Gerald Levert

LeVert frontman on 'Casanova'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Gerald Levert, singer, songwriter and producer: born Philadelphia 13 July 1966; (four children); died Cleveland, Ohio 10 November 2006.

The Sixties and Seventies are acknowledged as the golden age of the soul vocal groups but LeVert took this tradition into the late Eighties, scoring a Top Ten hit on both sides of the Atlantic with "Casanova" in 1987, and topping the R&B charts in the United States on four separate occasions.

Gerald Levert had soul music in his blood since his father Eddie was lead vocalist with the O'Jays, the Ohio group who found fame on Philadelphia International with "Back Stabbers" and "Love Train" in the Seventies. The singer formed LeVert in 1984 with his younger brother Sean and schoolfriend Marc Gordon and co-wrote and co-produced "(Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop) Goes My Mind", "Addicted to You", "Just Coolin' " and many more of the trio's R&B hits from their seven albums.

Equally adept at singing dance tracks like "Private Line" or ballads such as "Made to Love Ya", he went on to a successful solo career and topped the US R&B charts in 2000 with "Mr Too Damn Good". He also worked with Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Teddy Pendergrass and Barry White as well as recording Father and Son, a superlative album of duets with his father, in 1995. Two years later, Gerald Levert joined forces with Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill for the Levert, Sweat, Gill album which featured guest appearances by Busta Rhymes, Faith Evans, Lil' Kim and LL Cool J and sold two million copies.

In 2002, he took part in Standing in the Shadows of Motown, the Paul Justman documentary about the Funk Brothers, the musicians who had played on most of the Sixties hits from the Detroit label, and delivered a great version of the Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There".

Nicknamed G-Bear by legions of female fans who adored his slightly gruff baritone, Gerald Levert would throw teddy bears drenched in sweat to the audience when he wasn't playfully spanking himself for being a bad boy. He had recently been filming a US reality television show in which he and a dozen admirers attempted to lose weight. He had also just returned from a 10-day trip to South Africa with his father.

Born in 1966 in Philadelphia, he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, listening not only to his father's group the O'Jays, but also to the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight and the Pips, and not just on record or on the radio. Eddie Levert often took Gerald on tour with him during the summer months and the youngster observed his father and other performers at close quarters: "I learnt from that experience. It taught me about performing, about timing, about just being able to capture a crowd's attention. I wanted to be a professional and I wanted to be around for a while."

Gerald was given a grand piano by his father for his ninth birthday and began writing songs at the age of 10: "I learned about song structure and about writing with substance. I think that's what made me become a good writer."

In the early Eighties, Gerald roped in his brother Sean and their friend Marc Gordon to record demos in the basement of the Levert house but no record company expressed an interest until 1985 when Tempre, a small label run by Harry Coombs, who had worked with the O'Jays at Philadelphia International, teamed them up with producer Dexter Wansel to record the single "I'm Still" and an album entitled I Get Hot.

With people wondering if Eddie Levert was masquerading as his sons, the recording made enough of an impact on the R&B charts for Atlantic Records to offer the trio a deal. In September 1986, "(Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop) Goes My Mind", the opening track from Bloodline, their Atlantic début, topped the R&B charts and they became regular fixtures on urban and Hot R&B radio with tracks like "Let's Go Out Tonight" and "Fascination".

However, when LeVert presented Atlantic with a follow-up album in 1987, the trio were told to go and record several more tracks with the producer Reggie Calloway of Midnight Star, who had also worked with the Whispers. When he suggested they try out "Casanova", Gerald was the only member of the trio keen on the idea. "I thought it was a smash from the beginning but nobody was with me," remembered the singer, who struggled to give the performance Calloway was looking for:

It was rough, the longest time it's ever taken me to do a song and that frustrated me a lot but we worked it out.

Indeed, with its heartfelt lyric - "I ain't much on Casanova / Me and Romeo ain't never been friends / Can't you see how much I really love you?" - over a jerky, jittery rhythm, "Casanova" became the lead-off track on The Big Throwdown album; it crossed over from the R&B to the pop listings, reaching no 5 in the US and no 9 in the UK in September 1987.

The next year, LeVert contributed "Addicted to You" - co-written with Levert senior - to Coming to America, the John Landis comedy starring Eddie Murphy, and issued the Just Coolin' album which featured the rapper Heavy D guesting on the title track, though interest in LeVert cooled considerably and the group broke up in 1997.

With an eye on a long-term career, Gerald Levert had been producing and writing for other soul artists of his and previous generations. He collaborated with Anita Baker, Jennifer Holliday, Miki Howard, James Ingram and Stephanie Mills and earned a Grammy nomination for his production work on Barry White's "Practice What You Preach", a Top Twenty hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1995.

Between 1991 and 2004, Levert released eight solo albums, scoring crossover hits with "Baby Hold on to Me", a ballad he recorded with his father in 1992, and "I'd Give Anything", with Céline Dion and Whitney Houston's producer David Foster, in 1994. On Do I Speak for the World, his last studio album, he even attempted to emulate the socially conscious tone of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On.

A fiery performer who loved duetting with other artists, Gerald Levert considered the highlight of his career had been "working with all the people I admired in the past that influenced me: the O'Jays, Barry White, Teddy Pendergrass, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, all these people that I love. That is probably the best reward in the world, that you can give back to people who have given you so much in your career. That is the greatest thing you could ask for."

Pierre Perrone