Major Harris: Singer best known for 'Love Won't Wait'

The soul singer Major Harris was best known for the sensual Philly Soul ballad "Love Won't Let Me Wait", which topped the R&B charts and became a top-five hit in the US in 1975. Written by Vinnie Barrett and guitarist Bobby Eli, who also produced the track, it became a staple of the late-night schedules of urban radio stations. Disc jockeys switched from the three-and-a-half-minute single edit to the five-and-a-half minute original album version, including the suggestive moans of backing vocalist Barbara Ingram.

"We cut the thing in such a way that it would bring out the sexy atmosphere of the song," Harris told the magazine Black Music in 1975. "The session was on a summer day, so we turned the lights down in the studio to get the right atmosphere. We were gonna put some rain noises in there too, 'cause folk seem to dig making love on rainy days. We shelved the idea but we kept the sexy lady." The track also charted in the UK.

Recorded at the famed Philadelphia studio Sigma Sound, where the Stylistics and the Detroit Spinners cut many of their hits, "Love Won't Let Me Wait" featured on guitar, alongside Eli, Major's cousin Norman Harris, the arranger, producer and songwriter associated with the Philadelphia pool of studio musicians MFSB. "Love Won't Let Me Wait" was revived by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams in 1984 and has been covered by Luther Vandross and Nancy Wilson.

Major Harris III was born in 1947 in Richmond, Virginia, into a family of performers. His grandparents worked in vaudeville, his mother led church choirs and his father played guitar professionally. Both his brother – known professionally as Joseph B Jefferson – and he picked up guitar tips from their father and in 1970 teamed up in the outfit Nat Turner's Rebellion. Before that, Harris sang with the doo-wop groups the Charmers, the Jarmels and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and issued solo singles on Laurie and Okeh Records.

In 1971, Harris replaced Randy Cain as second tenor in the Delfonics, the Philly group who had scored Transatlantic hits with "La-La (Means I Love You)", "Ready or Not Here I Come (Can't Hide from Love)" and "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)", all co-written by the producer and arranger Thom Bell and the vocalist William Hart, whose swoops from aching tenor to falsetto gave the trio their signature sound.

Their line-up was rounded off by William's younger brother Wilbert on lead tenor and baritone. Unfortunately, Harris joined just as Bell switched to The Stylistics and the Detroit Spinners, and, even if the sublime singles "Think It Over", "I Don't Want To Make You Wait" and "Lying To Myself" continued in the same sweet harmony vein and made clever use of his mellow tenor, most of the tracks he contributed to, including the proto-disco "I Told You So", languished in the lower reaches of the charts. His departure in 1974 effectively ended that chapter of the Delfonics' history.

Having signed to the Philly-based company WMOT Productions (the initials stood for We Men Of Talent) which had secured a distribution deal with Atlantic, Harris kicked off his solo career with the uptempo yet achingly beautiful single "Each Morning I Wake Up" and scored a major hit with "Love Won't Let Me Wait", both included on the My Way album, along with a superlative version of the title track associated with Frank Sinatra, and a recording of "Sideshow", the Barrett/Eli composition which had already proved a success for Blue Magic.

However, despite the involvement of Norman Harris, his 1976 follow-up album Jealousy, and the singles "I Got Over Love", "It's Got To Be Magic" and "Laid Back Love" failed to recapture the sophisticated sensuality of his debut. In 1978, he made the How Do You Take Your Love album with noted producer and songwriter Jerry Ragovoy for RCA and in 1984, he worked with Butch and James Ingram on the engagingly slinky album I Believe In Love, but he didn't make the transition to soul superstar like Luther Vandross or Alexander O'Neal. He returned to the Delfonics, and in 1996 they contributed backing vocals to the track "After the Smoke is Clear" on the Ironman album by Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan hip-hop collective.

Harris sang at a reunion show with the Delfonics last year. He died from congestive heart and lung failure.

Major Harris III, singer: born Richmond, Virginia 9 February 1947; died Richmond 9 November 2012.

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