Obituary: Harold Melvin

Harold Melvin was one of the pioneers of the Philly Sound which now epitomises the mid-Seventies.

Under his guidance, the Blue Notes, a vocal group also boasting at the time the talents of Teddy Pendergrass, had several worldwide hits like "If You Don't Know Me By Now", "The Love I Lost", "Wake Up Everybody" and "Don't Leave Me This Way". But Melvin had been involved in music from a much earlier age and was still singing until a paralysing stroke put him in hospital a few months ago.

He was born in Philadelphia in 1941. The young Harold sang doo-wop on street corners with his childhoood friends. They took up the name Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes and released the "If You Love Me" single on the local Josie label in 1956. The group played the local club scene, recording intermittently for small labels like Brooke, Val-Ue ("My Hero" in 1960), Landa ("Get Out" in 1964) and Uni ("This Time Will Be Different" in 1969). They also cut a few tracks for Chess (with Luther Dixon) and the TK label (with Henry Stone). The Blue Notes constantly changed line-up and were very much Melvin's group, though he didn't always appear on stage with them. Rather, he choreographed their routines as well as arranging and composing some of their material, though they mostly sung standards and show tunes when performing in supper clubs.

By 1970, Melvin was the only original member left, and Teddy Pendergrass, who had joined from the Cadillacs, had stepped out from behind the drumkit to take up lead vocals in a line-up which also comprised Lloyd Parkes, Lawrence Brown and Bernard Wilson. His characteristic vocal stylings attracted the attention of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, two veteran songwriters and producers who had just set up the Philadelphia International operaton and signed a distribution deal with Columbia. In 1972, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes joined a roster which would soon include the O'Jays, Billy Paul and the Three Degrees and take over from Tamla Motown as the sound of mid-Seventies America.

After finding minor success with "I Miss You", they recorded "If You Don't Know Me By Now", a Gamble and Huff composition full of passion and yearning. It reached the American and British Top 10 in late 1972 and sold over two million copies. The song became a classic and was a popular choice for filmmakers trying to give a flavour of the period. It was revived by Simply Red in 1989.

The Philly Sound ruled discotheques the world over and, in 1973, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes hit paydirt again with "The Love I Lost". Rich orchestrations and catchy choruses also ensured that "Satisfaction Guaranteed", "Where Are All My Friends" and "Bad Luck" were dance-floor fillers, while at the same time making pointed comments on the state of America. "Wake Up, Everybody", another political plea for peace and harmony penned by Gene McFadden, John Whitehead and Victor Castarphen and produced by Gamble and Huff, saw them back in the pop charts in 1976.

However Teddy Pendergrass, who had the lion's share of vocal duties, was becoming uncomfortable with his position. People assumed he was Harold Melvin but he was just one of the Blue Notes and his financial rewards reflected that status. A billing adding "featuring Teddy Pendergrass" to the group monicker assuaged his worries for a while but, in 1977, he decided to go solo, scoring major hits in America with "The Whole Town's Laughing At Me" and "Close the Door", soul ballads of the late-night variety.

Before leaving the Blue Notes, Pendergrass had recorded "Don't Leave Me This Way" which battled it out with Thelma Houston's version in early 1977. Nine years later, the disco anthem was successfully brought up to date by the Communards, featuring Jimmy Sommerville.

Having replaced Pendergrass with David Ebo, the Blue Notes left Philadelphia International for ABC. "Reaching for the World" was a R&B hit but the group's popularity was on the wane and, when various records on Source, MCA, Philly World flopped, they returned to the night-club and cabaret circuit which was their original home. Two years ago, they appeared in London at the Green Room of the Cafe Royal. By then, as all those years ago, Harold Melvin was the only original member. The hits were long gone, but some of the magic sparkle was still there.

Harold James Melvin, singer, composer and arranger: born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 24 May 1941; married Ovelia McDaniels (five children); died Philadelphia 24 March 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test