The O'Jays were one of the most popular soul vocal groups of the 1970s and '80s.
Though they are still recording and performing, the O'Jays lost an important part of their
sound when founding member William Powell died of cancer in 1977.
Powell was born in Canton, Ohio, in 1942. Along with Bobby Massey and Bill Isles,
Powell joined the gospel duo of Eddie Levert and Walter Williams to form the R&B group
the Triumphs in 1958. After changing their name to the Mascots, the group became
successful around Cleveland. They then cut the song "Miracles" under the tutelage of
local DJ Eddie O'Jay, from whose name they became the O'Jays.
The O'Jays signed with Imperial Records but in the mid-'60s they had little chart success,
excepting their #12 R&B hit, 1966's "Stand in for Love." Isles' departure turned the
O'Jays into a quartet, and then in 1967 they had a top-10 R&B hit with "I'll Be Sweeter
But the O'Jays were discouraged that their stars hadn't risen further, so they signed with
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's Neptune Records. On that label, the group had such hits
as "One Night Affair" and "Looky Looky (Look at Me, Girl)." Massey then left the band to
become a record producer.
As a trio, the O'Jays moved on to Gamble and Huff's new label, Philadelphia
International, where they had their greatest success, thanks partly to socially aware
songs supplied by the duo. The O'Jays' first big pop smash was the #3 "Back Stabbers"
(RealAudio excerpt) hit #1 followed by such top 10s as "For the Love of Money" and "I
Love Music (Part 1)."
But in 1975, Powell was suffering from advanced cancer and had to stop touring with the
band. He died in Canton two years later and was replaced by Sammy Strain, a former
member of Little Anthony and the Imperials. The O'Jays had one more big pop hit,
1978's #4 "Use ta Be My Girl." With Strain in the '80s, they had a number of R&B hits
such as "Lovin' You," "Have You Had Your Love Today" and the Bob Dylan-written
After Strain returned to the Imperials, the O'Jays continued with Nathaniel Best for a
while. Their most recent album was Love You To Tears (1997) with Eric Grant in
the changing third vocalist slot. Last year, Sony Music issued Super Hits,
featuring the Powell lineup.
The O'Jays' musical legacy lives on in the R&B trio Levert, featuring Eddie Levert's sons
Gerald, now also a solo star, and Sean.
Other birthdays: Ron Townson (Fifth Dimension), 58; Rick Evans (Zager & Evans); 56;
Eric Stewart (10cc), 54; Paul Stanley (Kiss), 47; Richard 23 (Front 242), 36; and Heather
Small (M People), 34.