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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Legendary Group: The New Birth

Formed 1963, U.S.A.

New Birth comprised of several groups. The main core were:

Melvin Lee Wilson (vocals)

Leslie I. Wilson (vocals)

Londee (Lottie M.) Wiggins

Alan Edgar Frey

Delma Anthony (Tony) Churchill

Austin Edward Landers

Leroy R. Taylor Jnr

Robert L.E. Jackson

Butch McDonald

Robin Russell

James Shelby Baker (b. 22nd October 1948, Louisville Kentucky, U.S.A. d. 24th October 1993, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.)

and Charles Edward (Charlie) Herndon.


New Birth were formed in 1963 with some assistance from music-industry veteran Harvey Fuqua. The group's tunes have been covered (or sampled) by K-Ci & Jo Jo, Notorious BIG, Something for the People, and De La Soul, to name a few. Originally the concept was the brainchild of Vernon Bullock. He would form a touring company who could perform separately and / or as part of a group. Vernon introduced the idea to his boss, former Motown songwriter / producer Harvey Fuqua. Fuqua liked the concept, so the pair traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to start a production company and audition new talent. They would sign new acts, which would be recorded separately, but collectively the acts would be known as 'New Birth.'

The name stood for a new sound and a new beginning. The initial incarnation consisted of an 8 member band called the Nite-Liters, a male quartet called The Now Sound, The Mint Juleps, a quartet of female singers, and lead singer Alan Frey. In 1970, New Birth released their debut, self-titled album on RCA Records. The first single, 'It's You or No One" was not a smash hit.

The 1971 release of their sophomore LP, 'Ain't No Big Thing, But It's Growing' netted the band a minor hit with a cover of the Perry Como song, 'It's Impossible.' The novelty garnered the band key TV and venue bookings and an award of merit from ASCAP. Harvey Fuqua felt that the group need to add to their vocal canon. He found a trio out of Michigan consisting of singing brothers Melvin and Leslie Wilson and Ann Bogan, who had previously sung with Fuqua before joining the Marvelettes.

Melvin and Leslie were born and raised in the small town of Muskegon, Michigan, and grew up with their roots mainly in gospel music. They sang with The Zion Wonders, the Gospel Legionnaires and The Skylarks with Reverend Calvin Fair. After relocating to Detroit, they put together an R & B act similar to the, then popular, Sam & Dave. The trio's, dubbed 'Love, Peace And Happiness,' were incorporated with a revamped New Birth.

In 1972, 'Love, Peace and Happiness' released 2 albums: 'Love Is Stronger' and 'Here Tis'. The latter album featured the hit 'I Don't Want To Do Wrong,' which charted in August of that year. The once 17 piece ensemble company evolved into a 15 piece ensemble company with the Niteliters, Londee Wiggins, Bobby Downes, Allen Frey and Love, Peace and Happiness. The Niteliters and Love, Peace and Happiness recording albums in addition to the New Birth entourage.

At this point the group became a single unit. They dropped the use of all other names and were no longer a troupe of separate entertainers, but one single supergroup. In addition to Melvin and Leslie Wilson, the group featured, Londee Wiggins, Alan Frey, Tony Churchill, Austin Landers, Leroy Taylor, Robert Jackson, Butch McDonald, Robyn Russell, James Baker and Charlie Herndon.

The band went into the studio to record their fourth album, 'Birth Day'. 'Birth Day', became the group's breakthrough release. Leslie Wilson set the tone for the album with the LP's first tune, a cover of Bobby Womack's 'I Can Understand It.' This became the band's first Top 5 R & B hit. 'It's Been A Long Time', the fifth New Birth release, was the groups biggest selling record to date. The title track, released in January 1974, climbed the R & B Charts where it remained in the Top 10 for 17 weeks. 'It's Been A Long Time' marked a change to the softer, more romantic stylings that became a New Birth mainstay.

That single was followed by the classic, soulful ballad 'Wildflower, which charted at Number 17 on the R & B chart and went Top 10 in the United Kingdom. The group recorded their fifth and final album for RCA entitled 'Comin From All Ends'. The members of New Birth were restless and anxious to gain more control, creative and otherwise. The song 'I Wash My Hands Of The Deal' reflects Allen Frey's frustration regarding his dealings with the powers that be in relation to his place in New Birth.

This turned out to be the consensus of the group. It was at this time that the group split with RCA, Harvey Fuqua and their management signed with Buddah Records. Melvin then created the groups new look for the stage. He commissioned designer Bill Witten to make stage costumes for the group, which had come to him in his dreams. Only mainstream acts such as Kiss and Alice Cooper were wearing outlandishly styled uniforms. The group also incorporated the use of rear screen projection and had films commissioned to run as part of their performance, which was also a first for R & B artists.

In 1975, New Birth released 'Blind Baby' on Buddah Records bringing a variation on the original sound. The group had complete creative control over the process with Melvin Wilson and James Baker producing the project along with input from the entire group. One of the groups songs, 'Mr. Dream Merchant,' was a cover of Jerry Butler's 1967 melody, and was a favorite of Melvin's.

'Love Potion' followed in 1976.The award-winning cover art, which was designed by Melvin Wilson and renowned photographer Norman Seeff, featured all 12 members posing together naked! The members all lived together in a mansion in the famed Hollywood Hills that they dubbed 'the band house.' The group went on to record 'The Mighty Army' album for Warner Brothers. There followed in-fighting over monetary and creative differences. These corrosive emotions coupled with bad management decisions caused the members to go their separate ways in 1977. Melvin and Leslie formed a revamped New Birth, which saw the return of Bobby Downs, and the addition of singer Dawn Pree.

The band released the album 'Platinum City' in 1979. In 1982, Londee Wiggins returned and replaced Dawn Pree on the groups second post Wilson Brothers offering entitled 'I'm Back'. However, the album did not prove to be successful and the remainder of the original New Birth disbanded. Sadly, James Baker passed away in 1993. Fortunately, most of the members of New Birth were still in touch and had spent some time with him before his sudden and untimely death.

2002 brought a new incarnation of New Birth, with Melvin and Leslie Wilson back at the helm. This group is touring the U.S., performing club and arena dates and are, currently putting the finishing touches on a new 16-track CD.



zand said...

New Birth (RCA 1970)

Reincarnation (RCA 1977)

I'm Back (RCA 1982)

Tereso Mendez said...

what the hell are that binary folders? I never heard

Anonymous said...

Hello again, soul brothas!

I think the member you says is called Charles Herndon, is Charles Heardon, the writer of "K-Jee", most famous for the MFSB cover and originaly by The Nite-Liters. Until now I think that New Birth was a re-incarnation of Th Nite-Liters (!!??).

I likes the new orientation of this site, combining the "encyclopedic spirit" with extensive discography (and links!). I hope to see soon the bio of some vocal groups as The Dramatics, Little Anthony & The Imperials, Blue Magic,...

A great embrace to all, from Catalonia!


communist lurker said...

Here you go :

Comin' Together (RCA 1972)

Simon666 said...

whoah, thanks communist lurker .... whoever heard of a lurker donating albums ? lol :)
Have added a link ...

Mr. Moo said...

The Very Best Of The New Birth Inc. - Where Soul Meets Funk (1995):

Simon666 said...

Thanks again Mr Moo :)

troods said...

Each person has their holy grail - New Birth's first 3 albums were mine. I'm so grateful. Thank you so much.
By the way, anonymous and fans, see and go to "history" for the story of how NB came together.

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