Chuck Barksdale also left to rejoin a rejuvenated Dells. In late 1960, Gaye, Simmons and Fuqua recorded (along with, presumably, members of The Spinners) the last remaining "New Moonglows" recordings, including "Junior" and "Beatnik". Afterwards, Marvin Gaye relocated to Detroit later signing with Motown Records' Tamla subsidiary. In February 1961, Fuqua left Chess and handled work on his own Detroit labels, Harvey and Tri-Phi, until joining Motown's production team before leaving Motown in 1970 for RCA. In 1969, Prentiss Barnes retired from show business after complications of injuries from a car accident.
In 1970, Harvey Fuqua, Bobby Lester and Pete Graves reunited as the Moonglows with Doc Williams and Chuck Lewis. In 1972, they recorded "Sincerely '72" for Big P Records. RCA soon bought out Big P and issued "Sincerely '72", which reached number 43 on the R&B charts. The album, The Return of the Moonglows, was also released that same year. The reunion proved to be short-lived.
Final years and deaths
Bobby Lester continued to sing lead for his own Moonglows group until he succumbed to complications of cancer in 1980 at 49. Lester was permanently replaced by Billy McPhatter, son of Clyde McPhatter. In 1983, Fuqua performed with Bobby Lester's Moonglows at the 1983 Grammy Awards ceremony and the group toured as Harvey and the Moonglows until 1986. Bobby Lester, Jr. replaced Billy McPhatter as lead singer of Bobby Lester's Moonglows. In 1987, Billy Johnson died in Los Angeles while Barnes and Pete Graves died in 2006. Fuqua, the last survivor of the group, died on July 6, 2010 in Detroit.
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").
- Harvey Fuqua: vocals (1953–1958)
- Bobby Lester: vocals (1953–1958)
- Alexander "Pete" Walton (or Graves): vocals (1953–1958)
- Prentiss Barnes: vocals (1953–1958)
- Billy Johnson: guitar (1953–1958)
- Danny Coogins: vocals (1953–1953)
|1955||"Most of All"||—||5|
|1956||"When We Go Together"||—||9|
|"When I'm With You"||—||15|
|1957||"Please Send Me Someone to Love"||73||5|
|1958||"Ten Commandments of Love"||22||9|
- Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
- "The Moonglows: inducted in 2000". Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- "Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks - MOONGLOWS". Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- 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 1940 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