R&B singer Johnnie Taylor, who had a number one pop smash with “Disco Lady” in 1976, died Wednesday of a heart attack at his Dallas home. He was 62.
“Taylor was one of the last of the old-school, gospel-soul traditionalists,” said Craig Werner, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of Afro-American Studies and author of the book “A Change Is Gonna Come: Music, Race and the Soul of America.”
The testifying soul singer’s latest album, 1999’s “Gotta Get the Groove Back,” is #93 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop albums chart.
Taylor was born May 5, 1938, in Crawfordsville, Ark. He first recorded with gospel vocal group the Five Echoes in 1955. Two years later, he became lead vocalist for the gospel group the Soul Stirrers, succeeding Sam Cooke.
Taylor “split the difference” between Cooke and original Soul Stirrer R.H. Harris, whom Cooke replaced in 1950, Werner said. “He had the smoothness of Sam Cooke’s voice when he wanted it, but he had the
grit of Harris, too.”
In 1966, Taylor had the solo R&B hits “I Had a Dream” and “I Got to Love Somebody’s Baby.” He crossed over to the pop chart’s top five in 1968 with “Who’s Making Love (To Your Old Lady While You Was Out Makin’ Love).” The following year, Taylor scored on the R&B chart with such tracks as “Testify (I Wanna)” and “Love Bones.” He topped the R&B chart with such records as “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone” and “I Believe in You (You Believe in Me).”
“Disco Lady” became the first single ever to be certified platinum. Taylor remade the song on “Taylored to Please.”
“If there’s any real continuity from the gospel quartets of the 1940s and 1950s through the soul of the 1960s to the disco of the 1970s, Taylor represented it best,” Werner said.