My Time to Shine: The Story of the Fabulous LCB

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former lead singers of

MY TIME TO SHINE J. Michael Willard

J. MICHAEL WILLARD



Glenn Leonard, Joe Coleman & Joe Blunt

Former lead singers of The Temptations, The Platters and The Drifters

with J. Michael Willard

Headline Books, Inc. Terra Alta, WV


My Time to Shine: The Story of the Fabulous LCB by J. Michael Willard with Glenn Leonard, Joe Coleman and Joe Blunt copyright ©2020 J. Michael Willard All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any other form or for any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage system, without written permission from Headline Books, Inc. To order additional copies of this book or for book publishing information, or to contact the author: Headline Books, Inc. P.O. Box 52 Terra Alta, WV 26764 www.HeadlineBooks.com Tel: 304-789-3001 Email: mybook@headlinebooks.com ISBN 13: 9781946664709 Library of Congress Control Number: 2019940666

P R I N T E D I N T H E U N I T E D S TAT E S O F A M E R I C A


Table of Contents Preface................................................................................................. 5 In The Beginning............................................................................... 9 The Music......................................................................................... 18 In Life, a Little Rain Must Fall....................................................... 30 The Joe Coleman Story................................................................... 45 The Glenn Leonard Story............................................................... 55 The Joe Blunt Story.......................................................................... 66 Heroes............................................................................................... 74 My Time to Shine............................................................................ 82 The Personalities.............................................................................. 88 Reflections: I Gave My All.............................................................. 97 An Epiphany for a Temptation.................................................... 105 From the Inside: A Manager’s Story............................................ 111 Coming Full Circle........................................................................ 120 About the Author.......................................................................... 124 Photos............................................................................................. 126



Preface “I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice,” —Endymion, John Keats A biography is a labor of love, particularly if he or she has a genuine affection and respect for the subjects. It has to be, otherwise, it is a journey without a purpose for the one putting words on paper. There also has to become a unique connection between biographer and subjects. This is true whether the titled subjects are living or dead. In this case, those placed in the sight of the looking glass are very much alive and choreographed, dancing and singing to beats that stir not just nostalgia but glimpses into the future. And that future is now. Without a feeling of purpose, any authorship would have the consistency of cotton candy but without the sweet reward. It helps tremendously to have a kindred spirit with the subjects—to know them through their music and as individuals. In the case of My Time to Shine it is, in essence, not merely a biography of Glenn Leonard, Joe Coleman, and Joe Blunt— read that, the fabulous LCB— as a group, but as individuals with separate and interesting personalities. It is also about a musical genre that has stood the test of time, but has never, perhaps, been properly defined like rock ’n roll, blues, or rhythm and blues. 5


This book just as easily could have been three books—and, in many respects, it is. The author conducted dozens of interviews with the central figures as well as those instrumental in their lives. What you are about to read is an attempt to seamlessly layout lives well lived and the promise of future entertainment for those fortunate enough to be within the sound of their voices. It harkens to some extent back to their earlier careers as lead singers for The Temptations, The Platters and The Drifters, three Hall of Fame groups that will ring memory bells for eons. It is for baby boomers the music with which we associate teen angst, as well as tripping the light fantastic. You probably remember. There were times of sadness and times of elation, all against the backdrop of a unique, harmonious sound coming from these three fellows inside a Wurlitzer jukebox. Combining three personalities, of course, makes the journey a little more complicated. One is weaving together a trio of entertainers while at the same time keeping an eye on the common narrative of the group. There is a tendency, from time to time, to wander down a blind alley, confuse a narrator or, on occasion to suggest that two plus two equals five. In this regard, however, I have had much help: Predominantly from the cooperation of the subjects which included, all told, close to 50 hours of discussions individually or as a group. It also helped, of course, to have the guidance of LCB’s long-time manager, Burke Allen, the founder of Allen Media Strategies. More than that, I interviewed various people who have been close to them, other musicians, sisters, brothers, wives, an exwife and many other more than just ‘brush by’ acquaintances. The title of the book comes from a song written by Joe Coleman, My Time to Shine. The song is an expression of both confidence and hope, confidence that LCB will bust through the musical sound barrier and hope that as septuagenarians there are more hits just around the corner. Though together eight years already, one gets the feeling that LCB will be singing and strolling to their music well into their eighties and beyond. 6


While many would be satisfied with audience applause at sold-out venues, LCB knows the creativity and quality of sound they produce deserves mass recognition that they are, indeed, rising stars—once again. The narrative has changed from time to time, but the facts always remain the same: This is a talented group of singers who are simply and uncommonly good-natured guys in an industry not always known for comity. They are pals from youth which makes for a cinema destine biopic not yet on celluloid. In some ways, the truth in the telling of this biography is a compendium of the total. We carry characteristics of all whom we have met, and these friends, relatives, and business associates complete the combined success story beginning in childhood, with Joe Coleman and Joe Blunt coming together in a junior choir at the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, and Glenn Leonard attending the same school as did Blunt. In putting this book together, there are untold people to thank, though there is always a danger in omitting someone who didn’t appear on my radar scope. If this is the case, I do apologize. The following people added immeasurably to My Time to Shine: Of course, LCB, individually and together; Dr. Vanessa Weaver, Joe Coleman’s wife; Claudette Coleman, Coleman’s sister, Barbara Coleman, Coleman’s sister; Coleman’s brother William Coleman, formerly of The Persuaders; Nicolas Bearde, jazz artist; Paula Blunt, Joe Blunt’s wife; Linette Adams and Alvin Blunt, Blunt’s sister and brother; the Honorable Alexis Herman, former US Secretary of Labor; Burke Allen, LCB manager; Morris McWilliams of NYC; William Coleman, Joe’s brother; Rosette T. Graham, Executive Assistant to the Pastor at Alfred Street Baptist Church, in Alexandria, Va.; Raymone Bain, personal general manager to the late superstar Michael Jackson; recording star Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., Glenn Leonard Jr., Leonard’s son, and Darcel Leonard Wynne, Leonard’s good friend, ex-wife and “Solid Gold” dancer.

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In that every book by custom tends to have a dedication, my dedication goes to all those good people above who gave up of their time to add to the narrative of My Time to Shine. Additionally, an author would be remiss if he didn’t mention the one person without whom this book would have been impossible, his wife. In my case, that’s Olga Willard, CEO of Willard Global Strategies. As with all my artistic efforts, including songwriting and oil painting, it is she who has given me encouragement—even at times when I was too wrapped in a project to appreciate it. She is my lifetime muse. J. Michael Willard, March 2019

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CHAPTER ONE

In The Beginning “My Time to Shine means it’s never too late to do what you want to do. I have always loved performing. This is not the end— it’s a new beginning” —Joe Blunt on LCB This is the story about soul brothers, about lightning striking in three places with the resulting sparks bringing together the talented trio of LCB—Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt. It was not magic. It was a combination of talent, drive, and personalities that sparkled, whether performing before thousands, in the choir of a church, or in a cozy cabaret. They were three youngsters linked by nearby neighborhoods, from lower-middle-class families in Washington, DC. coming of age through the crucible of early civil rights struggles. They came from solid, religious families. They went to church services several times a week and sang the old gospel standards at home and in the choir. They were reminded each week of heaven and hell; and, in truth, have experienced a little bit of both in long, successful careers. This, in essence, molded them, made them who they are and who they continue to be. Two of them sang —Joe Coleman and Joe Blunt— in the youth choir at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church and the third, Glenn, joined with them later in high school. When they were still in their teens, they began forming breakthrough groups in the 9


Washington, DC area, names such as the Chancellors, the True Reflection and Mirage. If you lived in the Nation’s Capital city at the time and were tuned into the music scene, you might not have known their names, but you would be familiar with the groups in which they sang. They were budding stars. But, the music business is forever fickle. There were ups, downs, and all-arounds, but they were guided by their own harmonic sweetness, fanciful showmanship, and sheer gumption. They succeeded. They failed. They succeeded again. But most of all, they endured, and that is what’s at the heart of this story—endurance combined with talent, determination and keeping the flame of fame flickering by providing enjoyment to millions. Offstage, they were three distinct personalities. Joe Coleman was as shy as Glenn Leonard outgoing, the amalgam of which produced a perfect storm of harmonic blend and a sound that harkens back to the past but is as fresh as the early morning sun and breeze. As for Joe Blunt, his baritone pipes brought a universal, timeless quality to the mix. They could and can bathe in an audience of pure Motown nostalgia; but, on the other hand, they offer up fresh material, much of it written by Coleman such that the music keeps a modern edge in their performances. Theirs was an age of musical transformation. It was at the river’s edge of doo-wop and sock hops merging into cheek-tocheek dance songs from groups that resonated as if they had been born triplets, quadruplets, even quintuplets. As groups, they became legends; signature sounds for decades. Over the many years, the personnel of all these legacy groups changed many times, but never the DNA of their music. It remains as fresh today as it was in the sepia-toned 1950s and 1960s of black and white television and cars with shark-like fins and candy-colored two-toned paint jobs. In some respects it was predominantly a white culture outside the nation’s highways that feed into DC, an age of exploding teen acne and girls wearing drainpipe jeans and Capri pants while 10


guys were outfitted in Levi jeans (no belt), shirts with collars upturned and low cut tennis shoes called, in some regions, “Quick Starts”. For the most part, ducktail haircuts and poodle dresses were affectations of the very recent past. Pre-dating the group later to be known as LCB were the legendary Platters and Drifters, both debuting in 1953 and the Temptations, coming out of hit mecca Motown in 1961, produced by impresario Barry Gordy, Jr. Eventually, after the True Reflection experience, the guys who would become LCB went their separate ways, destined one day to become the lead singers of The Platters, The Drifters and The Temptations, three of the most enduring and famous groups in the history of modern music. Each, in some way, entered through the backdoor of stardom. This backstory, however, is just beginning, a starting place. Maybe that’s the reason they chose to name this book My Time to Shine, a song penned by the elder of the trio, Coleman. Or, as Coleman put it, “We’re just getting started.” The fact is Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt are in the afterglow of careers still shining, carried forth not simply on reputation and nostalgia, but by genuine interest in the music and their classy presentation of it. They have made it their lives, though with a few detours along the route. Watching them about 20 rows back perform at Florida’s Savannah Center in The Villages enclave one summer evening, one is struck by the timelessness of the music and the puppy-dog enthusiasm of Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt for their craft. They have fun. They enjoy performing just as much as the audience is enthusiastic about what they see and hear. Looking around, though the Villages bills itself as being for the over 55 crowd, there was a bevy of millennials and even a few toddlers in the arms of young parents. It wasn’t a sit-down, arms-folded-in-laps crowd. They were on their feet dancing and clapping for songs they knew as well as they did the names of their first loves from long ago. Sure, in freeze-frame one could say the music harkens back to the halcyon time of gentler, less complicated days, though 11


for sure their coming of age period was not all that carefree and idyllic. It also wasn’t really that long ago. There was the Cold War, the doomsday threat of nuclear catastrophe, and the coming and seemingly never-ending Vietnam conflict which would impact, in one way or another, virtually every family. This was especially the case in the African American community where the military draft pool seemed deepest and eligible youth had fewer ways to escape being called to Southeast Asia. However, through it all, America had its music to sooth the rough edges of life. It had Motown, which Glenn Leonard quipped with absolutely no disrespect to other musical foundations, “You could understand the words.” Instead of peans to hound dogs, suede shoes and bobby sox, they sang of life, love, heartbreak, heartthrobs and what happened for sure “under the boardwalk.” “(Under the boardwalk) out of the sun (Under the boardwalk) we’ll be havin’ some fun (Under the boardwalk) people walking above (Under the boardwalk) we’ll be falling in love Under the boardwalk, boardwalk!”—Drifters Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt are not kin, but one would be forgiven for thinking they are. On tour and in interviews they can almost finish one another’s sentences. They’ve known one another for 50 plus years, each coming from similar tight-knit families held together by bed-rock, old-time religion and the confidence, whether together or separately, they had the talent and drive to succeed. Observing them for months, one has the feeling that LCB could have been together as a group for those decades, not unlike such rockers as The Rolling Stones. They appear to be the ultimate musical democracy when it comes to decision-making about music and career directions, though Coleman is considered the more business savvy of the trio and, in a quiet way, is a takecharge kind of guy. 12


It was Coleman who originally brought the group back together after leaving The Platters, shortly after going solo and penning the score to a musical tribute to civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy Height. He called Blunt, who thought it was a good idea. And then Leonard said, in essence, don’t leave me out. If this story were cinematic, it would be a gauzy feel-good movie of three neighborhood fellows growing up in DC who had early success but saw it go up in flames. Then, they came back together nearly a half-century later to reach the musical pinnacle. That very early success was not to last. Bad luck is not merely a malady of the music industry, but it does seem to occur with the frequency of a common cold in the entertainment business. They split up in their early 20s. The musical partnership first began with the two Joes, Coleman and Blunt. As an eight-year-old, young Coleman had little interest in singing. He wanted to be a ballplayer—any kind of air-filled round or oblong projectile or leather-covered hardball. He was painfully shy, as he recalls. He spoke when spoken to, and did what he was told in the cocoon of a loving, extended family. His mother, who played piano for the junior choir and was co-director with Joe Blunt’s mother, had other ideas for the one she called Joey. A conspiracy was set in motion. “When there’s collusion at this level, a fellow’s dream to play football flies out the window,” said Coleman, thinking back on this defining moment of his sports non-career. “Besides, my mom was afraid I would get hurt, given that I was only 135 pounds soaking wet.” Growing up in adjoining neighborhoods of Northwest and Northeast DC, they remember when even African Americans called the nation’s capital “Chocolate City,” due to its overwhelming black population. At the close of the 1960s, the African American population of DC was 70 percent, and only recently has it diminished to below 50 percent (49%), with migration to the suburbs, including Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt, all of whom live just outside DC in Maryland. In fact, the African American population of DC has been significant since it was established in 1791 (25 percent nonwhite), though most of those were slaves. 13


LCB remembers the water fountains designated for “whites” and the one for “coloreds,” or theaters where African Americans were banished to the balcony and bus station waiting rooms that had separate entrances for blacks and whites. This was a decade after the US Supreme Court Decision of Brown Versus The Board of Education, Topeka, Kan., leading toward the desegregation of schools. The group that five decades later was to become Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt, were teenagers when Dr. Martin Luther King proclaimed, “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream.” The famous speech was during Dr. King’s 1963 poor people’s march on Washington for jobs and freedom. Their careers were starting to roll when Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis in1968 by a shiftless ex-con from Missouri named James Earl Ray. “Because Washington was primarily a black city, there was a certain pride we had in our people,” said Coleman. “The barber down the street was black, and so was the owner of the local market. We weren’t rich, but we didn’t live in a ghetto either. If we were poor, we didn’t know we were poor.” They went to church each Sunday to hear Rev. Sidney T. Yancey who preached at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. Their role models were primarily black, including the two mamas, Mrs. Nan Brown, Joe’s Blunt’s mama, who led the “junior choir” with Mrs. Effie Coleman. Later, Coleman was to cherish a relationship with such icons as Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who was with Dr. King when both were attacked walking as a group across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Al. He also forged a life-long relationship with Rev. Walter Fauntroy, one of Dr. King’s advisors, who was a close friend of Joe Coleman’s father. Perhaps it was this early environment that served as the inspiration for Joe Coleman to pen a tour de force years later, 26 songs for “If This Hat Could Talk,” a Broadway class musical 14


about an early civil rights leader, Dorothy Height, with whom Coleman was acquainted when she was in her 90s. Coleman would telephone Ms. Height from Las Vegas where he was performing with The Platters at the Sahara Hotel and sing to her the songs he was creating for the musical based on her extraordinary life. The Mt. Pleasant Baptist church was not just a religious sanctuary; it was a social meeting place. Founded in 1918, the church started off with five members and eventually grew into more than 1,000. Through its entire 100 year history, it has had only three pastors. Much of life in the community revolved then—as it does today—around Sunday morning and evening services, Monday prayer meetings, Wednesday Bible study and on Saturday, children’s Bible classes. It is interesting to note that decades later the two Joes, Coleman and Blunt, would once again join together in a choir at another church, the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va. where both families attend today. This, even though they might wrap up a cabaret gig at 1 a.m. and have to be at the church shortly after sunrise. To trace the evolution of LCB, it really did begin at that mammoth brick church on Rhode Island Ave. in Northwest DC. One day when Joe Coleman came home from school, he was greeted by his mother at the door. “Get dressed, Joey. It is time to go to choir rehearsal,” she said. This was a surprise to young Coleman; he had never shown the slightest interest in singing. If he had a passable voice, he didn’t realize it at the time. He sang, though quietly, in the wash tub. He was more interested in tossing his school books in his room and heading outside to play baseball, though he was also an excellent student. “I remember telling her, ‘mama, I’m not in the choir,’” Coleman recalled more than 60 years later. “I was extremely shy—not just then—but even later. I imagine I must have had a little voice she could hear. I sang very softly. However, she knew there was some talent there, and frankly, she didn’t give me an option. I was going to be in that choir.” 15


(It should be noted that Joe’s brother, William, had a slightly different perception of his older sibling. “He was the outgoing one, the leader, the organizer, the one who was born to entertain.”) So, that afternoon, Joe marched off to choir where he met another boy a little younger than he, Joe Blunt. Thus began a musical journey that led in junior high and high school to a third member of the group, Glenn Leonard, and early singing groups that took Washington by storm in the late 1960s. At the time, early stylistic heroes—and thus mentors through example—were the superstars of the time—the aforementioned The Temptations, The Platters, and The Drifters. On any particular afternoon these early groups could be seen on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, a long-running and early black and white televised dance program out of Philly in which teens kicked up their heels, boys slicked back their hair and girls let billow their crinoline skirts. There were others, of course, such as Little Anthony and the Imperials, a favorite of Leonard, with their “Tears On My Pillow,” as well as the No.1 artist of the day, the gyrating rocker, Elvis Presley. It was, however, the Imperials who bridged the gap between Doo-Wop, R&B, and pop. It was piano man Fats Domino in the late 1950s who proclaimed that early rock and roll was just another version of rhythm and blues. For any talented group coming of age in the 1960s, being a member of such groups like The Temptations, The Platters, and The Drifters was the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow dream. It was the dream they took to bed each night. These were to become legacy groups, and have multiple reincarnations with more than 50 crooners legitimately able to claim a Platter DNA, including Joe Coleman for 23 years. The Drifters, who harkened back to the early 1950s, had more than three dozen members since its initial formation to, primarily, back the voice of gospel-influenced tenor Clyde McPhatter. Joe Blunt was a member of The Drifters for a decade and was with the group when they had a massive following in Europe and a string of hits in the UK Top 10. The baby of the group, The Temptations, was formed with the arrival of the Swinging Sixties and through the years had a 16


cast of 25. This is where Glenn Leonard fulfilled his early dreams between 1975-83 before taking a religious hiatus and forming a Houston church where he served as a minister to restless youths. But the significance of Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt is not so much that their individual talents led them to these famous groups for a combined forty-year run. As noted, there have been multiple versions of The Platters, The Drifters and The Temptations, with many stars having lit up the horizon, some only to leave us way too soon, such as the Drifters’ McPhatter who tragically died at 39, mostly of alcoholism. Alcoholism and dependence on drugs was a frequent malady of some of the greatest musical talents of the generation. What incredibly distinguishes LCB is that they, in essence, grew up together harmonizing on street corners, in churches and small clubs in DC. Though they went their separate ways, today, a half-century later, they have found that the beat goes on, as strong as it ever did—and better together. LCB has reached that age plateau called septuagenarians, almost. Joe Blunt is the baby of the group at 69 at this writing. However, the group exemplifies that 1971 “Loving Care” commercial line about “you’re not getting older but getting better.” LCB matured together while being apart for much of their lives. However, theirs is not really what some sociologists refer to as “the second act.” They never really abandoned their first acts. They never left the stage. They didn’t reinvent themselves, but simply refined and re-defined themselves. Like a fine wine, they have become even better with age. They never stopped doing what they do best—harmonizing, inventing new material: and, in general, bringing class entertainment to both the old and young. Sure, there were occasional detours—Leonard into the ministry, Coleman owned a florist shop in Manhattan, and Joe Blunt peddled insurance and autos—but they never lost their zest for entertaining. As Coleman said, “We’re just getting started. It’s our time to shine—again.”

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CHAPTER TWO

The Music: How it all Began Cast your mind way back. No, not in dreamy nostalgia, but to the universal and simple values that, perhaps, started as doowop but found a harmonic expression of its own. We’re talking values of love—though sometimes unrequited —and those emotions that cause hormones to explode and feelings to gallop at breakneck speed over rhinestone prairies. We’re talking Friday nights at the Teen Club, sock hops in the gymnasium in stocking feet, and hugging the Wurlitzer jukebox as you pick out three songs for a quarter or one for a dime. The lyrics of most of the early Temptations, Platters, and Drifters hits had a simplicity to them that created a marriage with the now famous melodies. They would not end up in any anthology of greatest poetry or word-smithing, but they actually did more than that. They stood the test of time, and are as recurring in memory as if they were 45 rpm discs still in the mind’s jukebox. Take, for example, the Platter’s “Only You”: Only you can make all this world seem right Only you can make the darkness bright Only you and you alone Can thrill me like you do And fill my heart with love for only you Only you can make all this change in me For it’s true, you are my destiny When you hold my hand I understand the magic that you do 18


You’re my dream come true My one and only you —The Platters “Only You (and You Alone)” Melodic, of course, but to think the Buck Ram written tune of 1955 would last for the ages, would seem a stretch, but yet it has. It’s been recorded by everyone from early rocker Carl Perkins to Roy Orbison to Ringo Starr. Then there’s the genius lyrics of “The Great Pretender,” a stylistic study of a lonely man putting on a show, “laughing and gay as a clown” when, in fact, he is really adrift in pity. Lost loves can do that to you, whether you’re a teenager or in your yellow leaf years. The words hit home for most all of us at one time or another, and that’s why the classic is eternal and remains a favorite at LCB shows. “The Great Pretender” Oh-oh, yes I’m the great pretender Pretending that I’m doing well My need is such I pretend too much I’m lonely but no one can tell Oh-oh, yes I’m the great pretender Adrift in a world of my own I’ve played the game but to my real shame You’ve left me to grieve all alone Too real is this feeling of make-believe Too real when I feel what my heart can’t conceal Yes, I’m the great pretender Just laughin’ and gay like a clown I seem to be what I’m not, you see I’m wearing my heart like a crown Pretending that you’re still around Too real is this feeling of make-believe Too real when I feel what my heart can’t conceal Yes, I’m the great pretender Just laughin’ and gay like a clown I seem to be what I’m not, you see I’m wearing my heart like a crown Pretending that you’re still around 19


Coming of age in the fifties and sixties it was The Temptations, The Platters and The Drifters on that jukebox while in the seventies and 80s, it was also the soulful sounds of the whitebread Hall & Oates and, much later, the so-called boy bands and a different flavor of harmonizing. The early genre of LCB music was described as a branch of doo-wop, but was it really? That doesn’t quite bridge the gap between bubblegum ditties and The Platters’ pitch-perfect “The Great Pretender,” The Drifters “Under the Boardwalk” or The Temptations “My Girl.” The early Platters never called their music “doo-wop,” though others did. We could say it was simply harmonious music, but then that would also describe everything from Shakespeare’s witches chanting “Double, Double Toil and Trouble; Fire Burn and Caldron Bubble” to a barbershop quartet crooning “Hello Ma Baby.” It doesn’t really define it. It doesn’t even come horseshoes’ close. Early on—we’re talking way back to classical Greek— harmony was combining two pitches that were in agreement. Later, of course, it might be three or four, even five or more. Certainly, there is a religious bent to the genre because most of the members of the early Temptations, Platters, and Drifters started out singing in predominantly African American churches, including Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt. Coleman and Blunt were tossed together at an early age, both singing in the junior choir at Mt. Pleasant Baptist in DC. In essence, their mamas brought them together and said sing, though both most likely would have preferred being out on the playground. The trio graduated from harmonizing in church on gospel music to taking it to the outdoor arena of the street corner. They eventually said, “Hey, we’re not bad” and formed groups. They were popular first on that corner, then in the neighborhood, followed by the city itself. In LCB’s case, that city was the nation’s capital. They dreamed, of course, of expanded horizons, including LCB, and for just a few, that vision became a reality. For most harmonizers and musicians, however, they went back to those oft20


quoted “lives of quiet desperation,” school, marriages, children and steady “real life” jobs. With the talented ingredients of what later became LCB, however, hopes never faded. There was always a lit flame from which to build hope. Joe Blunt sums it up: “Once you perform before a crowd, it just gets in your blood.” It struck this writer that when asked a definition of their brand of music, there was a hodgepodge of thoughts from LCB. It was something that one does not necessarily dwell on. They had never really considered it that closely; and, for sure, there is rarely a need for an academic approach to music that makes the hands clap, the feet tap, and the voice, though sometimes off-key, join in as if you are a fourth member of a trio. In the 1950s to late 1960s, racial lines were blurred when millions listened at night to clear channel 50,000 watt WLAC out of Nashville and heard the gravel-voiced John R. (R for Richbourg) spinning R&B and blues discs and discovering new talent. John R., who most just assumed because of his heavilyaccented and deep African American speech patterns, was black. He was, in fact, a white man born in South Carolina of French Huguenot heritage. He cultivated a charismatic radio rap that blurred cultural lines and was a style copied later by disc jockeys such as Alan Freed and Wolfman Jack (Robert Weston Smith). He was, in many ways, a pioneer who never got his due. By the mid-1950s, John R. (Richbourg just didn’t sound right for a DJ), who previously had been an early radio actor reading soap opera scripts, began attracting white listeners, including teenagers, where previously he appealed almost exclusively to black audiences. He became an influential figure in the fledgling black music trade by featuring ground-breaking R&B and early rock performers such as Chuck Berry and Fats Domino on his program. Additionally, he managed several artists. Nashville, previously the mother city for country music with its Grand Ole’ Opry, also became a recording center for R&B, soul, and gospel. From the Life & Casualty building annex on Nashville’s 4th Avenue and Church St., John R. brought together a melting pot 21


of music and listeners across much of America until the early 70s when the station decided it could make more money by going “all talk.” A staple of his disc churning was The Temptations, The Platters, and The Drifters which, one could say, wasn’t strictly rhythm and blues fare. But does it make a difference what it is called? Yes, because certain names create mind pictures that are indelibly imprinted on the cultural psychic until Kingdom Come. Take Elvis gyrating to “Hound Dog,” or the Beatles and orgasmic screaming, crying teenagers, or the cultural relevance to a tide of African American teenagers of rap and hip-hop. Sure, these genres were accepted and often adopted across cultural lines, but they remain primarily native to black America. Yes, it could be said that “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets was the first Rock ’n Roll anthem, but really the phenomenon was given a rocket boost by Elvis the Pelvis, Carl Perkins and his “Blue Suede Shoes” and, for sure, by the “Killer” Jerry Lee Lewis and his “Great Balls of Fire”. That’s what we remember. And yes, because to be enduring a genre needs to dominate a category. It is not sufficient to say its sort of like doo-wop, sort of like pop and sort of like rhythm and blues, or a combination of all three. That represents a disservice to a historic and mature brand, one that has been a staple since the early 1950s. Just for the sake of discussion, let’s toss another term into the chow mix: Rapport Music. No, not rap or hip hop which came along first in the 1970s, but Rapport Music. The term rapport, in relation to music, is defined as a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well in song or simply voice. Voila! That’s LCB: Leonard, The Temptations; Coleman, The Platters and Blunt, The Drifters. When one watches LCB in concert, they define to a “t” that which is the technical and musical definition of rapport. They instinctively communicate in pitch and in their choreography. They are like a solitary person with three distinct personalities. 22


And speaking of rapport, wasn’t it Glenn Leonard who said with The Temptations Reunion and a cancer ailing Eddie Kendricks he would step in to help the great falsetto tenor hit all the right notes on days the great one was a little off. “He and I became very close and we needed each other,” said Leonard. “Eddie was going to give us the boost we needed to capture what The Temptations were all about. “However, his voice wasn’t as durable as it had been. I would tell him ‘Eddie I’m here.’ Some nights he was great, and other nights not so much so. We had one year singing together.” Leonard remembers one evening in Las Vegas he and Melvin Franklin went to see Kendricks perform. “Eddie said to the audience that he once performed with a group, and he called me up on stage and handed me the microphone. He led me out there to sing some of his hits. “I was nervous. This was the guy to whom I looked up. It was almost like he was passing the torch when he turned over the microphone to me,” said Leonard. “A lot of people said we should get back together, but it was simply too late for Eddie.” Reaching out to Joe Coleman, he had another view that was on a different level than rapport music, and perhaps even more definitive. “After considerable thought, I think the term may be ‘Bridge’ music,” he said. “When I think about ‘Leonard, Coleman & Blunt,’ I think of three distinct ‘sounds’ and approaches to the music. “The Platters were one of the first, if not the first, black crossover groups. In an era when Doo-Wop dominated the black music scene (Race music as it was called), The Platters presented a more melodic style, with more poetic lyrics and sophisticated string arrangements that gave it more of a ‘Pop’ sound and lent itself to being more ‘mainstream’ and/or more ‘relatable’ to a white audience. “This sound propelled The Platters to the top of the charts, beginning with the No. 1 song, ‘Only You.’ Because of this ‘new”’ pop sound, The Platters became the first internationally recognized black vocal group,” he opined. On the other hand, The Drifters had R&B hits and were, primarily, successful in that world until they found success in the 23


pop world through their association with white writer/producers like Mike Stoller, Jerry Leiber and Jerome Solon Felder, known as Doc Pomus. “Thus, ‘On Broadway’ and ‘Under the Boardwalk’ allowed them to ‘bridge’ the gap between R&B and pop music to find international success,” said Coleman. In Coleman’s view, The Temptations were the culmination of the successes of The Platters and The Drifters. “They pulled together all the elements from The Platters intricate, yet smooth, harmonies and strong lyrical content along with The Drifters rough edge, with lead vocalists Rudy Lewis and Ben E. King, and Johnny Moore singing lead on “Under the Board Walk.“ Add to that smooth harmonies and The Temptations became the biggest R&B/POP vocal group in the world for ten years running.” Coleman notes that it didn’t stop there. “The Tempts have continued to perform at a high level for 50 years. Their pop success is reflected in songs like ‘My Girl,’ ‘I Wish It Would Rain,‘ ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,’ ‘The Way You Do the Things You Do,’ ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘Can’t Get Next to You.’” “Where I see the ‘Bridge’ being best displayed is in the seamless manner in which the songs from those three groups come together in the LCB show,” added Coleman. “When we first formed LCB more than eight years ago, our first challenge was to get promoters to imagine how the music from these three groups could mesh and form a cohesive show.” This is especially true when you consider The Platters were first formed in 1953 which coincided with the end of the Korean War when the average house price was just over $9,000 and the cost of a gallon of gas was 20 cents. “We have proved the doubters wrong and have displayed for audiences all over the country how the music from these groups form one straight line from one group’s music to the other,” said Coleman. “Audiences, young and old, have responded positively to our music at concerts and festivals all over the country, bringing diverse cultures and generations together to enjoy music that has proven to be timeless, thus, bridging the generational gap.” 24


So, to put it succinctly said Coleman, “LCB music is the ‘bridge’ between people of all ages, races, financial statuses and cultures.” Of course, it helps that bridge that Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt have been doing goes from church choirs to family singalongs to street corners to concert halls and clubs around the globe-either together or with different groups for five decades. A Little History: Joe Coleman—The Platters The Platters actually started out as a Los Angeles-based doowop group. There was little to separate them from similar groups in the mid-fifties. For the most part, they mimicked other early R&B sounds of the time. They made their first records for the Federal label, which was a subsidiary of Cincinnati’s King Records. If one were to play a 45 RPM disc from that time, it would sound nothing like the Platters of “Only You” or “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” They were good, but not really great. Then along came a fellow named Buck Ram, who had more titles than many of us have pairs of socks. He was mentor, manager, songwriter, producer, and vocal coach. Let’s toss visionary in for good measure. After extricating them out of their Federal contract, the energetic Ram—who was running a talent agency in LA—signed them with an upstart national independent label, Mercury Records. Ram immediately started creating The Platter’s distinctive personality. Ram looked at the groups’ strengths and weaknesses and then went to work. He tuned lead tenor Tony Williams, a Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame member and Platter from 1953 to 1960, up a notch to full power. He surrounded him with a well-structured vocal support that came through on every note. Then, Ram added in the magic, which was mostly songs the multi-talented manager had written himself. In short order, the 25


group became a pop and R&B success, gaining The Platters the title of being the first all-black act of the era to top the pop charts. Some called it at that time “the ultimate make out” music, an appellation to which this writer—around the same age as LCB— can attest. It was cheek-to-cheek dancing, soft dimmed lights, car parked on a deserted lover’s lane, music. It probably produced more “backseat” babies than the Starlight Drive-in Emporium showing all-night Elvis movies. The hits came like donuts rolling off a production line: “My Prayer,” “Twilight Time,” “Harbor Lights,” to name a few. It was the golden age of The Platters. However, lead tenor Williams went solo in 1961, and by the end of the decade, the group had disbanded with various members starting their own version of the Platters, including Williams who launched the “International Platters which also featured his wife, Helen. The franchise extends to present day. The original Platters had 40 charting singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart between 1955 and 1967, including four No. 1 hits. They were one of the first African American groups to be accepted as a major chart-topping ensemble and were, for a slice of time, the most successful vocal group in the world. In all, there have been an estimated 125 sanctioned versions of the original Platters, many over the years doing the nostalgia circuit. That’s not necessarily a good fit for Joe Coleman, who maybe is the longest-serving member of a group carrying The Platters’ name at 24 years. He, like the other members of LCB, are looking to the future and My Time to Shine—again. Coleman, however, doesn’t spend any time mulling over “what might have been.” He’s too busy. Aside from performing with LCB, he donates a huge gulp of time to worthwhile issues, such as raising money to send the DC Boys Choir to South Africa and working with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington. To this end, he had scheduled “concerts at a Washington area club to raise extra money for the effort. “Joe Coleman simply never stops,” said Blunt. 26


Joe Blunt—The Drifters The Drifters, also dating from 1953, was formed originally as a backup for the great tenor Clyde McPhatter who defined R&B music in the 1950s. McPhatter, however, was only linked to the Drifters for one year and then moved back to a solo career. Perhaps a better frame of reference is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Ben E. King who was the mainstay of the Drifters and was synonymous with its halcyon days with such hits as “Save the Last Dance For Me” before he launched a solo career. Originally King was with a doo-wop group called The Five Crowns. However, when Drifters’ manager George Treadwell fired the original Drifters over a compensation dispute, he replaced them with The Five Crowns, as if one group could simply morph into another. In this case, he wasn’t far off and got the talented King in the exchange. King co-wrote and sang the lead for the Drifters hits “There Goes My Baby” and “This Magic Moment.” However, in all King recorded only 13 songs with the Drifters, two backing other lead singers, and 11 lead vocal performances. In addition to King, The Drifters were blessed to have many great lead singers including Johnny Moore, and Rudy Lewis. The last of the King-led Drifters’ singles to be released was “Sometimes I Wonder” which was recorded in 1960 but not released until 1962. It seems, though, that contract and money disputes closely followed the Treadwell’s management of The Drifters. Due to these money issues, King rarely performed on tour with The Drifters or on television appearances. His part was generally lip-synched by another member. Of the three groups—The Temptations, The Platters, and The Drifters— the last was probably the least stable. Rolling Stone magazine pegged this to Treadwell, who owned The Drifters name, paying less than other management groups. In all, there have been 60 vocalists in the history of the Treadwell Drifters lineage, including various splinter groups formed by members of The Drifters, and not under Treadwell’s management. Most notably these included Charlie Thomas’ Drifters and The Drifters featuring Rick Shepherd. 27


The original Drifters, however, gave the public 13 major hits that topped the charts. Matching that feat, subsequent formations of the Drifters recorded 13 Billboard Hot 100 top 30 chart hits. Then, came the group’s 1970s and 80s Britain and European revival which Joe Blunt was a key ingredient—with both new and older material and several new Top 10 hits. In Europe, they found a new life, and a continued following, with Ben E. King coming back to lead the group. It was during this time; Blunt was featured as lead vocalist on “I Know When True Love Passes By,” “Like a Movie I’ve Seen Before,” “Twice a Week” and “When You’re Coming Home.” Glenn Leonard—The Temptations Known for their flashy wardrobes, precise choreography, and exquisite harmony, The Temptations sold millions of albums and 45 RPM discs in the 1960s and 1970s with Motown Records. Generally featuring five male vocalists and dancers, the group was formed in 1960 in Detroit, originally under the name The Elgins. In fact, the founding members were members of two rival vocal groups and included Otis Williams, Elbridge “Al” Bryant, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams. In 1964, Bryant was replaced by David Ruffin, who was the lead vocalist on a number of the group’s biggest hits, including “My Girl” (1964) “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg (1966), and “I Wish It Would Rain” (1967). Ruffin was replaced in 1968 by Dennis Edwards, with whom the group continued to record hit records such as the more psychedelic “Cloud Nine” (1969) and “Ball of Confusion” in1970. The group’s lineup frequently changed after the departures of Kendricks and Paul Williams from the act in 1971. Three classic Temptations songs, “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” are among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. The Temptations were also ranked at number 68 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of all time. By the time Leonard suited up in a color-coordinated outfit in 1975, the Temptations had evolved. 28


However, they were still the great Temptations, and the tenor was joining the all-star lineup of Melvin Franklin, Dennis Edwards, and Otis Williams. The interesting aspect of The Temptations, The Platters, and the Drifters was the mere fact that they were franchise groups which have lasted for the ages. Though the members changed from time-to-time, the quality of the music never really did. There have been other revival groups in other genres, but none have matched these three classic brands for sticking power and commercial success.

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CHAPTER THREE

In Life A Little Rain Must Fall “Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson. Joe Coleman—The Platters Joe Coleman woke up one morning on a wooden bench in New York’s Central Park with only a thin dime in his pocket and a newspaper shading the sun from his eyes. He had recently lost his job as a parking lot attendant. His salary had barely covered the rent on an apartment that was about the size of his parents’ foyer in their DC home. Coleman was 22, and full of wide-eyed ambition. He had set out for the Big Apple intent on finding fame and fortune. He knew he had talent, but he also had to get back on his feet. Fame and fortune, however, was that elusive butterfly to which songwriters pay homage. Obviously the road to becoming a lead singer with the world renown Platters—which wasn’t even a far-away misty dream at the time—was going to be strewn with boulders and cluttered with bramble bushes. He was prepared for that. Joe Coleman is a bounce back sort of guy, a plodder, and a creative thinker. He seems to wear optimism as if it were a favorite old sweater, snug and brightly colored. Whenever there’s a hiccup or disagreement, Coleman is the cement. He is quick to say, “Hey guys, we have options and alternatives.” 30


Early on the young singer had experienced adulation and fledgling success, harmonizing with his pals Joe Blunt and Glenn Leonard with the True Reflection. They were one of the Washington, D.C area’s most crowd-pleasing groups. It was a heady period for three singers barely old enough to order a drink at the local saloon. They were full of confidence. But after having a whiff of stardom by signing with an international label, Atlantic, life kidney punched the True Reflection group. In the vernacular of the period, they were coldclobbered by the hard-nosed business reality of the recording industry. It was not an unusual happening back then—and even now. The record label suddenly—without malice but with aforethought—decided to push another group to the front of the success train. Then the bottom fell out. It was almost cartoonish. They were racing up the success ladder two steps at a time when the ladder started to crumble. They ended up grasping for only air. Because they were so surefire certain of success, they neither had a parachute nor a backup plan. Twenty-somethings tend not to think three steps ahead, living for the moment is part of their youthful DNA. Dejected and discouraged, the group broke up and went their separate ways, not to be reunited for nearly five decades after each had lengthy, successful careers on their own with other internationally known groups. This, in itself, was a nod to fate. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen to you is, in essence, the best thing. But it certainly didn’t feel that way at the time. Imagine three boys growing up together in the same or adjoining neighborhoods. Imagine them experiencing the warmth of the spotlight but being tossed aside in their early 20s like hand-me-downs for Goodwill. Then, somehow, some magical way, each landing with world-famous groups while finally coming full circle with Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt to create a masterful career finale. Perhaps this “second act” was a combination of luck, timing and a dose of serendipity. However, to three African American 31


men just out of the teen years at the time of their setback, this was the lowest of the low. In the meantime, that famous line of John Lennon’s about “life is what happens when you are making other plans” became apparent. With the Vietnam War going strong, Coleman joined the Air Force and was sent to Japan. This actually kept him in the game. But keeping airplanes in the air wasn’t his life’s ambition, far from it. In Japan, he had his day job as an enlisted man, but he also teamed with a colleague, Nicolas Bearde, and performed in various clubs within traveling distance of his home base. There wasn’t anything that was going to keep Coleman away from music for long—including the US government. While in Japan, Joe and Bearde sang with a popular group called The Sensations which opened for B.B. King, Lou Rawls, and Ike and Tina Turner. Additionally, he was lead vocalist for the 5th Air Force Show Band which toured Korea, Philippines and elsewhere. On returning to the States, Coleman’s Air Force tour was up, and he started training his voice for a serious comeback, even giving up a smoking habit. That’s when his friend Bearde knew he was serious. He headed back East where the real action was in the music business. Coleman continued doing some solo dates, and he also combined with his brother William with a group called Mirage, hooking up on a short-lived RCA agreement, releasing one mostly ignored album but which was musically a solid effort. However, there was another setback, a malady that is forever present in the business. A third member of the group “didn’t quite have his life together,” said Coleman, and the well-known label dropped them. This, even though, according to Bearde, who was still in California, the RCA album they recorded was “loaded with what could have been hit songs. I remember calling stations back then, urging them to play the Mirage release.” Washington, DC though, while home and rather comfortable, still wasn’t exactly the music capital of the world. Coleman packed 32


his bags and headed for New York where he hoped to capitalize on some of the contacts he had made with the True Reflection. It wasn’t so easy. Even overnight successes are rarely overnight successes, and young Coleman was no exception. So, now, we pick up Coleman catching Z’s and splinters on a park bench after the misfortune of being canned from parking cars. He had found his rent beyond his budget, and that dime he had to call home to mama for help was burning a hole in his pocket. Sure, he would have to eat a lot of crow, but a home-cooked meal and a comfortable bed beckoned. Somehow, though, it didn’t feel right for him to throw in the towel. That natural optimism kicked in again. He was brought up with that work ethic to try and try again. Coleman had something else going for him other than his musical talents—he was a snazzy dresser, always had been. Ever since his teen years, he had placed a premium on keeping up appearances. He might have been down and out, but he was still going to dress for success. What was it Mark Twain had said? “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Though his home was a park bench, he kept a fresh suit of clothes at the apartment of an acquaintance and started each day looking spiffy and carrying a briefcase, belying the fact he was a penniless out-of-work parking attendant and a Platter performer-in-waiting. By the way, the parking lot misfortune didn’t happen because Coleman was lazy or lousy at the job. He was canned in an economic slowdown where the philosophy was last hired, first fired. The economic phenomenon actually seemed to make more sense than the whims of the recording industry. Both Coleman’s parents were ordained ministers and had instilled in him a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic. Also, while shy in youth, he had developed an infectious personality and a taking-care-of-business attitude. He connected the dots when it came to friendships and commitments. If one were to ask Coleman to handle an assignment, one could consider it done. 33


So, when he renewed his job search pounding the pavement, he used a friend’s apartment with a telephone to make calls, get dressed for the day and set up interviews. One would have thought he was an affluent young executive out on the make— but only the hustle part of that was true. “If I had to call my parents to come get me, at least I had that dime,” said Coleman, nearly fifty years later. “But that would have been one of the more difficult calls I could make. It would be a sign I didn’t or couldn’t make it.” There were some days Coleman stayed at Penn Station, pretending to be a weary traveler. He often let his “fingers do the walking” through the yellow pages, hunting for jobs. He started mining the possibilities with an agency that hired temporary workers. He was in luck. “Most people who knew me had no idea of my situation,” said Coleman. “I dressed sharply every day, no matter whether I had an appointment or not. That was just me. “One of the places I worked as a temporary employee was Savin, the copying company. It wasn’t long before they put me on full time in the personnel department as an assistant.” For Savin, the company, that was probably a mistake. They thought they were getting a young fellow who would simply show up, do his job and go home. What they got, according to Coleman’s brother William, was a born leader, and a fellow who when he found wrongs tried to right them. The job gave Coleman everyday access to employee files, and he soon discovered the few minority managers made much less than those who were white. This also was not uncommon in other industries at the time. Economic job discrimination was prevalent. “That just didn’t seem to be right,” he said. His sense of fairness kicked in. “Everyone making real money was not a minority. It soon became clear that no black managers were making more than $25,000 while their white counterparts made $40,000 and up,” he said.

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His discovery and refusal to keep quiet about it could have led to his dismissal. Instead, it led to a fortuitous break. “So, I began to advocate for certain folks to seek a better deal. It was at that point they decided they should offer me another job in the company—and at more money, but away from the personnel department.” His philosophy went further than the old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” He was passionate about fairness and taking care of fellow workers. Now, off the streets, it was time for Coleman to start clawing back. “I still had that 10 cents, but by now, I wasn’t thinking about using it.” Also, his real dream was music and performing again. After a year at Savin, the biggest break of his young career unfolded, and it came virtually out of the blue. He made out reasonably well at the copy machine company, but he had come to the Big Apple to further his music career. Performing was where it was at. During this time, he was playing solo gigs around the city at every opportunity. “In New York, if you picked up a rock and tossed it in any direction, you would hit a club,” said Coleman. “It wasn’t hard to pick up occasional dates.” One day he received a call from among his numerous contacts: The world famous Platters were looking for a new singer to join the group. It was a name he had listened to on the jukebox growing up, but they hadn’t had a hit in years. However, it was steady work—and it ended up being so for the next 17 years. “I had been in survival mode up until then,” said Coleman. “I auditioned and they took me on. I can’t say I had always dreamed of being one of The Platters, not like the dream Glenn Leonard had when it came to the Temptations. I had wanted to be a member of an organic group, like the True Reflection—or, what we have now, LCB.” Did he celebrate the good news? Strangely, it was rather anticlimatic for him and his celebration was subdued. “You would think I would celebrate,” said Coleman, thinking for a long while about his initial reaction. “I had worked so hard for this—trying to get into a good place—I didn’t get overly excited. I just saw it as a culmination of that effort.” 35


He did remember calling a good friend from Baltimore who had come to New York at about the same time and then dialing his mother in DC. “My parents were happy about the news. I am sure they worried about me, but you have to remember, my mama always wanted me to do more religious music, gospel. She had wanted me to go into the ministry—to sing for the Lord. I never thought the two were mutually exclusive, either back then or today. I still sing in the church choir.” However, he did have a bottle of champagne given to him on his 16th birthday to be held until he was legally old enough to drink in DC at 18. He skipped that occasion, but now it was time to break out the bubbly. It was the beginning of a 17-year run, appearing with a host of other great performers, even the diva Barbra Streisand at Madison Square Garden and a long residency of performances at the Sahara in Las Vegas. As for relationships, Coleman was, as they say, footloose and fancy-free with no permanent romantic attachments. Such was not to come until the tail end of his Platters journey when he was introduced to Dr. Vanessa Weaver. During those many years, the group that was later to be known as Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt (LCB) were in separate places, each pursuing their dreams, though they did keep in contact from time to time. In essence, they epitomized the old gospel song “The Ties that Bind.” Coleman, the fellow with heart, talent, and drive, didn’t move back home, to DC, until nearly a quarter century later. He doesn’t remember what happened to that dime. Glenn Leonard—The Temptations Joe Coleman’s cavernous low was being down and out in New York City, only to rise like a Phoenix with lightning striking. It came with the legendary Platters. But for Glenn Leonard, his high and his low were greatly linked. It was, in no small measure, complicated and it had more to do with expectations.

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Leonard didn’t have time to dwell in poverty. His fate was anything but a park bench and a low paying job. Shortly after the True Reflection broke up, the Temptations discovered his exquisitely pitched tenor voice. Lightning had struck. From all outward appearances, it seemed the break of a lifetime; and, in many ways, it was. He will never regret belonging to the world-famous Temptations, and today often does separate dates—sometimes teamed with Joe Coleman and the Temptations bass singer Joe Herndon—as the Temptations Review. One does not hide the exhilaration of latching on to the fabulous Temptations with its Motown DNA. It was a school for hit makers under Berry Gordy and the Temptations had churned out regular monster discs. More than that, Motown music was a cultural phenomenon, much like rap and hip hop later. It was a distinctive sound, something his colleague Coleman called “Bridge Music” because it linked various genres. These were great groups with which the black community could claim as their own, and they served as role models for aspiring talents. It was, in essence, a school of sorts for how young black artists should comport themselves on the cusp of stardom. Though Gordy was rather dictatorial when it came to picking material for his artist, the formula was hugely successful. It was a hit university. But The Temptations had gone through a transition by the time fate wiggled its finger at Leonard, beckoning him to join the world-renowned group. Just like with The Platters and The Drifters, time had moved on. A founding member, Paul Williams, had just died and the great Eddie Kendricks had also left the group. Leonard had rather large shoes to fill. When he signed up, two original members, Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin, were still on board. However, times were changing. “I went to a meeting one day at the record label, and I overheard several people talking. One said, ‘Here come the 37


Temptations’ and another replied, ‘No, it’s the Temps,’ meaning it’s not the original group, meaning that we were temporary.” Though he doesn’t exude anything but self-confidence, that comment struck Leonard to the core. This was one of the unavoidable problems with being a legacy group. Put it into another context: What if the Beatles were still touring as the Beatles, but the only original member was the drummer, Ringo Starr? There was never a successful attempt at a Beatles revival absent the original Fab Four. However, The Temptations, The Platters, and The Drifters had multiple reincarnations, though the quality of the sound remained largely the same. “On another occasion, I was asked to do an interview, and someone at the label said, ‘Wait, Leonard hasn’t had a hit.’ I was quick to respond that it was The Temptations that had hit a dry spell.” However, just after the tenor signed up in 1975 the group recorded the hit “Shaky Ground,” and later Leonard sang the lead on a single, “Power.” Soon Leonard recorded the lead vocal on an acclaimed rendition of the Christmas song “Silent Night” which became a signature hit for him and The Temptations, and one often requested, whether or not it’s the holiday season. On being chosen for the Temptations, Leonard described himself as being in a fantasy state when he first signed on. It was the realization of a childhood dream. He often pictured himself, color coordinated, singing harmony and lead tenor with the famous group. Now, those black and white sepia-tinted dreams had come true. He was a Temptation. Both Coleman and Joe Blunt had remarked that Leonard lived and breathed The Temptations as a teenager, memorizing every one of their songs, and singing the various parts on cue. His fantasy now had become reality. “I didn’t quite get it. But the fact was, Motown seemed to be losing its confidence in the group. You are only as good as your last hit and it had been a while,” said Leonard. “Even though the brand was famous worldwide, we were struggling in the here and now.” 38


During this period, the rich harmony was as it always had been. Leonard never pretended to be an Eddie Kendrick, his idol. He only wanted to do him proud; and, in fact, Leonard’s tenor pitch was silky smooth and could challenge a Memorex tape with bell-clear tones. Plucked perhaps from near obscurity, he was, in fact, the real deal. “At the time, we weren’t getting songs from the top writers. I guess you could say we were struggling, except when it came to performing. We were still packing the venues.” Still, music changes with the wind and the whim of the record-buying public. The traditional groups could always find, pack and please a venue; but with disco, and later the proliferation of other styles, taste were changing. It is pure speculation, but one wonders if the Beatles came on the scene today with their 60s style music, would they be the phoneme of days of old. The Rolling Stones have sold 240 million albums worldwide in a half-century of recording, and while they still pack stadiums, they haven’t had a hit in the US since the 1980s. Their biggest, “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” harkens back to June 1965. “At one point, we threatened to leave the Motown label, and it was during that time they gave us a production deal,” said Leonard of The Temptations. “We wrote and produced what we felt was a pretty good album. “So yes, I got my dream, but it wasn’t all that I had hoped. It wasn’t bad, but I was disappointed. It will go down in history like that. I grew up a lot during that time; and, to be honest, I also grew down. I started abusing drugs and alcohol.” These types of stories can have endings that soar with success or plummet to the depths. His was actually an experience that helped Leonard on the road to an entirely different career. After his time with The Temptations, Leonard found redemption by going back to his roots—religion. He folded his music career in favor of a flock of parishioners in Texas. He became a minister to troubled youth. “I grew up in the inner city in poverty. When you grow up like that all you think about is getting out. Then you discover 39


you’re good at something, really good, and you start cultivating that. My gift was music which I discovered when I was about six. “It was a way to get out of poverty and have a better standard of living. I thought it was my way out—both physically and psychologically. If I could just make enough money to pay the bills and keep food on the table, it would bring peace of mind.” It didn’t. There were other demons. “After nearly ten years with the Temptations, I still had unanswered questions. I was still chasing something I didn’t think I could catch. “But after fulfilling a dream, and it is not what you expected, you keep searching. That period of my life was not a cakewalk. I had grown up in church and somehow that thought kept resurfacing. Something deep inside me was missing, and I had to find out what it was.” Leonard said he had to reach a low point before he could start anew. He doesn’t blame this period on his career, but he does feel entertainment can perpetrate a lifestyle. At the time, Leonard was married to a wonderful woman, but the marriage was coming apart. His wife was Darcel Leonard Wynne, sometimes credited as simply Darcel. She was an African-American dancer, choreographer, author and producer and best known for heading the “Solid Gold Dancers” on the top-rated syndicated 1980s TV music series Solid Gold. They remain close friends today. “Drugs are part of the social atmosphere. By the time you are aware that you have a serious problem, it has a hold of you. You have to lock it out, and that means doing a 360 degree about face. “I managed to keep my career going so I could take care of myself, but I lost my marriage. However, I was still in the game. But my wife would tell me, ‘Leonard, instead of working out our problems, you are working on your career.’” She was right. At that low point, Leonard said it was about time—past time—to “get cleaned up and mature.” He retreated—along with Darcel—to the ministry.

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Joe Blunt—The Drifters It was 1976, the year of America’s Bicentennial. The price of gas was $.59 cents a gallon, NBC’s famed peacock logo was banished, and a fellow named Steve Jobs launched Apple Computers. The Dow was hovering just above 1,000, a far cry from today’s 25,000. All this was relevant, of course, but the important moment for crooner Joe Blunt was his first trip to Europe with the wellestablished Drifters, certainly a legacy group. They landed at Heathrow Airport, and Joe looked out the window, curious and excited. “Wow,” he said, instinctively to no one in particular but within earshot of his colleague Clyde Brown in the next seat. “Look at the crowd. Someone famous must be on this plane.” His fellow Drifter looked at him, a puzzled expression on his face. “What do you mean Joe?” he asked. “Maybe one of the Beatles onboard,” said Joe, though the Beatles had broken up six years earlier. His seat companion laughed. “Joe, that crowd is for The Drifters. That’s you, man.” It was a fact that Joe Blunt had no idea how relevant The Drifters were in the mid-1970s. He was happy to have worked as a singer and performer, but was not awed by the brand. To him, it was a little musty, dwelling in the Golden Oldies basement. It was music that was on the radio and the phonograph when he was younger. He was happy to have a job performing. If it paid, it could have been on a street corner. As it was, it was with the world famous Drifters with uptown venues both in the US and Europe. Blunt had recently come off what he described as one of the lowest points in his life—the breakup of the True Reflection with Glenn and Joe after Atlantic failed to push their new record. That traumatic event hangs heavy with each of the LCB principles, even decades later. They harken back to it as if it were a high water mark of their lives, perhaps this is because they were young, and it was their own creation.

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Coleman had left DC for New York and high hopes but little money in his pocket. Leonard was fairly quick to get on with The Temptations and, as for Joe Blunt, he had recently taken a bureaucratic government job, thus securing him financially. He would marry a lovely singer named Paula, which he did in that personally historic year, 1976. “The breakup of True Reflection was a big letdown. It was going to be our biggest break, a pathway to stardom,” said Blunt. “We all loved that group. In reality, it’s what leads us all back to LCB—Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt.” After True Reflection, Blunt continued actively in the music business, primarily singing gospel. He dipped back into the commercial arena by becoming involved in forming “Right Track Management,” signing such artists as Gale Adams, Bobby Thurston, and a group called Khemistry to CBS Records. Then, a government job came along. It offered security, something that was woefully lacking for most who chase a music career. It would keep him home. It would provide a steady paycheck, perhaps for a lifetime. He could be more of a father to his children who he would later have with Paula. The government job he was about to take was with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and it had been secured for him by his mother who was a federal employee and also an ordained minister. “I had been at this job maybe six months when I got a call from The Drifters,” said Blunt. “It was a big decision—a steady, decent paying job or a gamble in entertainment. I knew those government jobs. Once you get on such a job, your ticket is punched until retirement. There was something very attractive about not taking a chance. My life would have been predictable and financially secure.” Added to this, was the fact The Drifters had dropped off the public’s radar and hadn’t had a hit in the US since the 1960s. Like the other legacy groups, The Drifters were gift wrapped in nostalgia and a previous golden age. “When I got the call, my first reaction was ‘Who?’” said Blunt. It was Glenn Leonard who told Blunt the group was rather well known in Europe, but the young singer was still torn between the 42


federal job and a singing career. There was something comforting about getting a color TV, having a recreation room with a pool table, and coming home to a loving family after a 9 to 5 job. “I will tell you this, my mom wasn’t any too happy when I chose The Drifters,” he said. “But I love singing and I love performing. I might not be the most outgoing person in the world, but on stage, I think any good performer has an ‘out of body’ experience.” It turned out that the crowd waiting for the plane at Heathrow were simply fans of The Drifters and the British press corps. They had had a string of nine hits on the pop charts in Great Britain. They were known not just for their performances but for churning out multiple chart toppers. However, to appreciate The Drifters one had to cast an eye across the sea. The Drifters at the time were not registering with an American audience other than on Golden Oldies radio stations. However, even after Blunt left the group in 1985, the Drifters remained popular in Great Britain and on the continent. As with most legacy groups around for decades, transitions bring controversies, generally coming with the turnover of performers. It was in the nature of Blunt’s personality to shy away from this aspect of the business, though he did have issues with the management of the group from time to time. “But that was only part of the reason I left the Drifters,” said Blunt. “I simply felt I needed to be home more. My sons’ mom was terrific, but boys need a male figure through those teen years. So, one day I said, ‘I’ve had enough.’” The road takes its toll. The Drifters toured, mainly in Europe, six months out of the year, but would return to the US every couple of months. There was one stretch when the group did 31 nights in a row on stage—and not on the same stage. There was a dizzying array of hotel rooms, stages, and meals on the run. “It’s Thursday so we must be in Birmingham, England, or is it Manchester or Bristol? Where in the heck are we today,” joked Blunt. On one occasion when they were wrapping up a series of dates and were ready to depart for the States, the tour was suddenly 43


extended through a holiday season. Everyone was disappointed, said Blunt. “We either take the extension, or we lose out on a good bit of money. We took it, but I offered my family a Christmas compromise,” said Blunt. “It was expensive, but I brought Paula and the boys to England for the holidays, renting a house.” Blunt has been married to his wife, Paula, for 41 years. That success in marriage with him gone so much of the time he attributes to “keeping the home fires burning. It wasn’t always easy. “I tried to maintain a close relationship with the home front in spite of all the travel, and, in the end, I guess you could say it all worked out.” Blunt, like both Coleman and Leonard, is nestled in the DC suburbs in Maryland, though they frequently travel around the country. On leaving The Drifters, Blunt says he has no regrets, but adds that he does miss it from time to time. “There were some aspects I certainly do not miss, particularly the issues with the management of the group. That was more difficult than anyone could realize. But it was what it was, and I was determined to make the best of it.” Today, however, Blunt says he does see the situation a little differently after managing acts himself. “Certain issues are not always black and white. “There are some things that happen certain ways because— well, that’s just the way the business is,” he said. “The Drifters was a time that occupied a great space in my life and allowed me to do things that I could not have done otherwise. Besides, I was performing. “No, no regrets.”

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CHAPTER FOUR

The Joe Coleman Story “Nothing will be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome,” —Samuel Johnson, 18th Century poet, essayist, writer, moralist. What is it that drives the will to succeed? What is it that defies all the odds in a risky business, as the author William Faulkner once put it, not only to endure but to prevail? Whatever the gene, it is an active ingredient in the makeup of Joseph Coleman. Like his mates Blunt and Leonard, he had that indefinable spark, JC’s first solo release on PanaRecord (Italy) 1983 a survival wish that kept him going. His journey took him from sleeping on a hard park bench in New York’s Central Park to Las Vegas and European capitals as one of the world’s most noted groups, The Platters. Listen to Coleman: “Once the bug truly bit me, during my True Reflection’s days, I knew I couldn’t do anything else for long but sing. I knew the only thing that made me truly happy was music and performing. All roads led back to music.” Those roads were rather curvy and often bumpy, but they seemed destined to lead to magic places as time wore on. 45


However, it’s true what the African American baseball great, Satchel Paige, once said: “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” Coleman rarely looked back. “In 1980, I tendered my resignation to GTE/Telenet, packed my bags and moved to NYC to seek fame and fortune. I arrived in NY and, through a friend, rented the smallest apartment you ever saw. The biggest thing in the apartment was a lion-footed bathtub that took up half the room.” Soon, however, Coleman lost his job as a parking lot attendant on the Upper West Side and he ended up on that Central Park bench. That simply makes his eventual journey to The Platters — his home for two dozen years—even more remarkable. Coleman’s early dream was to be a baseball player—not a singer. His father had been somewhat of a legend in Clover, Va, once pitching a no-hitter, striking out the side, against a team from a rival community. As Coleman tells the story: “He was upset at my mom (they were not married at the time) over a spat they had. He struck out batter after batter as he fumed about whatever issue they had.” Coleman had evidently heard the story many times, and now it was family lore. His mom and dad often laughed about how his father had become the legend of Clover. It was one of a patchwork of true tales that suggests a rather normal childhood growing up in the turbulent Sixties. From Clover they moved to DC, an entirely different world, away from the rural Virginia tobacco country to the federal city. “I developed a whole new set of friends, mainly around sports. After school, we would meet at the nearby Rudolph playground and play whatever sport was in season until it became dark. That’s when we were expected to come home, do homework and go to bed.” Early on Coleman developed a fear and a responsibility. He wanted to be able to take care of his parents as they became older. “It was something I thought about and worried about throughout my childhood and teen years, even into adulthood.”

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Coleman said he was “blessed to be able to take care of their needs, though they had saved wisely and the needs were small.” However, growing up in a close-knit family, their well-being was important to him. In his childhood, Coleman was what he described as “excruciatingly shy. I only spoke to people I knew well and, even then, I didn’t talk much. It made me a good listener and a great observer. I heard and noticed everything.” It was an early characteristic that apparently fed his creativity, though he had no idea at the time. The ability to observe and to connect what often became poetic scenarios aided his ability to create meaningful songs that tug at the heartstrings. His shyness impacted his love life. “I didn’t have a real girlfriend until I was about 16. I was simply too shy to talk to the girls who showed an interest in me. It was tough because I noticed girls early on but didn’t think I had a good ‘rap’ to interest them.” That changed when young Coleman realized that most of the other guys didn’t have a good “rap” either. “They were just talking, mostly saying nothing.” However, Coleman stayed single until 2004. “I guess you could say I was a fast runner when it came to women,” he said. However, he also noticed that most of his friend’s marriages had turned sour and he—when it happened—wanted for his marriage to last. “Yes, I was a ‘track star,’ very fast on my feet. I had no intention of getting married after seeing several of my friends marry their childhood sweethearts only to find themselves hating each other and getting divorced. “After a period of time, marriage seemed pointless to me. My thought was why not just live together and keep the love going instead of making it official. At the time, I wanted no part of it.” However, that philosophy collapsed on New Year’s Eve 2004 when he married Vanessa. He has one step-daughter, Nicole, and it was Vanessa who took him in a new musical direction by convincing him he could compose a Broadway-style production.

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In school, Coleman was an above average student who excelled in English, though his worst subject at Roosevelt High School in the district was math. English and other subjects came easily to him. His one disappointment was that his mother forbade him to play football. She wouldn’t sign the paper, feeling it was just too dangerous. “It was a game I loved,” he said. From the very beginning, he dressed to the nines. He didn’t necessarily believe clothes made the man, but it didn’t hurt. He got an after-school job working in the kitchen at Catholic University for spending money to buy clothes. “It wasn’t hard work and I was able to get nice threads.” At the time, he liked to wear sweater shirts, silk shirts, Nelton loafers, Stacy Adams shoes and gabardine slacks, all the clothes that were popular during the 60s with well-dressed young men. “My best friend was Johnny Frazier, who was the best dresser in our school. I had to dress well to keep up with him. Johnny later became the Inspector General in the Department of Commerce under President Bill Clinton. “Of course my mom and dad had no intention of buying these ‘expensive’ clothes for me. If I was going to have them, I would have to buy them myself which is why I got a job. “My mom had no particular understanding of the “delicacy” of some of these types of fabrics, it seems; or she didn’t care. I came home from high school one day only to discover my silk shirts hanging on the line in the backyard!! She had washed my silk shirts in the washing machine. They shrank to the size that would fit a small child.” Coleman’s penchant for being well-dressed was to serve him well later on when, even when he was homeless, he managed to keep a good suit and shirts at a friend’s apartment for job searches. Regardless of his economic state, he made a good impression. In his teen years, Coleman kept to the straight and narrow and never got into trouble. “Mom and Dad didn’t like the fact that I was hanging out and singing the ‘devils’ music when they much preferred me singing church music, gospel. “I did my share of drinking, smoked some pot. My mom and 48


I clashed a lot during that period because she just wasn’t having it. She would lock the screen to the front door, so I would have to knock to get in. So, ringing the bell at 1:00 in the morning would often lead to a serious tongue lashing.” The future Platter could recall only one instance where he had a run-in with the police, and that was mostly a combination of circumstances coming together at the wrong time. “In 1966, I did have to retrieve a rental car from the police station in Hampton Va. because I let a friend borrow the car I had rented in my name. He had driven up from Shaw University for homecoming because one of my friends had a girlfriend at Hampton University. “My friend was stopped for speeding and the police confiscated the car. The problem was, we had disconnected the speedometer because we couldn’t afford to pay the mileage fee. When I arrived to claim the car, the officer at the desk asked me, point blank, ‘Who disconnected the speedometer?’ My life flashed before my eyes and I imagined having to call my parents from a Hampton jail. “They had no idea I had driven to Hampton, and they had promised from childhood that if I ever got in trouble with the law, they were going to leave me in the jail until I learned my lesson. In this case, the officer let me go but not without a stern warning. “ Coleman, like Leonard and Blunt, said he experimented with drugs when he was deeply immersed in the music business and spending a great deal of time on the road. “Cocaine was the accepted drug among artists and musicians at the time, and there was a lot of marijuana going around. How can I describe; it was a crazy time. However, we eventually grew out of that period of our lives. Thank goodness.” Eventually, said Coleman, it has to do with the influence of wives or girlfriends or, in Leonard’s case, becoming a minister to troubled young people who might follow the same path. On the topic of religion, Coleman said he grew up in the 1960s “confused and disappointed that all the teachings of love and understanding I had learned from my parents and my church were hollow.” 49


He also was upset early on at the pastoral leadership of the church in which he had grown up, Mt. Pleasant Baptist. When his older brother William, who performed in the seminal 70s soul group, the Persuaders, was accused of a misdeed he said he didn’t commit, the church leadership refused to offer support. Coleman never got over it. It was only a half century later — at the church’s 100th anniversary—that the now septuagenarian walked through its door’s again, and was warmly greeted by the current pastor, Rev. Terry Streeter. Coleman’s parents had taught him to love everyone, regardless of race, color or creed and “yet, there were those who hated us simply because of the color of our skin.” “However, my parents also told us that because of the attitudes of others we had to be twice as good as ‘they’ were at everything we did. We were expected to excel in everything we did, and to do our very best at every task and challenge.” Coleman’s words are more relevant than ever today with the current “Black Lives Matter” movement, and the numbers of African Americans profiled and stopped by police, and in some cases manhandled or killed. “That was part of what is now called ‘the talk.’ Do your best, study hard, watch out for the police, obey their commands and don’t talk back, keep your hands where the police can see them and don’t make any sudden moves,” said Coleman. He added that there was one more piece of advice in ‘the talk’ under a Christian upbringing; “Save yourself for when you get married.” The District of Columbia, as Coleman remembers it, was known as “Chocolate City” back in the 1960s through the 80s. It was only recently that the white population overtook African American with 49 percent black. “We didn’t experience much overt racism. Of course, the mere fact back then, that we didn’t have our own voting representative in Congress should have tipped me off as to what was going on. “I witnessed riots and parts of the city burning during that

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time, so I was completely aware of the power struggle in DC. Plus we had revolutionary voices like Stokely Carmichael, (later called Kwame Ture) H. Rap Brown, John Lewis and the man who later became DC mayor, Marion Barry. Then, of course, there were the Black Panthers screaming ‘Black Power.’ “But through all this tumult, we went to class, studied, partied, chased girls and generally lived our lives as though everything was copacetic,” he said. The African American population of the District back then dreaded the Vietnam War. It was a white man’s war being fought by an overwhelmingly high percentage of blacks. “It was quite clear that black men were more likely to be drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam than any other ethnic group,” observed Coleman. “I lost a couple of friends in the war. It was very hard on our community, and we felt helpless to do anything about it other than try and find a deferment like the white folks were doing. Of course, others were leaving for Canada to avoid the draft. Most black men didn’t take that route, but some did.” As for Coleman, he volunteered for the Air Force and spent his time in the military as an aircraft mechanic. Joe Coleman and The Platters Coleman grew up singing gospel in church and, as he puts it, “It had a profound impact on my music.” His first real experience with what he termed “fiery” gospel music was at Mt. Pleasant Baptist where one particular member of the choir, a “Mrs. Crump would blow us all away with her powerful, alto voice with very deep tones. It mesmerized me. The power of her voice still resonates with me today.” In the 1960s, Motown became the sound, competing with the British invasion of pop music. It was the heyday of The Temptations, The Supremes, Gladys Knight and The Pips, and Marvin Gaye. “I loved so many artists. My vocal style is a mix of many great stars of my youth such as Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole—even Bing Crosby—Lou Rawls, Curtis

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Mayfield, Sarah Vaughn, and Johnny Mathis. They were great influences on me, and each had a distinctly different style from the others.” Was joining up with The Platters a dream come true for Coleman? Yes, but not really in the way one might believe. Such a contradiction works well with the multi-talented singer who had high hopes for the True Reflection and was devastated when the group broke up. He still harkens back to those days. The way Coleman relates it: “I guess you could say it was a dream come true because I always wanted to be in a ‘hit’ group and The Platters, certainly, filled that bill. “Though the plan was to do it, with one of the groups I had been in during my teens and early twenties or as a solo artist. But, The Platters was never one of the groups I had imagined joining. “ It was, however, a blessing that allowed me to travel the world— China, Japan, Europe, France, Italy, Germany and so many places performing with one of the greatest groups of all time. “Those were “heady” times, as we were greeted as ‘Stars,’ wherever we went and, as such, enjoyed the spoils of success.” Coleman met Paul Robi, an original member of The Platters in 1982. The pioneering Platters had, in essence, a seamless bridge between rock-n’-roll and more traditional music with songs such as “Only You,” “The Great Pretender” and “My Prayer.” In 1958 alone the original Platters had gold records with two older songs, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Twilight Time.” The original Platters, formed in 1953, consisted of Robi, Herb Reed, Tony Williams, and David Lynch. “Paul’s group was considered the best of the Platters groups working at the time,” said Coleman. “The original Platters had parted ways about 1960-61. They, unlike most groups of the time, had formed a corporation called ‘Five Platters Inc.,’ with each of them owning a fifth of the name.

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“When they broke up, they each formed their own groups— Tony Williams’ Platters, Paul Robi’s Platters, Zola Taylor’s (a woman who later joined) Platters, and Herb Reed’s Platters. “Actually, Herb and David Lynch remained with the core group for a few more years, partnering from time to time with Tony and Paul to form what they still called The Platters. “I sang with Paul for a few years, prior to his death in 1989. I then sang with Jean Bennett’s group and Buck Ram’s (who wrote the song ‘Only You’) and who managed the original five Platters group. In 1994, I joined the Marshak group, which had the exclusive rights to the Platters’ name at that time. The group was performing at the Sahara in Las Vegas and would continue to do so for 15 years.” With so many different Platters groups, Coleman tried to keep out of any of the legal wrangling that occurs when there happens to be so many competing interests. “The group members and those associated with the group (Buck Ram, Jean Bennett) have been in court since the midsixties fighting over ownership of the name. It was finally resolved in 2010 when Herb Reed was finally and rightfully given sole rights to the name. Unfortunately, Herb passed in 2012.” All the while, Coleman was pursuing a solo career as well. “ I had released self-penned recordings on Ariola Records (England and the Benelux countries, Brussels, Netherland, and Luxembourg ), Bump Records (Canada), Formula One (Italy), Stash Records (USA).” However, when it comes to being commercially successful, most of the singers who went solo from the Platters, Temptations, and the Drifters, fared better in a group, including the silkyvoiced Joe Coleman. “Unfortunately, I had limited success as a solo artist,” he said. That’s debatable. Lightning had already struck with his being asked to become one of The Platters. And toward the end of that long run, he parlayed his talents into an off-Broadway show. Now, he is a member of a group pushing the envelope of stardom as he edges up in his 70s. No one would suggest Coleman has been a failure at anything—except maybe parking 53


cars, the sacking of which led to his brief stint as a well-dressed street person on the hunt for a career in music. Now he has a multi-million dollar home in an exclusive area just outside DC, a very successful wife in Dr. Weaver and is enjoying his re-emergence as a crooner with LCB.

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CHAPTER FIVE

The Glenn Leonard Story “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” —Langston Hughes. We all grow up with a dream. Glenn Leonard’s fanciful vision from the time he first heard The Temptations harmonize was to be a member of that famous group. It was more than a dream. It was an obsession, like some youngsters want to grow up and be Major League baseball players and hit home runs like Hammering Hank Aaron. For Leonard, it was a key spot in the colorful lineup that was called The Temptations. The Temptations Eddie Kendricks was his Mickey Mantle, Aaron and Ted Williams rolled into one. To have an opportunity to sing with an original member of the group seemed a star too far. However, goals are rarely achieved overnight. Leonard’s opportunity came later with The Temptation’s Reunion, and then it was Kendrick’s last stanza. He was dying of cancer. Glenn Carl Leonard was the second eldest in a family of eight children, and the oldest still at home. This meant he had a lot of responsibilities taking care of the younger Leonards. 55


“It created foundations that hung to me like moss on trees— for a lifetime,” he said. One of his earliest memories was of Willard Street in southeast DC and later moving to a home in northeast Washington that today is a preferred area but wasn’t back then, growing up. “I remember my dad walking me to the barbershop down the street. I was maybe five years old. I loved to just sit in a chair and listen to them trash talk after getting a trim. “I recall one time when I left our house alone and walked by myself to the barbershop. It was quite an adventure for a curious little kid. Yep, at five I considered myself a little man. It was an exercise in little Glenn finding himself. It was only six blocks, but when you’re five, that’s like walking to an exotic foreign land. “After I arrived I just sat there in an empty barber chair listening to the barbers talk. Finally, one asked me where my daddy was. They were sure he was right behind me. I shrugged. Home? They couldn’t believe I had walked all that way.” Eventually, one of the barbers, Mr. Jones, walked to Leonard’s house and informed his daddy that the pint-sized tyke had gone from being little more than a toddler to your basic barbershop cowboy. “My dad wasn’t upset with me. I told him I was just following in his footsteps and paying a visit to the barbershop. I loved that place, the pictures on the wall, the smell, and the conversation.” It could be that this pursuit of the ordinary in hopes of making it the extraordinary served as an ideal talisman for a gregarious but rather mediocre student who was, as the Coaster’s song Charlie Brown goes, a little bit of a clown. He’s a clown, that Charlie Brown. He’s gonna get caught Just you wait and see (Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me) The Leonard family lived in a 1920s built redbrick row house which in the 1950s would sell for a fraction of the millionplus cost today for a 2,500 square foot residence. Now such homes have the title of a mini-manse and are way out of reach 56


for middle-class buyers. Not far away are various embassies, American University, and the National Cathedral. “I guess you could say the neighborhood changed a good bit,” said Leonard. “That old barbershop is long gone. I guess you could consider us poor, but I never missed a meal at my house.” Leonard turned to music when he was only seven, rocking out to the beat of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” and swaying forth to the country-pop sounds of the Everly Brothers, Phil and Don, who in part contributed to his wanting a guitar. There was one Everly Brothers song that fit Leonard to a tee; “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” The ballad, of course, was about a girl as was typical for 1960, but it could just as well have been a metaphor for young Glenn’s ambition to be a Temptation. During the summers, the family would visit relatives in Durham and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Leonard recalls a trip one summer when his mother’s youngest brother, named Willard, was visiting. “He was a handsome guy with straight hair. Our family on my mother’s side was part Cherokee and devilishly handsome. Word that Willard was coming home brought out a lot of people. He was quite the ladies’ man. There was a lot of food, and some drinking that night. Eventually, my uncle grabbed his Gibson guitar and we all gravitated toward his playing. “The evening was to end in a social catastrophe. At some point, Willard asked to borrow daddy’s car, and my dad, knowing Willard had been imbibing, said ‘no.’ They got into an argument and my uncle slammed that beautiful guitar into the stove, breaking it at the neck. “I cradled what was left of that guitar, and brought it home with me. I think my parents felt sorry for me. They knew I would love to have a guitar. They got to talking and said I needed a guitar, and I just might get one someday, but I didn’t believe them.” Christmas eventually came around, and Leonard’s parents did buy an inexpensive guitar and hid it in the closet where it was to stay until the upcoming holiday. But Glenn was the curious sort. Having outgrown Santa Claus, he was relatively certain 57


the Christmas presents would be stashed in a certain forbidden closet. His father had dreams as well. His was to play major league baseball. He had played Triple-A ball, one step below the majors, but the time it took away from home and work caused financial hardships. “There never was enough money with him away,” said Leonard. Leonard’s father was also a noted seafood chef in DC. He could cook anything, but seafood was his specialty, and he worked hard at it to save for a joyous Christmas. For the most part, he was a cook on East Capitol Street at the “Shrimp Boat.” “Sure, I knew in most cases my parents would hide the presents. When I would play ball, I would come home and toss my tennis shoes into the darkness of the closet, generally never paying attention to where they landed. Once though, I thought I heard the sound of guitar strings. “‘What’s back there daddy? What’s back there?’ But he wouldn’t tell me. However, I could see a brown case,” said Leonard. “It certainly had the look of a guitar case.” Once, Leonard came home when absolutely no one was around. He ducked into the closest, took out the guitar, and while still in the dark closet went to town, just strumming away. Then, light flooded in when his father surprised him by opening the door. After admonishing him first, he told Leonard the guitar was his to keep as an early Christmas present. This led to taking guitar lessons at school. “I met other guys who played instruments. We were all only 10 or 11 years old, and that paved the way for playing parties as a group in the neighborhood. This led to a little tension between my dad and me. I’m just a kid and he wanted me to continue to play baseball, but I was more involved with music, and so music won out. Around junior high, I started mimicking other singers and groups, standing before a mirror and trying to sound like what I heard on the records.” “About this time, the big sister of a friend told me to get my guitar and play for a few people. I remember her words, ‘This little guy can sing. I think he can be an entertainer’. His friend’s sister ended up giving Leonard vocal lessons, 58


teaching him how to have bell clarity and more of a full-throated voice by singing from his diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle separating the thoracic cavity, where your heart and lungs are located, along with the internal organs in the rest of your body. He learned breath control, using the deep muscles to force air from the lungs and through the voice. Leonard became amazed by the various pitches he could attain simply by utilizing that voice lesson from his friend’s older sister. When Leonard was in Taft Junior High, he was fortunate to meet the Blunt of Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt at a school audition. Blunt’s song was from Jerry Butler of The Impressions, “For Your Precious Love.” “It was a luscious sound,” said Leonard. “I was blown away. Right after the audition was over, I came up to him and said, ‘Let’s start a group.” I remember his exact words, ‘Who are you?’” With Joe Coleman and Joe Blunt, it began as young kids in junior choir at the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Northwest DC. With Leonard and Blunt, the genesis was that perchance introduction in junior high. The result was the formation of The Chancellors with The Chancellors Blunt and Leonard. (Later it became the True Reflection when Blunt’s old pal Joe Coleman was asked to join and make it a quartet with another mutual friend Bobby Cox.) In 1967, the golden music genie reached outside her bottle and The Chancellors were offered a recording contract with Capacity Records which was distributed nationally by Scepter/ Wand Records in New York City, musical home to the diva Dionne Warwick. The group—Coleman was not to team with them until later—thought they had punched their ticket to stardom. They were giddy with possibilities as they produced their first single, 59


“Sad Avenue,” quickly followed by “Girls Do Wonderful Things for Boys.” They patterned themselves after—guess who? — The Temptations. They certainly had opportunities and came close to touching stardom. Their music for Capacity Records was produced and arranged by the late Freddie (Frederick James) Perren, who had been the group’s keyboardist and went on to produce such artists as The Jackson Five, The Miracles and Gloria Gaynor. Perren was a brilliant musician and arranger. A music graduate of Howard University in DC, Perrin had also been instrumental in the career of DeeDee (Delia Juanita) Warwick, sister of the more famous Dionne Warwick. But, the music business is made up of extreme highs akin to a hand-clapping revival meeting but also with lows as deep down as Etta James’ singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” That which is often thought of as breaking through the clouds often doesn’t make it quite as high as a modest mountain. Neither release was a huge commercial success. The Chancellors split right out of high school. They had taken DC by storm, but apparently, the timing was off. But the group owed a debt of gratitude to Perren. “He listened to us, and came to the conclusion that we had what it takes—that we had the raw talent,” said Leonard. “We never lost sight of that thought.” Leonard and Joe Blunt decided they wanted to continue chasing their dreams, with Joe Coleman in the lineup. In the late 1960s, they formed True Reflection and put together a string of performance venues up and down the East Coast, supper clubs where young singers could hone their talents and their dance moves. It wasn’t long before a major label signed them, Atlantic. In the 1950s, groups would simply stand in front of three to five microphones and harmonize. That began to change with The Platters, The Drifters and, most of all, The Temptations. It was part of the showmanship to exhibit near precision dance moves. Later, Motown actually formalized an Artist and Repertoire (A&R) school, helping up-and-coming young singers on the label to perfect their dancing and even holding individual singing 60


lessons for some who had a hard time hitting certain notes. When Lady Luck did extend a hand, it was a dash of serendipity mixed with moxie and a dollop of good fortune. Lightning struck when True Reflection was at a low point and on the verge of breaking up. They were, at the time, one of the newest, hottest groups around. They had just cut an album at the world famous Sigma Sound Studios with a top-notch production team out of Philly at the height of the Philly sound, Potomac Productions. An investor, a former pro football player for the Buffalo Bills, Bob Carrington, was helping bankroll them. After touring throughout the US and Canada with major

The Temptations in the Soul Train Dressing room—Glenn Leonard, Dennis Edwards, Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams, Richard Street

acts like The Isley Brothers, Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes, The Dramatics and New Birth their act was tighter than a Mason jar lid and their showmanship could have rivaled a Las Vegas chorus line. They were star-spangled and classy. They were primed for the “big show.” It was a heady time. They were enjoying their new found success, splurging on nice cars, uptown duds, and new homes and appearing on the popular television show Soul Train. Easy Street seemed paved with vinyl 45 rpm records. 61


But then, in virtually 24-hours, reality crashed into the dream like a meteor burning up on entering the atmosphere. Just as their single was about to be released, the corporate gods at Atlantic Records said — in essence—wait a year. “They switched gears. We’re going to push the Isley Brothers ahead of the True Reflection,” they said. “It was a corporate decision.” To Leonard and the two Joes, Coleman and Blunt, this was like cancelling Christmas morning and, at the same time, your mama telling you she didn’t love you anymore. It was devastating. “Were we disappointed?” said Leonard. “Of course we were. We were youngsters who thought and dreamed we were on the cusp of superstardom, and then the rug was pulled out from under us. It was like that comic strip, Peanuts, when Lucy pulls the football away just as Charlie Brown is about to kick it and Charlie lands on his rear.” Fact was, it probably would have been just a year’s delay— nothing unusual in the music industry at that time when rarely did the artists have a major say-so or a vote. You simply went along. The record label hierarchy was like the Wizard of Oz, shouting down commands from on high. A year, however, can seem like a lifetime for three young men anticipating a breakthrough. It was a crushing blow, and no matter if the sun would come up the next day, for the True Reflection that day was still going to be cloudy with showers. The True Reflection’s tour in Canada had come to a close. They had neglected to hustle up any new venue dates in anticipation of marching orders from the record label that was sure to come with the pending new release. `` The tour had been long and tiring. They felt they needed a break. Joe Blunt bailed first. “I’m going back home,” he said. Then, Joe Coleman said that sounded to him like a good plan. And just like that, it was over. They didn’t get back as a group until the LCB reunion nearly four decades later. Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt each took circuitous routes based largely on their individual talents and personalities, spending many years each with three of America’s most famous R&B, soul and pop groups. 62


The Phoenix Rises However, just as the 18th Century poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” sometimes the totally unscripted makes for as good a life and an even better yarn to spin. Like the script that flashes across the silver screen in old adventure serials foretold: “Fate Intervened.” Joe Coleman spoke with Tony Sylvester, producer of True Reflections’ new material and member of, the hit R&B group, Main Ingredient. Tony informed Joe that he had played the True Reflection songs for Otis Williams of The Temptations, who asked, “Who is that tenor? I’d like to check him out.” Coleman called Joe Blunt, who tracked Glenn down in Toronto, where he was staying after True Reflection broke up. Leonard got the surprise of his life. “You won’t believe this, but the Temptations want to talk with you,” Blunt told his friend. Leonard deadpanned, “Well, I believe it.” His reply had nothing to do with ego. It was pure conviction that his time would come. “Joe, you know how I feel about the Temptations.” He had been a fan all his life. Putting such a scenario into perspective, it was merely one of those long-shot possibilities, like winning the Powerball Lottery buying a single ticket. The Temptations at the time were on a worldwide search for a tenor who would fit well with the group. Someone somewhere mentioned Leonard and through the kinetic communication of the music industry, the thought came over Coleman and Blunt’s information transom. But, in the history of the music world, there had not been any greater fan of the Temptations than Glenn Leonard. In fact, Leonard had convinced himself early on that he would one day sing with the famous group. He knew by heart their entire repertoire—every part of every song. So, maybe it was telepathy. To Glenn, Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, Paul Williams, David Ruffin and Melvin Franklin of the Temptations were the equivalent of musical gods. Beyond them was simply nirvana. Fellow tenor Kendricks was his idol.

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(Many years later, the Temptations longest serving performer, Otis Williams, sent a special video message to Leonard on his 70th birthday. Williams noted that he had been in the business for 57 years, and during that time, he had worked with only three great tenors, Eddie Kendricks, Ron Tyson and “the amazing Glenn Leonard.”) When Otis Williams was told the tenor on the True Reflection material was Leonard, Williams said the Temptations would give him a tryout, though at this time True Reflection was still signed to Atlantic records. Sylvester got in touch with the company and was able to extricate the group from their contract since, by this time, they were no longer performing as a group. The Temptations told Leonard they would send him a roundtrip ticket to Los Angeles to audition. There were no promises made. “Never mind that,” said the aspiring Leonard. “Make it one way.” Leonard didn’t want to sound too sure of himself—he might be cocky, but he was also raised to be humble. “I just knew if I got out there, and it didn’t work out, it was where the action was.” Three Temptations —Melvin Franklin, Dennis Edwards, and Otis Williams— met Leonard at the airport. “Where’s your luggage?” they asked. He hadn’t brought any. He wanted to wear what the Temptations wore. In the car on the way to Franklin’s house, Leonard heard the three mumbling between one another. His mind, of course, began constructing possible glitches, little thunderclouds. No one was talking to Leonard. It was awkward. Then, suddenly, Edwards started singing, and when it came to what could be Leonard’s solo part, the passenger in LA for an audition came right in without the slightest cue. They went on to another song, and Leonard joined in on the tenor lead. “I’m thinking maybe I have a chance. They had to be impressed.” Then, it became quiet again. As they approached Melvin’s house, they reminded Leonard once more that several other very capable tenors would be there to audition. But, Melvin added, “I guess we might shut it down,” meaning the audition, and send those other guys home who had traveled 64


so far. At that point, Leonard was rather certain he had made the Temptations cut. There was only one issue. Leonard pleaded with what would be his new group to continue the auditions. He thought about how he would feel coming all the way, and then not getting a chance. “You know,” said Leonard. “Please continue and let them audition. They can aways go back to where ever they’re from and tell their friends, even their grandchildren one day, they auditioned for The Temptations.” Glenn Leonard became a fixture as a lead tenor on The Temptations from 1975 to 1983. He had four weeks to prepare for a guest appearance on the popular Midnight Special TV series hosted by Wolfman Jack. Soon he was playing the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem. “It was a great run,” he said. Eventually, however, he had a greater call and that was to become an ordained minister in Houston, working with at-risk teens.

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CHAPTER SIX

The Joe Blunt Story “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” —Seneca Joe Blunt looks on the reunion of Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt as in its infancy, even though they have been back together for much of the decade. In many ways, this is what keeps them fresh—both in their own minds and in the eye of the public for whom they perform. They are willing to try new material. “We are all songwriters. We love to Joe Blunt receives “Gold Disc” from Sony Records sing together and we love to perform,” said Blunt. “Together that creates a whole lot of energy, and the audience can see that on stage. “Yeah, sure, we might all be in our 70s or approaching it, but there’s a wealth of talent and experience there. Who was it, the great baseball player Satchel Paige who said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” Blunt is the baby of the group at 69. In Blunt’s view, LCB doesn’t just answer the bell when the clang sounds for another round. “We run to the center of the ring and start singing and swinging. That is what’s motivational.” While he wasn’t born in DC, Blunt’s family moved from Newport News, Va. to the district when he was just one-year66


old. Though he has been around the world with the Drifters, the launching pad was Northeast Washington. In a way, Blunt was greatly influenced by geography and the fact that the Colemans and the Blunts lived in different but adjoining neighborhoods of the city. Blunt, Joe Coleman and Coleman’s brother Willie, and Blunt’s brother Alvin would come together and harmonize at church where their mothers led the junior choir “Sometimes we would go over to Coleman’s house and sing a little harmony,” said Blunt. “It was kind of street corner thing. That began our musical journey, and we turned professional while still teenagers at 18. Blunt describes their music as a combination of pop, rhythm and blues and soul, but buys into the concept that it is really a bridge connecting various genres. It is, indeed, a melting pot where everyone and anyone can agree on a simple fact: The music moves you, and, like Dick Clark’s bubble-gum chewing teen guest in Philly would say on his long-running American Bandstand show, “You can dance to it. I’ll give it a 10.” “When I first became a fan of these great groups such as the Drifters and the Platters, it came through family members. Quite often at family gatherings the Drifter’s ‘There Goes My Baby’ would be playing on the phonograph. I certainly was a fan of the Drifters before I became one—though frankly when I signed on, I thought their time had passed. I was so, so wrong.” Like Leonard and Coleman, Blunt came to adulthood living in a rather spacious row house in the Edgewood area of DC in what he describes as “not exactly a high rent district.” Now, however, it is choice real estate, almost toney and out of the price range for middle-income buyers, a mere hop, skip and a jump from what is known as Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue. As a youngster, he walked to school near where he lived and eventually moved closer to the neighborhood in which Glenn Leonard lived. Blunt and Leonard were in the same graduating class at McKinley Tech High School in 1967 and had attended the same junior high. 67


The first professional group he sang in was the Chancellors. They had signed a recording contract with Cap City Records. It was a five-man group consisting of Blunt, Leonard, Willie Lester, James Cotton, and Rick Dorsey, Blunt recalled. The first two recordings for Cap City were “Sad City” in which Blunt sang the lead and “Girls Do Wonderful Things” on which Leonard took the lead. It was also during this period he met his future wife, Paula, who was recording on the same label with her group, The Fhawns. However, in the beginning, Paula and Joe went different directions. Paula gave up her music aspirations to get a university and a graduate degree in sociology. Those were heady days for Blunt and the Chancellors. Fresh out of high school they had a record deal. “It was quite exciting, perhaps more than it should have been,” said Blunt. Thinking back, Blunt’s brother looks on Joe’s Chancellors days—and later with the True Reflection— as perhaps the most fulfilling for both Joe and Glenn. “It was a great achievement to be chosen for the Drifters,” said Alvin Blunt, a retired US government worker in Bowie, Md. who also was a drummer for his brother’s groups. “But when it’s your own group, something you have started from scratch like the Chancellors, there’s a certain ownership you feel. They received a lot of accolades at a young age. It was a heady time. “When you go into a famous group like the Drifters, Platters or the Temptations and it’s not the original, you are kind of in the shadows of history. There is a little of a stigma that goes along with it, though there shouldn’t be, particularly since Glenn performed with several original Temptations, and Joe sang with Ben E. King and Johnny Moore in the Drifters. Throughout, the important point is that the original sound and quality are there.” Alvin said not being an original “didn’t take anything away from his brother’s time with the Drifters, and certainly not with the current LCB group. “But they have that ownership now. They are the originals, and the fact they have been singing together from time to time for decades shows up in their performances. They have fans now 68


who follow and appreciate their music and they have for many years.” Back then, when they were all just edging into their 20s, they were signed by a local company, but the company had national distribution with Scepter Records, which was the diva Dionne Warwick’s label. They were also recording in New York City, the Big Apple, and were the opening act for an established star, Jerry Butler. But in the music business, what goes up comes down just as quickly. However, they had achieved a measure of success and it was one of many stepping stones to the Drifters for Blunt. “It is difficult to say what makes a hit. I’d like to think the music is the most important part of it,” said Joe Blunt. “But the reality in the music business world is that it comes down to exposure.” Fast forwarding to his time with the Drifters, Blunt recalls a particular decision by the record company that the entire group felt was a mistake. “We had recorded a great song called ‘Sweet Little Rock and Roller,” and we were certain that it should be our next release. The record company said ‘no.’ We went ballistic. “However, they insisted that we record ‘You’re More Than a Number In My Little Red Book,” and so we followed their marching orders. The song we wanted to record—written by Chuck Berry— was covered by someone else (later by Rod Stewart) and became No. 1 record in England. “However, the record company wasn’t all wrong. We recorded the song they insisted on and it went to No. 5 on the UK charts, becoming a certified hit for the Drifters in 1976. It shocked us,” he said. It was about a year after Glenn Leonard went to the Temptations that Blunt got a call from his long-time friend. Leonard had run across the Drifters and word was they were looking for a replacement. Leonard gave Blunt a number to call. “That’s the short story of how I became a member of the Drifters,” said Blunt. “I went to New York to rehearse with the guys, and was selected.” Blunt, who grew listening to the Drifters but thought they had disappeared into the black hole of the competitive music 69


business, soon found out how wrong he was. They were still a headline act and selling records onin Europe. It was to be a ten-year run, starting in 1975 when Blunt replaced Butch Leake in the Drifters’ lineup. The Drifters were so successful in England in the 80s that the legendary Ben E. King (lead on “Stand By Me” and “Save the Last Dance for Me”) rejoined the group. “We had quite a run,” said Blunt. “It was Clyde Brown, Johnny Moore, Ben E. King, sometimes Billy Lewis and me. It was a very successful period for us, particularly in Europe.” What does Blunt see for Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt? He looked into the crystal ball and liked what he saw. “This is why I am all in. I have always felt that because of the number of years we have known one another and the fact that each of us come from legendary groups, we can come full circle with LCB,” said Blunt. Blunt said he hoped My Time to Shine, the book, would help elevate the music of this era and how relevant it is to the world we are living in today,” he said. “After all these years, we’re still making music—and it’s new music.” The way Blunt sees it, their music speaks not just for his generations but for everyone—including millennials. The music represents love songs, longing for someone songs, occasional conflict and overcoming odds songs. It is snapshot musical images of songs from the mid-1950s until today. It is timeless, and therefore relevant. “Every generation comes through some crucible. We certainly did, but there has never been a time I can recall where there hasn’t been some conflict and turmoil,” said Blunt. Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt’s crucible was growing up in Washington, DC when civil rights were gaining a toehold. Blunt well remembers the 1968 riots and part of the district being on fire. “I would catch the bus from downtown. I can still recall the smoke rising from 7th Street. At the time, I couldn’t imagine what was going on. No, the era and riots didn’t define who we were, but it influenced it.” 70


This attitude carries over to their music. “One of the keys to success is staying current, knowing what is happening today in music. Hopefully, as your time goes by you get wiser, and this age becomes an advantage. The process is interesting. You recall past experiences and this helps you avoid the pitfalls.” If someone had said Joe Blunt — who turned professional at 18—would be doing now what he did way back then, “I would say ‘no way.’” Blunt said he and the others in the group were fortunate to have managed to stay reasonably healthy and to take one day at a time. “I think people are shocked when they see us and are not sure what to expect,” said Blunt. “We put a lot of energy into our performance and choreography. You can’t do that if you are a couch potato. “What amazes me is when we talk to young people, they know the songs we sing. Their parents and grandparents have passed this music along. It is not unusual to see a youngster break out in ‘Under the Boardwalk.’” Blunt said he enjoys listening to various genres of music, and that, in essence, music hasn’t changed that much over the years. “Listening to other music helps us stay relevant for today.” A grandfather, Blunt has been married to his bride Paula for 42 years and they have two sons, Brian and Darren, who have sons and daughters. One son is actively involved in music with a band and the other plays keyboard, but didn’t pursue a musical career. “I hear what they tune in on musically. I listen to a lot of radio just to know what people like,” said Blunt. Blunt seems to have no specific preference for any style of music. It can be pop, R&B or even country. “I like country music’s lyrics, the chord structure and the rhythm,” he said. Of the Drifters with whom he sang, all with the exception of Clyde Brown have passed on. “Down through the years we continued to collaborate on material,” he said. One aspect of the music business and the Drifters Blunt could have done without was the various legal entanglements over who could use the name and how. 71


“Over the years there have been all kinds of drama and litigation over the use of the name—even today. The Treadwell family, who managed the group, owned the name, but there were years and years of court battles before it was resolved. “You have to remember that over the years there have been at least 60 different Drifter members beginning in 1953,” said Blunt. After more than a half dozen years working through their sixties together, LCB tends to make both creative and directional decisions as a group. They even get together and decide what kind of look they want for their on-stage costumes. “It’s a good partnership,” he said. It is clear all three members of the LCB team served lengthy apprenticeships leading up to today. To get a snapshot history of Joe Blunt, he urges you to talk to a person he is especially close to, his younger brother Alvin, who worked 30 years at the US Nuclear Regulatory Agency but who has also been a minister in Arizona. “We had been playing some kind of music since we were small. I grew up playing drums and Joe the keyboard,” said Alvin Blunt. “We were playing cabarets in the DC area by the time we were 12, doing gigs between the main acts. We weren’t even old enough to legally be in a club.” Later Alvin joined the Chancellors, the group Leonard was in, and even later a group call Instant Groove. “They began to tour, and I couldn’t keep up with them. “But mainly it started in church. We were all in the same youth choir, including our sister Linette and Joe Coleman and his sister. They formed a gospel group, but also sang in the choir. “A lot of R&B singers back then started in the church, but we moved on to other genres, including playing at the Part Three night club on Georgia Avenue or the Playpen Lounge on South Capital.” Alvin described his brother Joe as always having a silky smooth voice, and was proud that the group on occasion allowed him a singing part. “Normally drummers don’t sing—they just beat those drums.” Growing up living in DC with the hot summers, Alvin said 72


on occasion, about age 10, they would throw the windows wide open. Joe would get on the piano and he on the drums “and play as loud as we could. Our parents never heard about it, and evidently, the neighbors never called the police.” What does Alvin Blunt think about the LCB reunion: “These guys are genuine. What you see is what you see. They’re not putting on airs.”

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CHAPTER SEVEN

Heroes

“I am part of all that I have met; Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades Forever and forever when I move.” —Alfred Lord Tennyson We all have heroes. These are people we look up to as being on a plateau somewhere below the clouds but within reach of them. We imitate them. We learn from them. The result is a better us. They become, in essence, our agents and advocates. It’s a bonus if they are still breathing, but that is not a prerequisite of a hero. They can be mythical figures, even ideals—so long as they are not false idols. The only prerequisite is they serve—in whatever form—as a talisman for our future. They light a pathway, one that is often winding and sometimes in the shadows of controversy created by ourselves and by others. Some of these pitfalls are accidental, others we head toward with eyes wide open but blinded by the light, like a moth to a bulb. Fact is, we try to appropriate their best characteristics and hope their worst habits don’t latch on to us like barnacles on the bottom of a shipwrecked boat. Even our heroes are rarely perfect because they, like us, also have blemishes. This is one of the main reasons they become personal heroes. They are human with human frailties. 74


The same is true with Glenn Leonard, Joe Coleman, and Joe Blunt. They are, in essence, heroes to many, and at the same time, they have their own guiding lights. In writing this book, I have come to know them over dozens of hours of interviews, some long distance, others up close and personal. I have attended their concerts and broken bread with them over dinners. I have talked to their friends and their families. In their seven decades, career-wise they have run the equivalent of the long distance runner’s marathon, and they’ve hardly broken a sweat. They are troupers and troopers. They have had encouragement and many bouquets tossed along the way. Of course, there were also a few brickbats hurled as well in the guise of well-documented setbacks as elaborated in an earlier chapter titled “In Every Life A Little Rain Must Fall.” Often that extra boost came from family. Which path would Joe Coleman have taken if his mother had not insisted on his joining the church choir, an interest he had never shown? He was rather certain at the time it was a direction in which he had no particular talent or real interest. Then, there was the woman he met later in life, Dr. Vanessa Weaver, who became his wife in 2004. She was instrumental in his writing the score for the play, “If This Hat Could Talk.” Additionally, they —Leonard, Coleman and Blunt—derived strength from one another, even though often a coast or ocean apart. They remained colleagues and friends over the span of a lifetime. Though they avoid the appellation of “best friends,” their lives remained close and wound as tightly as a spool of thread. This has lasted through the decades. Religion played a large part in developing all three, though they at times strayed. For certain they were not unfamiliar with the cultural evils and missteps of their profession. However, each had a solid foundation that sustained them in tough times. Though they were rhythm and blues, pop, and soul crooners, gospel music was in their DNA, growing up in church choirs and with family sing-alongs.

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They were simply an amalgamation of talent that came together in and out of high school and never lost sight of the bond and what brought them together in the first place, the music. They became, one might say with just a slight romancing of the product, one another’s heroes. However, there were also incalculable outside influences that ferried them on their career paths. For Leonard, it undoubtedly was the great Temptations tenor Eddie Kendricks, for Coleman, perhaps it was someone he admired — an elderly lady—who led him to write a Broadway production and spread his wings. And for Blunt, most likely it was his wife of 41 years, Paula, who had by far the hardest job between them raising two teenage boys when he was away six months out of the year with The Drifters in Europe. There were, of course, dozens of other helping hands. But let’s begin here with the sweet-voiced Leonard and his idol, the legendary Eddie Kendricks. Leonard’s Heroes Kendricks was already a hit-making solo act by the time Leonard joined the Temptations. “Eddie was a master tenor, and we came together later with The Temptations Reunion,” said Leonard. “But, any performer who has had a little success is high strung. There are strong personalities involved, and along with that comes some baggage.” There had been rumors—and it had been written—that Leonard was jealous of Kendricks. This is clearly a sore spot with Leonard. The talk was just talk, and Leonard is quick to spread his admiration for the older tenor. “Eddie Kendricks was my favorite Temptation. The group weighed heavily on his contribution. I thought Eddie was the absolute best,” said Leonard. “Some people misinterpret what they see. I was very excited over The Temptations Reunion and the chance to join up with Eddie. We had about a year performing together.”

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It was during that year, however, that Kendricks was diagnosed with the first signs of cancer. He put off getting treatment, and his voice was not as strong as it once had been. He was having problems reaching the high notes. “We noticed Eddie’s voice getting thinner. We were there for him during performances. I would say, ‘Eddie, we’re here for you’ if he were having trouble reaching a note. Some nights he was great, and other nights not so.” Kendricks had a long and storied career. While others struggled when they left the group as solo artists, “Eddie did fine,” said Leonard. “Better than any of the Temptations that went solo.” There was one particularly poignant moment that Leonard recalls. He attended a Kendricks performance and the tenor saw him in the audience and called him up on stage. “Eddie was in the middle of a set. I remember it clearly. He called me on stage and handed me the microphone. He wanted me to sing his lead. It was almost as if he were passing the torch.” In late 1991, Kendricks, by now frail and living in his native Birmingham, Ala., underwent surgery to have one of his lungs removed in hopes of preventing the spread of the cancer. He continued to tour through the summer of 1992 but fell ill again and was hospitalized. Kendricks died of lung cancer in Birmingham on Oct. 5, 1992 at age 52. “Yes, he was my hero,” said Leonard of the famous falsetto. “I don’t know if there will ever be anyone as great as Eddie.” Joe Coleman’s Heroes Asked about his heroes, Joe Coleman reels off a list as long as one’s arm. They range from sports greats Jackie Robinson, Mohammad Ali, and Henry Aaron to singing icons such as Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, and Sam Cooke. Then there are politicians such as President John F. Kennedy, Georgia’s civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis and the DC District representative for many years, Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy. “And, of course, Martin Luther King Jr.,” he added.

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However, in several hours of interviews, the one person who stuck out in a writer’s mind was an elderly civil rights icon who encouraged him as he wrote the score to “If This Hat Could Talk,” based on the central character with whom he was conversing, Dr. Dorothy Height. The musical stemmed from her memoir, “Open Wide the Freedom Gates.” This is the way Coleman tells the story; “I was in Las Vegas performing with The Platters at the time, and I didn’t gamble so I spent my time in my room writing songs for the show. Once I got a song in a place where I liked what I was doing, I would call Dr. Height on the phone (I hadn’t met her yet) and sing the songs for her over the phone. “She would say, ‘it’s like you’ve known me all my life. The songs tell my story, perfectly’.” Dr. Height became a dear friend and someone I loved and admired very much. She was an amazing woman. I met her at age 92. She died at age 98 in 2010.” The story of Dr. Height is closely related to that other hero, Coleman’s wife, Vanessa. “I met my future wife at the birthday of a friend’s mother. My friend it turned out was Vanessa’s masseuse. We talked about whether she needed an agent because she was producing a TV program on workplace stress. Though the show never materialized, we stayed in touch and whenever she would come to DC we would get together. “It turned into a romance when she asked me about writing a musical on the life of a friend and mentor. That person happened to be Dr. Height, and thus was born “If This Hat Could Talk.” “I think the best song I ever wrote was a dedication to Dr. Height, who I was fortunate enough to meet through Vanessa,” added Coleman. She encouraged me in this direction.”. He called the song “I Gave My All” with the soaring music and the words exemplifying this early civil and women’s rights leader. “When she died, both President Obama and his wife, Michelle, attended the funeral.” The relationship fostered through his wife resulted in Coleman composing the music to a Broadway-quality bound play written in honor of Dr. Height, and highlighting her many 78


mentors who helped shape her life, including Eleanor Roosevelt. Tony Award winner, George Faison, wrote the book and Coleman wrote 26 original songs for the musical. Coleman also demonstrated his versatility by joining the ensemble cast, taking on the role of Asa Philip Randolph, founder and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first predominantly African American labor union. Coleman said he began to write music in his 20s out of necessity because he wasn’t getting great material from others. “I turned my love for poetry to songwriting and finding words that touched the heart.” He felt his first good song came like a bolt out of the blue. Coleman thought his brother William, now a retired Norfolk Southern railroad man in Roanoke was the talented one. However, one night he popped up in bed and started composing “What Are You After,” putting down both the lyrics and the music. “I really didn’t know I possessed a talent in this direction,” he said. “It surprised me.” However, his musical influences were varied—and listening to different genres and styles helped him develop his craft. Successful producers are quick to say there are a lot of great singers, but it is the song, in the final analysis, that is most responsible for whether the music is a hit or a miss. While “If This Hat Could Talk” was a critical and for a while commercial success, it faced the same bugaboo that most stage productions face. It needed solid investors, and when a hopedfor major backer fell through, the road tour prior to bringing it to Broadway was called off after a ten-city tour. Growing up in DC, Coleman wrote some poetry while in the Air Force, but he said it was mainly “black protest” like Nikki Giovanni, who herself was heavily influenced by the Black Power movement of the 1960s, as were other poets he followed such as Sonia Sanchez and Don L. Lee (Haki R. Madhubuti). It was all topical, but rather radical. “It was pretty dark stuff—quite angry, and I began to see the hatred being expressed and directed toward our people,” said Coleman. 79


But there were other influences as well that might be surprising. “Matter of fact, the great Ray Charles introduced me to country soul music with his ‘You Don’t Know Me,’ ‘Ruby’ and ‘Georgia,’” he said. “And, strangely enough, I thought Ricky Nelson was vocally as smooth as silk, a very cool guy.” When it came right down to it, Coleman had a host of musical influences which might suggest why he has stretched his talent to include most genres. “And don’t forget, Elvis, the Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix,” he said. Joe Blunt Heroes Both Glenn Leonard and Joe Coleman had distinct heroes to which to look up. With Leonard, it was Eddie Kendricks, the primo tenor, while Coleman held in high esteem the civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy Height about whom he scored a musical, encouraged by his then-girlfriend and later wife, Dr. Vanessa Weaver. Taking some liberties here, this writer is fairly confident Joe Blunt’s long-time partner in life, Paula, is the person he places on a pedestal as does she him. It was Paula who kept the home fires burning while he traveled the globe with The Drifters. “I was fortunate enough to marry someone to carry on at home when I was away so much with the Drifters,” said Blunt. “It was a major plus. Even when I was gone so much, I tried to maintain a close connection at home.” At one point, when a tour was extended through Christmas in Great Britain, he brought Paula and his two young children overseas to spend the holidays with him. Eventually, however, the separation and the one-nighters and hotel rooms became too much. In 1985 he left The Drifters, returning home to his family and a series of jobs. He was a good salesman and sold insurance and automobiles to keep food on the table, occasionally lining up a singing performance. He wasn’t unhappy with this regular guy life. He could watch his children grow up, attend PTA meetings, and do the chores 80


around the house that normal nine to fivers do. However, when he got the call from Joe Coleman about putting a group together with Glenn Leonard, he didn’t have to think about it for long. It helped that Paula was happy about the LCB career choice and encouraged him.

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CHAPTER EIGHT

My Time to Shine: It’s Not Just About Nostalgia “If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck, but if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.” —The late Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party” There is also the line by the 17th Century author George Eliot, a female who wrote under a male name, “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” Joe Blunt embraces this. “LCB is still in its infancy though this time around we’ve been performing together for about seven years. We want to be back on top again, but, in some ways, we already are.” In music and in life, attitude is probably the greatest motivator for success. Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt—perhaps because of their optimism—have that magic element. Most likely, it comes from having already been individual success stories—in music, business and, certainly in Leonard’s case—religion as a minister. When asked the question in a television interview way back in 1979 “how tough is it to carry on a legacy” when some of the original members of the Temptations were gone but not forgotten, Leonard thought for just a moment and replied: “No success comes easy. Getting there is one thing. Staying there is another. It’s very difficult to come behind an original. It just is. So you have to be comfortable, confident and settled in with yourself. 82


“The original is what it is. If this is the mold you are cast in, then you do your best. As long as you keep high standards, have integrity and work hard, you establish yourself as a new original. You have to dedicate yourself to your craft. “We often rehearse, even on the road. You might think that as long as I have been doing this—knowing the songs and everyone’s part in them—we wouldn’t have to rehearse. It doesn’t work that way. You want to stay sharp, fine-tuned. The way you do that is by working your instrument. Your instrument is your voice, your stage presence, your oneness with your group.” Joe Blunt scoffs at the whole idea of just a nostalgia group while at the same time paying homage to the crowds who show up to hear the classic hits. He sees Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt as a new original. “A lot of people, of course, want to hear the old songs. They grew up on them. It represents part of their personal histories. We like being a part of that. We are all about pleasing the audience. “However, this is not nearly the end of the line for the three of us. We have a lot of energy and talent. This is simply a new beginning. We’re just getting started,” said Blunt. “We enjoy doing new material, introducing new styles, just as we are happy to honor our heritage of the original Temptations, Platters, and Drifters.” Spend a little time with the two Joes and Glenn, attend a performance, observe the electricity in the audience and any doubt about three “mature gentlemen” continuing their stroll to the stars melts away. On stage and backstage at The Villages, a leisure and active retirement community in Central Florida, it is apparent they have an unwavering love of the music and the ability almost to finish one another’s sentences. On performance night, they know exactly what they are going to wear, what they are going to sing and, in fact, the choreographed moves they will make to the beat of the music. It’s not that complicated when you started out, as did LCB, singing together as teenagers. With the various legacy groups, they have played the most famous clubs, from Harlem’s Apollo to East 60th Street’s Copa 83


Cabana to the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, not to mention globe-trotting the world and learning to say “thank you” in umpteen different languages. They have toured the planet with their brand of music, though with The Temptations, The Platters and The Drifters. When he was in the Air Force, Coleman held down his serviceman’s day job, but when the sun went down, he was playing club dates around Japan with his pal, fellow musician Nicolas Bearde. “I was working with a group called The Sensations,” recalled Bearde, in a 10-piece soul band. “The guy I had been fronting it with had his tour of duty lapse, and I was looking for another great singer. Someone brought Joe into the picture. “Joe and I did quite a few shows, occasionally military but mostly civilian night clubs. We would go into Tokyo, performing somewhere almost every night,” he added. “We spoke a little survival Japanese.” In other words, throughout their musical lives, LCB never let moss grow beneath their feet, and the result has been enthusiastic audiences wherever they perform. But is LCB really a marriage of convenience? That would be an erroneous assumption. Each of the three has made it on their own as evidenced by their longevity as The Temptations, The Platters, and The Drifters. Additionally, from time to time, they have set out on their own, sometimes as solo acts. Even today, they mix and match from time to time with other singers from the legacy groups to perform. As we talked, Blunt was eyeing an advance promotion ad for an upcoming concert of the “Drifters Legends” set for later in the year in London with former Drifters Butch Leake, Clyde Brown and Rick Sheppard. For sheer versatility, Joe Coleman—described in his youth as someone too shy to even hear himself—has stretched the limits of creativity. He is an accomplished songwriter, playwright, actor, and singer. Each of the other two sing his praises, though Blunt is also a songwriter and has done some acting.

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On the other hand, Glenn Leonard is the energizer bunny, the networking operator with the golden tenor voice who can make audiences swoon and get misty to his version of “Silent Night.” In the early days with True Reflection, he was the fireplug who was always listening to the street: What venues work best? What musicians do we need to back us up? What’s “in” and what’s “out”? Have they always gotten along? It sounds a little Pollyanna, but the simple answer is “yes,” which seems unusual when you think of historic group breakups over the years, whether the Beatles, the Everly Brothers, the Eagles, the Smothers Brothers or the British bros of Oasis. Whether together performing or the many years they were with different and famous groups, Leonard can never remember a serious, nuclear meltdown fight. Hence, due to the continuing narrative, there will never be a tensionfilled docudrama of their lives, the kind that seems to dominate the silver screen. “Oh sure, we’ve had our disagreements over the years, occasionally creative differences. There are three distinct personalities at play, but generally we reach a consensus— basically we vote, though informally,” said Leonard. Speaking of consensus, the three seem to come together when it comes to discussing Coleman. “He’s the entire package,” said Leonard. Coleman is the glue; and, in fact, pulled them back together as a group after decades apart. It wasn’t a hard sell. Each of them were at places in their lives where coming back together seemed as natural as bread and butter. Joe Blunt agrees though he is also an accomplished songwriter. “We know we can entertain audiences with our music, and each of us contributes to the creative process. But we tend to take a backseat to Joe Coleman’s amazing ability when it comes to writing and arranging music.” Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt have—by any reckoning— made it. They have built successful careers together, separately, and now together again while, at the same time, pursuing individual possibilities: Leonard with his Temptations Review and Coleman with his production company, JS Coleman Enterprises 85


and his diversity and inclusion-focused video company, DITV Media (which he owns with his wife, Vanessa) —and then there is his songwriting. “It’s this way,” said Leonard, “Success can hold you hostage. If you can’t reinvent yourself, you get stuck. One day you’re just singing the hits of yesteryear. We love to please an audience, but we also don’t shy away from trying that which is new, such as My Time to Shine, the new song penned by Joe Coleman.” To remain fresh LCB works hard to rearrange its act, making it current, mixing up the songs, and sometimes performing with a phenomenal voice and a winner of “America’s Got Talent,” Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., a former car washer from Logan County, WV who seemingly came out of nowhere to win the NBC television contest by its largest margin in 2011. “The fact of life is you have to keep cranking out new material and try to incorporate that into your show. It’s hard to stay out front all the time. Sometimes I think we just need to go to the woodshed again and get into that creative mode,” said Leonard. Like Ricky Nelson singing his “Garden Party” about the frustration of having to go back to his many hits of yesteryear and being frustrated by it (“I’d rather drive a truck”), none in the group are totally satisfied with swimming in nostalgia. However, they realize that’s what packs in the audiences, especially baby-boomers who grew up swaying to The Platters’ “Only You” or “The Great Pretender,” The Drifters “Under the Boardwalk” or The Temptations mega-hit “My Girl.” “It’s important that you do your hits, and we want to continue to do them, but we always need to be looking for new material,” said Leonard. “That’s what makes us different than some of the other groups who simply do the nostalgia circuit.” There once was a time that Leonard bounced around from club to club and various hangouts of other musicians looking for that special spark that would enhance their performances. Today, however, with the internet, it is much easier because most everything is online. “I think LCB has a great future,” said Leonard. “Mainly because we keep at it. We’re dedicated to it. We believe in ourselves.” 86


In the music business, a lot of acts are rather one dimensional. LCB has reached that status as a legendary institution, both separately and together. However, they know that a onedimensional group soon loses relevancy, and, like the poem from Omar Khayyam: “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on; nor all they Piety nor Wit Shall Lure it Back and Cancel Half a Line, Nor all they Tears Wash out a Word of It.” “That’s why we re-invent ourselves for most every performance. We want to be as fresh as the Pillsbury Doughboy,” said Joe Blunt. “When we go on stage, we want to be relevant and fresh as LCB, and that way the audience will feel the excitement.” In other words, even nostalgia has to be fresh. “We grew up together,” added Leonard. “Our intent now is to make our mark—again. We’ve taken that wealth of experience, wrapped it up, and inside that package is LCB.” But, in some ways it is a marriage—if not of convenience of disparate parts simply coming together as one. “I could go it alone as a solo artist, but I like having the support of the guys,” said Leonard. “There’s a certain camaraderie in a group. One person doesn’t have to carry all the notes himself. It makes for a more colorful act. I have been singing with groups all my life.”

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CHAPTER NINE

The Personalities “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson. Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt are so much alike, but their differences stand out like flashing neon at a juke joint. In writing a biography, one starts with an unidentifiable seed (in this case three), and the lush greenery nurtured from day one by numerous interviews and research. The process eventually leads to distinct paths and differences. One travels various avenues, sometimes down dead-ends but generally in a loopy-loopy fashion that directs one back to the beginning. The beginning is full circle, where it all began. It is an adventure of discovery along a circuitous highway, one containing toll stops and a few potholes. But, more often, the trajectory has been rather pleasant and smooth. One turns to friends, relatives, and acquaintances to discern the kaleidoscope jumble of characteristics that make up a halfcentury of these twists and turns, of ups and downs and of allarounds that define a masterful singing group. There is a certain magic to the story. It suggests a grainy biopic film from the 1960s transforming into slightly messy cinema veritas through the turn of the century, and settling into an ageless classic around 2010. This is where LCB is today. 88


In other words, they have been there, done that and, as the saying goes, they have the stripes and the tee-shirts (in their case fancy costumes) that go with the territory. In many ways, it has been both a magic and mysterious journey. In others, it is as common and natural as the sun rising and the certainty that the moon will still loftily peer down each night. Each, of course, has commonalities, often best told by those closest to them—wives, brothers, sisters, and musical colleagues. Raised in Washington, D.C., they came from a bedrock Baptist upbringing and having uncommon talents that have shown brightly from childhood. Glenn Leonard was born with that silky falsetto. Joe Blunt had, from the very beginning, a sweet baritone and Joe Coleman realized writing on a pad in bed one day he had a touch of the poet as a crafter of beautiful songs, as well as being a talented singer. But, they differed. And herein lies the inscrutable combination whereby the amalgam—though melting into one on stage— marks each as a solitary personality worth close examination. Let’s take Joe Coleman, a handsome guy who avoided marriage in his youth and didn’t find his Vanessa until 2002 when he was already on the shadowy side of fifty. He had plenty of girlfriends, but, “I was fast on my feet” and avoided matrimony until he married Vanessa two years later on New Year’s Eve. But, when he did find the one—his poetic spirit caught fire. Let’s listen to former US Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, a good friend of Vanessa’s who became a good friend of Joe’s. “I remember when the two of them were married in DC. Vanessa didn’t walk down the aisle to the traditional Here Comes the Bride,” said Secretary Herman. “Joe stepped into the middle of the aisle from a pew and sang to her. The song was The Platters’ My Prayer. She just sashayed down the aisle. Women were turning to one another and saying ‘I’d marry him.’ It was so funny and a beautiful moment. He put on a show right there and the organist just picked up on the melody.”

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My Prayer When the twilight has gone and no songbirds are singing When the twilight has gone you come into my heart And here in my heart you will stay while I pray My prayer is to linger with you at the end of the day in a dream that’s divine My prayer is a rapture in blue with the world far away and your lips close to mine Tonight while our hearts are aglow Oh, tell me the words that I’m longing to know It takes a hopeless romantic to be a Joe Coleman. Secretary Hermann said she first heard about Joe Coleman through girlfriend chatter with Vanessa to whom she had turned over her business when named to the Clinton cabinet. They were long time close friends. “I have to tell you,” said Ms. Herman, “I told Vanessa that if she didn’t marry that man there was something wrong with her, not Joe. “I will never forget the first time I met Joe. I was on the board of MGM Resorts and he was performing in Las Vegas with the Platters. He had written this song, a tribute to civil rights icon Dorothy Height. They were dating and Vanessa had come to see him perform. He sang the tribute song to us a capella, and it was wonderful. That was my introduction to Joe. “That signature song later became part of Joe’s play ‘If This Hat Could Talk” about Ms. Height’s life. After that, our families spent a lot of time together. Joe is someone who is well grounded. He’s a person who cares about people and his community. “Let me put it this way: Joe, Glenn Leonard, and Joe Blunt have a powerful personal story, growing up as they did and singing together around DC. That supports their work. When 90


people see how genuine they are, they embrace them. There is a richness there, and a cultural bridge between ages.” Secretary Herman has seen LCB perform numerous times, as well as Joe Coleman performing solo. “I saw them at the Reston (Va.) Town Center. The audience was intergenerational and people of all races and they were all loving their music. I call it real music. It touches people’s hearts. I was just amazed sitting there and watching.” What makes Joe Coleman so special, said Ms. Herman, is that he is “so approachable—all of them are. They don’t come across as big stars. I think they are just right for this age and this era. It’s a bridge to the future.” What kind of a guy is Joe Coleman? Just ask his sister Barbara. “We had two different moms. I didn’t grow up in the house with Joe, William, and Claudette, but we would visit from time to time, especially on holidays. He treated me like we were close brothers and sisters—and we are. He always made me feel welcome and special,” said Ms. Coleman. It was no secret to Barbara that her brother could sing. “I grew up with him singing to me. I never felt out of place in that house. I thank God he blessed me with a brother like Joe. I was very proud when he went with The Platters—just as I am proud of him now.” Barbara spoke of one special time that illustrated Joe’s personality. “He’s funny and he’s sweet. Let me tell you when I was in the hospital with pneumonia, he visited me. The first thing he said, and he was laughing, was ‘lady just look at your hair.’ Then he came over to the bed and brushed it and combed it. Not many men would do that.” Another testimony comes from Rosette Graham, who is an administrative assistant at Alfred Street Baptist where Joe Coleman and Joe Blunt sing in the choir. She’s also Coleman’s special assistant and aide to LCB. “I really got to know Joe when his mother passed away. He called me on the phone and said he was looking for a place for his mom’s funeral,” she said. “It was so nice just to hear him speak about his mother. I was touched.” 91


Then she added, “This might seem like a small matter, but once—and I heard this from his wife, Vanessa—she was having a hard time getting the television remote to work. Joe wasn’t at home, but he made a special trip back just to work the remote. That’s Joe Coleman. If he can’t do something personally, he’s going to rally the troops and get it done.” Another of Joe’s sisters, Claudette, who lives in Chicago, called her brother “the protective one. If somebody were messing with me, he would be there for me.” All the Coleman children had talent, though Claudette said she was as shy as Joe when she was young, but that she also sang in the junior choir at church. “I was an alto, but I mainly just moved my lips,” she said. She said Joe’s shyness was rather balanced because he always wanted to be popular and popular he was. “He was a nice guy, not a bully. People just gravitated toward him. “Joey would point to the Johnny Carson Show on television and say, ‘One day I am going to be on there.’ We teased him about that. I don’t think he ever was on that show, but dozens of others with The Platters.” It didn’t surprise Claudette in the slightest when Coleman was selected to join up with The Platters. “When opportunities were presented to him, he took those opportunities. That’s Joey.” Glenn Leonard Everybody who is anybody would like to be a Glenn Leonard. He’s the one lightning struck early and the beckoning finger of fate sent him to The Temptations, his dream group. He pops with ideas from the stratosphere. In an evening dinner, he can relate stories like staccato clap eruptions in a thunderstorm. In long-distance conversations, he reveals more than one thinks he might want to discuss. He talks with ease about disappointments as much as about triumphs. He admits to falling victim to drugs and alcohol and a musician’s way of life, and about how it contributed to his failed 92


marriage to the woman with whom he is still close, Darcel Leonard Wynne, of TV’s Solid Gold Dancers. On the other hand, he talks about redemption and ministering to youth who might head down the same pathway of self-destruction. Landing in a lineup of Temptations members, such as Otis Williams, Dennis Edwards and Melvin Franklin, who were already superstars, he is introspective about record company and public slights that the group was yesterday’s news and that, with interchangeable members, off-hand remarks suggest they are now the “Temps”, as in temporary. Such was not the case, either in theory or in fact. They continued to have sell-out performances and produce records, including Leonard’s masterful Silent Night, bringing new meaning to the song while the words remained the age-old standard for Christmas music. He grew up listening to the original five: David Ruffin, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, and Eddie Kendricks. They were a pantheon of gods. Another great to come soon after was Dennis Edwards, who died at the age of 76 in February 2018 as this book was in progress. Leonard penned a moving tribute, which is also a testament to Glenn’s own sincerity and feelings for The Temptations: “Today, one of the greatest vocalists, singer, and songwriter to ever grace a microphone passed, the great Dennis Edwards. First, my condolences to his family and loved ones. “It’s definitely a sad day for all of us, as we’re all family. I just got off the phone with Otis Williams, and we did some reflecting, laughing and talking about some of the situations and moments over the years. “There were many great times, hard times, uncertain times and challenging times. At the end of the day, I am grateful for having had the opportunity to share my life with the people who inspired and impacted me the most. “Dennis was one of the most influential people in my career. Half the time when I was on stage performing with the Temptations for all those years, I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. 93


“But life is real my friends, and you must cherish and seize the moment while you’re on this Earth and give it your best. Dennis, you did a great job, thank you for all the encouragement and confidence you poured into me. I am forever and always grateful for those years we shared. Your friend, Glenn -- Temptations forever.” The eulogy spoke volumes about the bond that grows among members of the group, a DNA that was as certain and true as from the embryonic five of the 1960s. Let’s turn the clock back. When it was casually mentioned to him in 1975 that the Temptations were looking for a new lead tenor, Leonard was front and center, pursuing it with vigor and confidence. When he first hopped in the car at the LA airport with three members of the group, he was cool as the proverbial cucumber. One gets the feeling that nervousness and anxiety are simply not emotions Leonard experiences. Joe Blunt When the Blunt children were young, their dad would pile them into the cab he drove for the Capitol Taxi company as they headed to church on a Sunday— —Joe, his sister Linette and Alvin. They would commence harmonizing. That’s simply what the Blunt family did—sing. Each was exceptionally talented when it came to music, which made the fact that Joe’s father, who died at age 43, the odd man out. No matter how much he wanted to sing, the elder Mr. Blunt “couldn’t hit a note,” said Linette Adams, Joe’s sister. They grew up a close-knit family in Northeast DC with Joseph Linwood Blunt being a big-time collector of baseball cards, even though Linette couldn’t recall him playing the sport in school. However, Linette said, “He was always happiest when he was singing. He was blessed with a great voice.” Joe’s mother worked for the Atomic Energy Commission and later NASA as secretary to the famed geologist Eugene Merle Shoemaker., one of the founders of the field of planetary science and a co-discoverer of the Comet Shoemaker. 94


“We were not rich, but we didn’t want for anything either. Our mom would say to us ‘you can do anything you wanted to do if you wanted to work hard.’ She never allowed us to say we can’t do something,” said the retired educator and high school principal. Much of Joe Blunt’s character can be traced back to a mother who was a life-long achiever. “My mother has a beautiful voice,” said Linette, of the 87-year-old matriarch who lives with her. “She sat in on the debriefing of the original astronauts. Our mother was a pastor at three churches, the last a church of which she was the founder. She has written five books and has her doctorate. Add to that, later in life she had a non-profit corporation that did HIV AIDS testing in churches in Central Virginia. This was after she retired from the US Department of the Interior.” The real skinny on LCB comes to light, this writer found, when interviewing wives such as Joe Coleman’s Vanessa Weaver and Joe Blunt’s Paula, who Joe met when they were both were signed to Capcity Records in DC. What the central characters are a little too modest to say, the wives are their biggest fans. “We met at a rehearsal,” said Paula Blunt. “I was singing with a group called Fawns, and we had a regional hit record out about the Vietnam War. We were young. He took me to my high school prom. He was with the Chancellors at the time, and we first met at a rehearsal for a show at a local club. I remember Dee Dee Warwick, Dione Warwick’s sister was on the program as well. “Who would have thought—we’ve been married 43 years,” said Paula who took her parent’s advice and gave up her fledgling singing career for university education. Paula describes her husband in glowing terms. “What can I say? He’s a wonderful husband. My mother said early on I was going to end up marrying that boy, but I said ‘no,’” she said. “I prayed to God that we stayed together. He’s still my best friend.” It is an interesting life, being married to an entertainer. When with The Drifters, Joe was away in Europe as much as three months at a time.

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“I wouldn’t say it was difficult, and when he was home, we spent more quality time together than your average couple. We took advantage of that time. Even until this day, we do so much together because we have so much in common,” said Paula. Paula says most people think of her husband as a shy person, but she doesn’t see him that way “at least not around family and friends.” Much of their lives, she said, revolves around Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., the same church attended by Joe Coleman. “Joe can come in from a concert after 1 a.m., and still show up at 6:30 a.m. for rehearsal for a 7:30 a.m. service,” she said. “It’s a responsibility he takes seriously because he loves music. He has written some beautiful songs.” The Blunt’s have two sons, both musically inclined, though they also have “day” jobs. “They grew up in a musical household,” said the former singer. Paula said she wasn’t surprised when LCB came together as a group. “It was natural,” she said. “Joe and Joe Coleman grew up together, singing in the church choir. Joe Blunt and Glenn were in the Chancellors when I met them. “I thought it was phenomenal that they came back together after so many decades singing with famous groups. I encouraged it. When they come together to sing they just blend. They are so used to one another. “If they ever have disagreements you wouldn’t know it. I’ve never known them to be upset.”

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CHAPTER TEN

Reflections: “I Gave My All” “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream,” —Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” Speech August 28, 1963 On Jan. 14, 2018, commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Club, LCB performed the Joe Coleman -penned song, “I Gave My All.” It was about the 1968 Poor People’s March on Washington organized by Dr. King and others, but the highlight was the civil rights leader’s historic “I have a dream speech.” There was considerable disagreement among the march’s organizers as to protocol back then—who was to speak when, and other small, not-too-relevant details. However, there was room for quibbling. It was the one female on the six-member organizing committee called “The Civil Rights Six.” Dr. Dorothy Height, who admonished the group. She told them, in essence, they were belly button gazing and it was in the interest of everyone that they compromise and “keep their eyes on the ball.” One doesn’t have to have been alive for that historic speech to be able to recite Dr. King’s words by heart. They are immortal which is to say they are for all and for the ages.

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This became one theme of several of 26 tunes Coleman immortalized for the musical “If This Hat Could Talk.” For Coleman, it was a labor of love. Coleman planned two songs in tribute to Dr. King at the Bethesda event. However, LCB is a collaboration, from what they will wear, to the exacting choreography to the music. Realizing they had not rehearsed the two songs recently, Coleman, in the fashion of Dr. Height, agreed to a single tribute number. He did it as a solo and it brought down the house. It was a fitting tribute to Dr. King, but it could also be seen as a theme song for the enduring trio who have spent a lifetime on world stages performing for the multitudes. It was, in fact, an amazing circle of life story for LCB. Dr. Vanessa Weaver, Joe Coleman’s wife of 13 years, said Joe “will always seek a common ground. He’s like that in everything. He is great on compromising if it will benefit the common good. I see this up close and personal as his wife. “I also know this because both his parents were ordained ministers. They had the value of service. There was a gentleness about them and that’s the way Joe is. All entertainers have egos, but Joe’s is so much like that of his mother.” “A lot of people have an illusion about what the entertainment business is about,” said Joe Blunt in a reflective moment. “It is what it is. There are ups and there are downs.” At the end of the day, it could be said that Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt grew out of what was a personal financial disaster for Joe Coleman and Vanessa. They made an, almost, seven-figure investment in producing and promoting “If This Hat Could Talk”—taking it on to 10 metropolitan areas before making a run at Broadway. It was a critical success, but a financial flop, which Vanessa chalks up to the inexperience of the team hired to manage the project. “It received fantastic reviews for Joe’s songs and for the performances and staging,” said Vanessa, who had the original idea for the musical based on Height’s memoir. She enlisted Joe, at that time a mere acquaintance, into the project.

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He was not reluctant, maybe even then a few sparks were flying, at least from Joe who through much of his adult life played the field with numerous lovely ladies. However, critical successes don’t automatically become commercial ones, a lesson LCB learned early on with its True Reflection experience and its breakup. “If This Hat Could Talk” was hemorrhaging money, though Vanessa had been relatively successful in lining up investors and one important corporate sponsor. It was evident as the production went from New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Memphis, Richmond, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Chicago, Charlotte, and Atlanta that it would be difficult sustaining itself. In the meantime, the newlywed Coleman couple, both over 50 were finding a financial catastrophe was not the best way to start a marriage. Coleman had left the Platters and a steady gig at the Sahara in Las Vegas to concentrate on writing songs for “If This Hat Could Talk.” Both Joe and Vanessa had been successful in life, he in music and she with her corporate consulting business on diversity policies. Now, it was all headed south due to their total devotion to the musical. What to do? That’s when Joe Coleman and Vanessa started booking solo performances in Washington, DC area venues, which was not as musically inclined as, say New York City. However, with hard work they started filling halls and getting a host of repeat performances. Then, the idea: Joe Coleman spread his wings and brought back the old True Reflection, the teenagers who started together, spent a lifetime in music, went their separate ways, and had all performed with stellar groups, The Temptations, The Platters, and The Drifters. It seemed like a good idea. That was eight years ago. That was many miles and plane rides to destinations. Sometimes, they would get a reprieve from the road, such as in 2018 when they were booked for an entire week of concerts at Tampa, Florida’s Busch Gardens. The two Joes were able to bring their wives with 99


them, and each of the two-a-day performances saw capacity crowds in the 1,400 seat theater. But, all in all, it had been a winding road. Listen to William Coleman, brother of Joe, and a retired engineer for Norfolk Southern Railroad living in Roanoke Va. He performed with his brother in a group they formed called Mirage after True Reflections. “I believe Mirage was actually a prototype for Leonard, Coleman, and Blunt these many years later,” said William. “We were picked up by RCA, and really had a great sound. In fact, we had one of the first music videos produced—way back in the 70s before MTV. “ However, the fickle finger of the music business once again wagged a giant “no.” “We had some internal problems. The third member of Mirage had some serious personal issues. He didn’t have control of his life, and RCA eventually said they had to concentrate promotion elsewhere. They let us go. But it was a great group with great material. That’s when my brother decided to leave DC and head to New York to try his luck.” What comes clear in an interview with William is his admiration for his older brother by two years. “I was a singer, and had had some success with another group, the Persuaders. But Joe was both a singer and an entertainer. He had that great personality for it.” William wasn’t at all surprised when Joe Coleman was picked to join the Platters. “He can relate to a crowd. He was always the front man, the manager, the businessman as well as an entertainer,” said William, now retired. “He initiated LCB. He brought them back together after so many years, and I have to tell you, it’s one classy act with Joe, Joe Blunt, and Glenn. They’ve been in the business nearly 50 years. They are all accomplished either together or separately.” Through it all, the group considered themselves fortunate. All three legacy groups which they performed in are emblazoned in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. They have had their share of heartbreak, but also there have been over-the-top successes. 100


“At the end of the day,” said Joe Blunt. “It’s been an enjoyable ride and it continues to be so with LCB.” Though from time to time they took detours into other fields, from salesmen to government jobs, those forays were mostly blind alleys. They always returned to the music—producing, writing and performing. It was their life. Do they have other hobbies or interests? Blunt puts forth a trailer for a movie production he acted in some time ago that now has been picked up by Maverick Productions. “I’ve always liked acting, (also an interest of Joe Coleman), and did a good bit with the drama department of Alfred Street Baptist.” Blunt described this current acting venture as something, “I just showed up to audition for and found myself in the movie.” He plays the father figure on the production of “Home is Where the Heart Is,” and is also the voiceover on the trailer. However, Blunt says his interest now is focusing more on performing with LCB, and that gets most of his attention. He is aware that the three — all in what some would call the “yellow leaf ” years—are trying to get what the pundits say you never get;: “A second chance to make a first impression.” “That old saying is not really true, and we are a walking, talking demonstration of that,” said Blunt. “We’re still giving it our all, and looking for new opportunities with LCB.” Thinking back, Blunt muses, “It’s amazing how life itself brings forth a myriad of memories. We went through so many different changes over the years—all of us did.” “With the early group, True Reflection, we were small fish in a great big pond. Atlantic Records had so many artists at that time, and we were put on the back-burner. But we had our moment, touring with some great performers and appearing on such top programs of the time as ‘Soul Train.’” The question on each of their minds is what would have happened if they had kept True Reflections together, and stuck with the Atlantic label for another year. “We very well could have weathered this setback, been patient, and Atlantic might have brought us along. Atlantic 101


seemed to be behind us—to a point. But at the end of the day, we didn’t get the push we needed.” At the time, the record label had Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Spinners and various rock artists like Led Zeppelin. They also had William Coleman, Joe’s brother, who was with the Persuaders, under contract. Perhaps the dice coming up snake eyes was all for the best. Shortly after it became obvious their album wasn’t being pushed with enthusiasm, Glenn Leonard made his Temptations connection. Though they certainly took varying routes—even outside of music—they all found their niches with famous music brands. “Most performers would envy the ride, the closeness to greatness, and we certainly are proud of our success then and the success we are having as LCB,” said Leonard. “But as a performer, you always want more—not for the sake of having more, but for being at the top of your profession.” There was another key factor to True Reflection calling it quits. It was called music business reality. Though Atlantic kept giving them encouragement, words didn’t equal commitment. “At some point along the way we had the opportunity to speak to a promotional person for Atlantic. He wasn’t necessarily high up on the food chain, but he was a savvy foot soldier in the organization,” said Blunt. “What he said was this: ‘When I go in to talk to a radio station on a sales call and I have four albums I am pushing, one of them is True Reflection. That program director is going to say, give me Aretha and the two other known names, not the True Reflections. That’s just the way it is.’” So, Blunt sighed, “It’s very easy to get lost in the shuffle. When the album fizzled because of lack of push by the label, we didn’t immediately severe ties. “Atlantic introduced us to a name producer, Tony Sylvester, a vocalist with Main Ingredient. Atlantic never put it out. In Blunt’s opinion—as well as that of Coleman and Leonard— they “produced some amazing material. But about that time, Glenn was offered a position with The Temptations. They had heard him sing on a True Reflection’s cut.” 102


From many in the business, the True Reflection album released came close to being a classic. “Every song on that album should have been a Top 20 hit, and several cuts should have gone higher,” said Nicolas Bearde, the well-known San Francisco Bay area jazz singer who toured with Joe Coleman when they both served in the Air Force together in Japan. “I was so excited about it. I made calls myself to get stations to give the songs airplay.” Given the trials and tribulations, one might think the individual members of the group would have gone back to a 9 to 5 day job after the various disappointments. Here, Bearde, who first met Coleman in 1969 had something to offer as testament to the group’s tenacity. After Tokyo, they were both stationed at California air bases. “One day Joe tells me he is giving up smoking—I’m talking everything, cigarettes and weed. You have to remember this was California in the 1970s. I asked him why. “Joe informed me he was in training. He wanted to continue his music career and he wanted to be at the top of his form. He wanted bell-clear chops. That’s dedication.” At some point early on, Joe Blunt knew that entertainment and performing would be the largest part of his life. He knew that it meant an extended period away from his family, “but I had a great support system in Paula, my wife.” However, while he had the pipes, he never pursued a strictly musical career. “Oh, I played some keyboard. But my sister was much better. Our momma made us all take piano lessons—but I couldn’t wait to get outside and play sports.” Blunt said he enjoyed songwriting, though Coleman is the primary writer of new LCB material. “I co-wrote one song performed on national television and one song with Clyde Brown which was recorded by Ben E. King. But I’m not sure it was ever released,” he said. Blunt likes the direction LCB is going with new material. Two Joe Coleman tunes in particular are high on his list, one called “Trust Me” and another “We Sang the Love Songs.”

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Invariably the question of age comes up for all three crooners. Blunt said he had been suffering from arthritis in both knees for a long time. “But when I get on stage and the music starts, it all simply disappears. My wife would ask me if I were in any pain. For that hour or so on stage I feel no pain. I guess it is the exhilaration, the adrenalin. How does one describe a typical Joe Blunt day? “When we are not on the road, I take it easy. You know, groceries, cleaners, placing calls. Oh and then there is the ‘honey do’ list. You know, ‘Honey do this. Honey do that.” One person who has gotten to know LCB very well is Rosette Graham, an assistant to the pastor of the church both Joe Blunt and Joe Coleman attend. She also handles much of the publicity generated on behalf of the group. “I first met Joe Blunt when he and his wife Paula joined the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va. I was star-struck that a former Drifter would be in our choir. When Joe Coleman joined a few years later—a former Platter—I was over the moon,” she said. “A few years later I was invited to a performance when the group was reuniting and met Glenn Leonard, the Temptations being my all-time favorite group.” She was asked to put together flyers and publicity for that early performance at the Carlyle Club in Alexandria, VA and has been doing it ever since, constantly looking for better ways to promote the group. “The talent that this group has, you want shared. When you get the three on stage they work so well together. They really love and feed off one another. Every show I attend I feel as if it is the first one.” Rosette said she is a big fan of Motown and loves all of the “nostalgia era” music, but believes that the group’s newer material written by Coleman could really drive LCB to new heights. “People love the old standards of the 60s and 70s, but I truly believe that when more people hear their newer material which is really amazing, they could have hits,” she said. She could be right. 104


CHAPTER 11

An Epiphany for a Temptation Given a church upbringing, all of LCB had a religious bent from the beginning. That is not to say that they didn’t fall into the many temptations that serve as the music industry’s background. However, the most profound and dramatic influence was on Glenn Leonard who went from traveling in the express lane of life—complete with booze, drugs, and women—to a religious epiphany. He explains it this way: “The Temptations Reunion Tour was winding down and it seemed everything else would be anti-climactic. We were all wondering about the next steps. Eddie Kendricks had come back, and we both sang the same songs. “He was my hero. I made a radical decision to step back from it. There was no way I was going to push this legend out. We were in Concord, CA at the time, and I decided to visit my oldest daughter Melissa in San Francisco for a while, but later went to LA to sort the whole thing out. I had reached a turning point about the whole entertainment business, but I was still with the Temptations. “About this time a young lady friend of mine, a comedian, was talking to me about her decision to give her life to Christ. I just wasn’t in a place I could hear her at the time. I couldn’t just leave the group. I was worried about my livelihood. “I took some time off, and eventually decided to go solo. In the middle of planning to go out on my own, this young lady who lived in my building continued to talk to me about the Lord. 105


“Then one day I happen to turn on the TV. I had just had a release party for my new single and had invited quite a few friends over to a rented room. In those days, it wasn’t unusual for me to disappear from my home for several days. “Then, about 3:00 a.m., I was all alone, thinking about where I wanted to take my career. From the television came this voice. It was a preacher named R.W. Schambach. I heard him say, ‘You, sitting in the hotel room. God’s got his hands on your life. Jesus is what you are looking for and you haven’t found peace’. “I felt it was a heart thing and it was just for me. He said for me to ‘get up and go home. Your wife is worried and looking for you’, which was true. I immediately called Darcel and told her something had happened to me that I didn’t understand. While I didn’t understand, I knew I was changing.” Leonard started his road to redemption by going back to church and counseling with an African American preacher named Fletcher Casey Price. Another person influential in his life was the late Rev. Artis Cash, who was a well-known civil rights leader and preacher in Shreveport, La. where Leonard eventually attended seminary. “I liked the way Price talked. He was articulate. Too many African American preachers get too excited and are too emotional. This man was more calm, spoke well and he was a role model for me. “At his church, he had a Bible study, and I decided to go on Tuesday nights. The electricity in the room was awesome. I felt power, energy, and peace. In other words, I was all consumed. As for Dr. Cash, he was vice president of a Christian university. I helped him set his church up and worked in the youth department. He came to one of the services I was preaching, and he just sat there and smiled. “I was always searching for the truth. Facts might change from time to time, but truth never changes,” said Leonard. “I started studying the Bible. I went on a truth mission, and in the process, I met other Christians. I started getting invitations to share my story—and that’s how it started. My first sermon was about how someone who was famous, who had some money, could wind up finding Jesus. 106


“More people began inviting me to come and sing and to tell my story. This is something I did for several years. I found I was gone more as an evangelist than as a performer. Being on the road as an evangelist is not that much different than in music. “The ministry was actually exhausting, and I didn’t want to be away from my family. So, I started a Bible study in my home and people started coming. First, it was just Wednesday, then also Friday. Darcel would make refreshments, and eventually was fixing meals for the people who came. “In essence, our home became a church. Eventually, I was encouraged to start a church. I did this, though I knew one day I would go back to the music industry. I would do concerts on Saturday night, and then on Sunday I would be talking about the Lord. “Eventually. I started getting questions from church leaders. How could Glenn Leonard go to a club and perform at night where people were drinking and then teach the gospel on Sunday. I never got it into my heart that this was wrong. If you sing about love, well, God gives love. If you are singing about relationships gone bad, well, that is life. “I never felt the conflict between my singing in one world and my singing in church. Some people looked at me and thought I was a millionaire. None of the Temptations were ever millionaires, but church people felt I didn’t need money. The fact was, I couldn’t survive on the money put in a collection plate. “I needed to do the concerts to make money for my family, and there was a disconnect and controversy over that disconnect. However, it occurred to me I could still talk about Jesus as an entertainer. In fact, at my concerts, I was reaching people who were not church people—and in my view, that was what I was called to do. “Quite often ministers run around preaching to each other. They should be preaching to sinners. My mission, I concluded was to make the gospel easy to understand. “Let’s face it, music is powerful. All of the arts come from God. Music can change people. The words act on your spirit. Your soul is responsive to the melody. Your body reacts to the rhythm. 107


“And I have to tell you, the world is in need of good, clean music. Some rap is okay, but a lot of it is perverted,” said Leonard. “We don’t need that. We need music that moves you in a good way.” Leonard had two children with his ex-wife Darcel, the former Solid Gold Dancer who you will remember from the syndicated television program of the 1980s by the same name. She also appeared in a number of other productions, including Jesus Christ Superstar. When Leonard left the music business to go into a traveling ministry, Darcel was all in. The music industry is tough on marriages, though they were together for 30 years and remain close friends today. “We talk about once a day,” said Darcel who is generous in her praise of her ex. “We were both in the business. I met him on a Midnight Special program. I was just coming off doing Jesus Christ Superstar and the Temptations were looking for dancers,” she said from her home in Los Angeles. “We had the same likes and dislikes. He was very focused on what he had to do, and I was very supportive.” But the music business — particularly when both partners are entertainers—can be demanding and difficult. After some years, when Leonard decided to go into the ministry, Darcel also became an ordained minister. “Glenn is a man of character. Regardless of what he has been through, he is a man of his word. I actually think we are better friends today, and he is a great father. His family comes first.” Though they have been apart for about 17 years, Darcel surprised Glenn by showing up for Leonard’s 70th Birthday Party. “We still have responsibilities together,” she said. One of the Temptations signature songs is “My Girl.” “There was a time when Glenn would introduce that song, and then introduce me as his ‘girl,’” said Darcel. “Now when he sings it, it’s ‘that girl is My Girl, that girl over there is My Girl,’” she laughs. They, of course, have children in common, including Glenn Leonard Jr. who also lives in LA. One day Glenn Jr. sent both his father and mother a recording of someone, telling them it sounds “a lot like Dad.” Both agreed 108


that the music was a mirror image of the Temptations great, Glenn Leonard. “He finally let it out that it was he who had made the recording,” said Darcel. “It sounded exactly like Glenn, the rich tenor, the falsetto. I couldn’t tell the difference.” Glenn Jr. now has embarked on a career with the sons of other Temptations, calling themselves Sons of Motown Previously, he had shown little interest in music and made a living as an internet entrepreneur. Both Glenn and Darcel are excited about Glenn Junior’s prospects. “I’m helping them in rehearsals and doing the choreography,” said Darcel. “It’s also crazy watching my grandson around them—it’s just like Glenn and Glenn Jr. when he was that age. “I tell you, if you are a little bit old school when you hear those old songs, you have to dance. I don’t think they ever grow old,” said Darcel. “You remember where you were when you first heard them.” Young Glenn grew up hanging around his father who graciously took him, when he was not in school, on the road. His planned album would have on it the old Temptation standards, but also songs written by another member of the group, David Ruffin Jr., son of another Temptations great, David Ruffin who died in 1991. “It’s interesting that growing up the son of a Temptations is not what people think. I didn’t know who they were until I was with my father one day and someone came up and asked him for his autograph. There was no hoopla around being the son of a Temptation, even though my parents might be entertaining thousands of people at a big concert. “I grew up a regular kid. I was always around my parents, and if I wasn’t, they would call me every day. There was never any Hollywood glamour. I met a lot of important people, but when you are young you’re not really impressed. You don’t realize they are legends. “If school was out, I would go on the bus with them. At first, I was the only son of the Temptations that traveled with them, but 109


later — perhaps they were embarrassed because my dad took me along—other children started being on the bus.” Glenn Jr. said his father had a recording of him doing a voice session when he was just six months old. “I am doing octave warmups. Years later, when he went into the ministry, he would use that recording in his message. At an early age, our kids are mimicking everything we do. The message was clear.”

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CHAPTER TWELVE

From the Inside— LCB Manager Burke Allen’s Story LCB had come to Burke Allen the way many clients gravitate to managers in this business—through reputation and happenstance. One only thinks about such things a little later, late at night, musing over the day’s work-related events after the smiling crowds had left the 1,400 seat Stanleyville Pavilion at Busch Gardens in Tampa, singing and dancing their way back into the Florida sunshine. LCB had performed there, two shows each day for an entire week headlining the theme parks long-running “Real Music, Real Masters” series. After each show, dozens of fans lined up at the autograph table to meet the singers, get an autograph or photo, and tell them what their music had meant to them. After all, the songs LCB sings made up the soundtrack to their lives. But manager Burke Allen had a dilemma. The audience response was so strong, the shows so packed, the autograph line so long that the group couldn’t keep up with the demand for CDs. It seemed that just about everyone who saw LCB sing those timeless classics wanted to take home a piece of musical history, signed by the legendary vocalists. The group’s CD sales had blown past park projections by the second day, and Allen had to scramble to have all of the group’s remaining CD stock overnighted directly to the park from his office. When those overnighted discs ran out by day four, Allen had to work fast and have new copies duplicated on the spot with the 111


help of gracious Busch Gardens’ employees in the theme park’s audiovisual department. Allen was literally having the insert artwork printed at a nearby FedEx Kinko’s, rushing back to the pavilion, inserting the artwork and label stickers with park employees and building the CD cases at the popcorn counter by the autograph signing table, then sliding them down to Glenn, Joe and Joe to personalize for their eager fans just in the nick of time. Some fans of the Temptations, Platters, and Drifters had traveled from as far away as California, some from Europe to meet their musical heroes. Allen figures he built nearly a thousand CD’s by hand that week. Then, back at the band’s hotel on moments of reflection, though exhausted a happy manager was content that he could one day tell his future grandchildren he worked with and helped guide the careers of the legendary vocalists in LCB. He will be able to say he knew and worked with Glenn Leonard, who sang lead on one of his favorite forgotten 70s soul classics, the irrepressible “Every Ready Love” with Motown’s mighty Temptations; he broke bread with Joe Coleman, the incredibly gifted songwriter, arranger, playwright and for nearly two decades, curator of the legacy of the Platters as their powerful lead vocalist, and shared stories with Joe Blunt, the quiet, insightful lead singer of the Drifters, who not only held his own on stage alongside the likes of Ben E. King, Johnny Moore and others for over a decade, but is in fact still one of most powerful baritone voices alive today. As a manager of the famous and semi-famous, Burke has had many highlights in a career that spans more than three decades as an award-winning radio personality, programmer, radio station owner and, in essence, has worked in and around all aspects of show business. He started out by interviewing famous folks on his radio shows, and that led to the relationships that led to talent management. The walls of his Allen Media Strategies metro Washington DC office are lined with pictures of personalities who became friends from movies, television, literature, and music. Allen is actually his middle name; Burke’s real last name is Adkins. He jokes that he changed it because he’s “running from 112


the law,” but in fact, he grew up the son of a 30-year veteran police clerk in his tiny hometown of Logan WV. Starting his freshman year, he was spinning actual records on his hometown stations WLOG and WVOW. “It was the coolest job ever for a high school kid; you got to sit in an air-conditioned room, play rock and roll on the radio, all your friends were listening, and you talked to girls on the request line. And they paid me to do it. I was hooked!” An early radio boss, Gary “Music” Miller at WKEE in Huntington WV, dubbed him “Burke Allen” when he was just 18 years old “because he said my Adkins name was too common in the region, but Allen had a good ring to it. I said ‘sure’; I wanted the job. It was a 10-second decision that’s followed me my whole life.” The name stuck professionally and he has been known as Burke Allen, the radio personality, then programming executive, station owner, consultant, and talent manager ever since. Now, Allen Media Strategies is always named to the lists of top public relations firms in the Washington DC area. Always on the go, he says that in most hotels, the front desk clerk registers him as “Allen Burke,” believing they are correcting a computer error to help out the man with two last names. And it was back in Huntington WV, some three decades later, that a big part of the LCB magic began for him. As one of the few West Virginia natives who landed successfully in the entertainment business and also maintains very close ties to his home state (“where I come from, you pretty much dig coal, join the military, or move away-those were my options back then”), he’s often called back to the Mountain State to work with West Virginians of note. He’s proudly represented New York Times #1 bestselling author Homer Hickam (Rocket Boys/October Sky) for years, along with The Denver Foundation, started by late “Gilligan’s Island TV icon Bob Denver and wife Dreama. He’s taken meetings with governors, bought and sold radio stations there. Theater West Virginia, The West Virginia Music Hall of Fame and many more Mountain State institutions and icons have received his advice and tutelage, but perhaps none 113


so much as NBC TV’s America’s Got Talent season six winner Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. The dreadlocked, soul and Sinatra singing Murphy, who hails from Burke Allen’s hometown of Logan West Virginia, has been managed by Allen Media Strategies “Allen Artist Management” division since the week he won the televised talent competition. Landau’s combination of a powerful back story of hard times and homelessness and his uncanny skill at performing crooner classics from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nat ‘King’ Cole and others has led to a successful career that has sustained long after his initial public debut on America’s Got Talent. You can count on your fingers the number of singers who got their start on a TV talent show and had sustainability and still have lots of fingers left. Landau is one of the ones who people still know, and come to see perform live. After Landau’s first album spent several weeks at #1 on the Billboard Jazz sales charts, fan expectations were high for his second release, a holiday collection that would be called “Christmas Made For Two.” Burke, the manager, asked Landau, the artist, to compile a list of Christmas tunes that meant a lot to him. When Murphy came back with the list, the Temptations seminal version of “Silent Night” was at the top. Landau explained to Burke that growing up, “it just wasn’t Christmas until you heard the Tempts “Silent Night” on the radio.” Indeed, on urbanformatted radio stations from coast-to-coast, the Temptations “Silent Night,” featuring the soaring tenor of Glenn Leonard continues to be a holiday playlist staple. And then, serendipity happened in the form of a postcard ad that came to Burke’s office from the local Parks and Recreation board; it seems that LCB was to perform a free outdoor summer concert later that month, less than ten minutes away. And the “L” in LCB turned out to be voice of “Silent Night,” Glenn Leonard. He was stunned; it turned out that Leonard (along with Coleman and Blunt) also lived in the DC metro. They were practically neighbors. Burke attended his first LCB show, keeping one eye on the stage and the other eye on his young son Lil’ Burke playing in the park playground near the stage. 114


The boy was youthfully oblivious to what his dad was witnessing with slack-jawed wonder-three true living legends, singing their hearts out under the summer sun to the small but enthusiastic crowd, giving voice to some of the most iconic songs in Rock and Roll music history. LCB had the whole packagethe tightly choreographed dance moves, the soaring harmonies, strong lead vocals, great band…and they were right there, in his backyard, in Washington DC. Almost immediately, the manager in him started thinking. It was too good to be true-how could they be this good, and so few people know about them? After the show, Burke talked his way into the backstage area, a small outdoor picnic shelter and approached Glenn Leonard, noshing on the sparse backstage catering of fried chicken and potato salad. The veteran singer, who had seen his fair share of hustlers and users through his decades in the music business was understandably wary of the stranger with the strange requestwould he consider recording a duet of arguably his biggest hit “Silent Night” with a young singer from America’s Got Talent? And recording the Christmas classic in the middle of a sweltering summer, not in Los Angeles, New York or even Motown’s Detroit home base, but in Huntington West Virginia? Glenn promised to think about it, did his homework, saw that Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. was indeed “the real deal,” and soon an agreement between Allen and Leonard was struck: Burke would fly Glenn to West Virginia, personally take him to the studio, record the track and the next day he would be Landau’s special surprise guest for a huge outdoor riverfront concert backed by the Huntington Symphony Orchestra. “I will never forget when Glenn Leonard walked into that recording studio and met Landau for the first time,” he added. “Landau was beyond thrilled. He was truly like a kid at Christmas time meeting one of the former Temptations. He kept telling Ritch Collins, who was producing the album, “That’s Glenn Leonard! I can’t believe he’s going to be on my album!” What Glenn didn’t know is that Burke the manager, Ritch the producer and most of all Landau the singer had really been struggling up to that point with completing the “Christmas 115


Made For Two” album. Landau’s constant touring schedule left him unenthusiastic about driving the two hours to the studio on his rare days off to record, and it showed in the listless vocal performances. Ritch tried in vain to get the studio feeling more holiday festive by hanging Christmas decorations throughout and even putting up a Charlie Brown Christmas tree on the piano. It was a losing battle, as the sweltering summer heat seeped into every door crevice of the darkened studio. It looks as if the holiday release was slipping through their fingers. But then, a Temptation walked into the room. And this veteran of 10 Tempts albums which had sung with every Motown artist from Martha Reeves to Rick James (you can hear Glenn lustily harmonizing on James seminal hits “Super Freak” and “Standing On The Top”) wasn’t about to coast on his legacy. He put on the headphones, stepped up to the microphone, and take after take delivered a sweet, sincere and reverent lead vocal of “Silent Night” that was every bit as magical as the one he’d recorded as part of the Temptations. Right then, Landau decided to scrap every song he’d halfheartedly recorded previously for his Christmas record. He started all over, re-recording each and every song, striving to rise to the vocal level of the musical icon who inspired him on the spot that he could do better. Leonard, in essence, saved Landau’s Christmas album. The next evening, Landau and the Huntington Symphony Orchestra performed to thousands of home state fans at the cities picturesque Harris Riverfront Park. When manager and MC Burke Allen sauntered on to the stage before the encore to tell the audience that Landau had a special treat for them, the former lead singer from the Temptations emerged from behind the orchestra to thunderous applause. Glenn and Landau teamed together on a pair of Temptations classics, “My Girl” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” to close the show, synching up on the classic Temptations dance steps while they belted out the hits. That brought the previously well-mannered symphony audience to their feet, dancing the 116


night away under the starlight. Burke stood off to the right of the stage and thought to himself “It’s almost like watching David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks together again on that stage…it was magical.” So, that’s how it started. Leonard reported back to Coleman and Blunt, a joint holiday tour was launched with Landau and LCB sharing headlining status. They all shared a tour bus up and down the Eastern seaboard and got to really know one another. The guys liked what they saw in Burke; energy, vision and most of all ethics, and soon Burke was also managing LCB. It is a labor of love for Burke; he’s a true believer in the group, their abilities, and their future. As their personal manager, he often travels with them, sometimes having the honor of introducing their performances to audience on stage, making sure they get from point “A” to “B” for each gig, and most importantly for a manager, always getting the check at the end of the night. He’s helped place LCB in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, on many television and radio shows, in five-star resorts, hobnobbing with political and civic leaders and in elegant supper clubs and upscale performing arts theaters. Eternally optimistic for their future, Burke believes LCB is “hands down, one of the best classic groups to see live, because of the variety of hits they bring, the audience can and does sing along to every song.” Taking care of talent is what he loves, calling it a “dream job.” Along with handling America’s Got Talent winner Murphy, best-selling author Hickam; John Fogerty pianist and solo artist Bob Malone and a dozen other literary and entertainment personalities and thought leaders under his purview. In between, with his team at Allen Media Strategies, he also conducts reputation management and media/message training to make sure his clients always put their best foot forward. It is a small team, purposefully kept that way. He also keeps a limited client list so he can give each of them the attention they deserve. Burke has been managing Murphy since shortly after he received the most votes to win America’s Got Talent in 2011, and LCB since 2013. Murphy, the car washer from deep coal country, Logan County, West Virginia, was an instant hit with 117


the AGT judges. He no longer washes cars—unless occasionally his own. Landau calls working with LCB “an incredible honor” and clearly looks to the veteran showman for advice and career guidance. They still occasionally appear together still in concert, at charity events and have each other’s numbers stored in their mobile phones for easy access. Allen said managing LCB, Landau, and others is the fun part of his job. “Having been a radio personality since I was a kid, it’s still a thrill for me to occasionally grab a mic and bring those guys on stage. I know it’s weird, but I’m never more comfortable than when I’m holding a microphone. Look, I’ve played these songs on the radio all over the country, and just like a million other people, I’m a huge fan of these tunes…and now I get to work side by side with the guys who sing them? How blessed am I? It sort of brings my life full circle” he said. “But it’s even more than the music,” he added. “From the very beginning, I was struck by this incredible story about these three young men who grew up together right in the middle of the civil rights movement, had a recording contract early, eventually joined three of the famous vocal groups ever, and now have reunited. It’s got an almost cinematic scope to it. That enduring friendship of over 50 years…that’s a very, very special thing to bear witness to.” “As young men, they had some success but didn’t quite get it across the goal line with the True Reflections. Like a lot of groups back then, they got taken for a ride by bad management who ripped them off and hastened their demise. Now here it is five decades later. They have performed for millions, all over the world, and, in essence, that is still their aim—and now I share it-getting it across the goal line,” he said. “They want to finish the way they started out, friends singing together.” Allen said that the group’s early Atlantic Records album as True Reflections is a hot Asian import and collectible, selling for as much as $110 a copy in Japan-if you can find it, and that many hip hop artists including 50 Cent and 2Chainz have used samples of the True Reflections tracks in their own recordings. “It’s one of those classic 70s Philly soul albums that real music aficionados 118


know about. I have it on my playlist on my phone, and it still sounds incredible today.” What does the future hold for LCB? Allen is optimistic. “Look, as long as these guys are enjoying performing together and writing new material, I think their future is unlimited,” Burke said. “They take great care of themselves and their voices. They’re smart; they pace themselves. There is so much energy, so much passion and energetic, tight choreography. Their voices are as strong, maybe stronger than they were a half-century ago because now they really know how to use them like the instruments they are.” He paused. “I think Glenn, Joe and Joe, their friendship and their music are timeless. You often hear about how Sinatra, Martin and those guys sang the Great American Songbook. LCB ARE the great American Songbook.”

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Coming Full Circle It was a poetic and poignant moment. It was a reunion with the past for Joe Coleman and Joe Blunt at the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church as the Rhode Island Avenue sanctuary celebrated its 100th anniversary in May 2018. Imagine two young boys giving up an afternoon of baseball under duress some sixty years ago to become the newest members of a Junior Choir at the church. It wasn’t their fondest dream. They were not songbirds; and, by the way, how much time would this choir take from their real life, boyish pursuits? At the time, Coleman and Blunt hardly knew one another, but became fast friends for the decades, along with another young fellow from a nearby neighborhood, Glenn Leonard. Together, they were to become the fabulous Leonard, Coleman and Blunt, entertainers extraordinaire, veterans of three of the most famous musical groups in American history. Many decades had rolled by since youngsters Coleman and Blunt sat in the same junior choir at the Northwest DC, church and harmonized with Amazing Grace, Just As I Am, Holy, Holy, Holy and other standard hymns with which any Baptist grows up knowing by heart. They had no idea that initial choir exposure would set them forth on a musical journey with the highly successful DC area group, True Reflections, and later with three legacy groups, the Temptations, the Platters, and the Drifters. 120


Nor did they have a clue that all the stars would line up and that after successful careers with those legacy groups, they would come back together in life’s twilight as the incomparable LCB. Now, under partly cloudy skies, Joe and Joe entered this same church on May 6, occasionally greeted by people they had not seen in years and who remembered their mamas. Their mothers, Mrs. Blunt and Mrs. Coleman, had directed the junior choir and provided piano music decades earlier. Their appearance long ago at choir practice was a command performance—their mothers’ command. Those two very strong women were foundational pillars of the church, then under Rev. Sidney Yancey, only the church’s second pastor. They sat, Coleman with his wife Dr. Vanessa Weaver, about halfway back in the middle of the wooden pew with rose cushions. Blunt’s wife had grandchildren duties that day and Leonard was to meet up with them later that evening to perform at a dinner celebrating the church’s 100th anniversary out in the outskirts of DC. When Coleman and Blunt received the invitation to join the nearly 700 current and former members of the church for the event he, at first, put it aside. It had been many decades since he had set foot in the church. Both Blunt and he are members of Alfred Street Baptist in Alexandria, Va., and were prominent members of the choir there. It was quite a plum for the Virginia church to have both a veteran Platter and a long-time Drifter in their proper choir places on Sunday morning. However, the more Coleman thought about it and talked with Joe Blunt, the idea was intriguing. They asked Leonard’s opinion, and, since they were all in the DC area anyway, he said go for it. Next Coleman contacted pastor Rev. Terry D. Streeter. This actually was a sizable leap, since Coleman had left the church in his 20s over a disagreement with the current pastor’s grandfather, Rev. Yancey. But, that was water under the bridge. A half-century of time can calm most all waters. After a short discussion, it was decided that LCB would perform one song for the evening at the beginning of the program. Ironically, the song was Center of My 121


Joy by Richard Smallwood, also a DC native. In fact, Smallwood had attended McKinley High School with Joe Blunt and Leonard. The day was to bring back a flood of memories. Between the morning service and the evening celebration, Coleman took a trip down memory lane. With his wife, he drove by the house in which he grew up at 326 Gallatin Street, a narrow slice of twostory red brick adjacent to an alleyway. Joe parked in the alley, away from the Gallatin Street traffic. He had driven by the house on occasion over the years, but had never stopped to ponder the sweep of history until now. Coleman pointed out the hard top road behind the house where as a child he played football, without pads. He remarked it was not flag football or two-hand touch below the waist, but actual contact in those days. Coleman and Vanessa speculated on who could be living in the house now, and about how strange it must seem to them for a photographer to be taking pictures of this stranger (Joe) in front of the house. He lingered for a few minutes, taking in the memories of his childhood. They were not just good memories, but great memories. That morning, the Sunday School service was still in session when Blunt and Coleman arrived. It was being led by the current and long-time minister Streeter. The pastor was only the third preacher in the church’s 100 years. Soon, choir members in blue robes would find their places behind the pulpit, and a silver offering plate was passed. The church band, slightly hidden to the side, gave it their all. With the choir, came the toe-tapping, the standing and swaying, the clapping of hands, and, occasionally, the spirit moved some of the flock to the aisles. It was an uninhibited show of the impact of old-time gospel music on the senses. It was punctuated by shouts of “AMEN” and an occasional Hallelujah. The sermon was delivered by a firebrand preacher from Oklahoma City who equaled Reverend Streeter in his enthusiasm for saving souls. On this particular day, however, a single person made it down the aisle and was immediately greeted by a team of deacons. For a writer raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, it brought back memories and the fragrance of Sunday School perfume. 122


It certainly flooded Blunt and Coleman with historic impressions, memories such that they would never forget and would hold tight as an important chapter in their personal careers. That evening they again were greeted by familiar faces that had seen them grow up, some had seen their performances either as young True Reflections or later as legacy group stars. Thomas Wolfe, the great 20th Century author, wrote in his classic “You Can’t Go Home Again,” about how difficult to return to the past. Perhaps, for some, that is true. However, on this particular Sunday, in this particular church established in 1918, Coleman and Blunt did go home again and enjoyed the experience and the nostalgic memories. Nostalgia can have the faint, intoxicating aroma that teases one back to the past. Some might say it carries with it the enjoyable pleasure of a chocolate drop, but doesn’t last that long. LCB would argue that we all need a dose of nostalgia from time to time, and that is why the group packs them in at every performance around the country. Though a religious song, that evening at the celebration, the applause was heartfelt and sustained. One could say their brand of music—which Coleman believes bridges between various art forms—is also a highway to the future. And that is why they believe it is My Time to Shine—once again.

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About the Author J. Michael Willard has had a varied career as a newsman, political and policy advisor to U.S. Senators, senior public relations and advertising counselor, author, publisher, artist, and entrepreneur. After 22 years in risky markets—Moscow, Kyiv, Istanbul— Willard and his wife Olga formed Willard Global Strategies, partnering with Allen Media Strategies in Washington, DC to serve clients around the globe. Willard is the author of 16 books, equally divided between marketing and management and novels. Willard has served as a consultant to many international companies, including Unilever, Nestle, Dannon, McDonalds, Citibank, and Royal Dutch Shell. He has counseled two prime ministers and two other politicians who became prime ministers. Before becoming a founding partner of The Willard Group in Kyiv and Moscow, he was managing director and market leader of Burson-Marsteller’s operations in Russia and Ukraine, supervising services in public relations, research, governmental relations, special events and advertising. First coming to the former Soviet Union in 1994, Willard led B-M’s largest government-funded project in the region, the Ukraine Market Reform Education Program under a USAID contract. During this period, Willard provided counsel to the Bosnian government in Sarajevo on issues not resolved in the Dayton Peace Accords, working directly with the Prime Minister. 124


Willard was director of U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd’s Democratic Leader’s office when Byrd held that position, also serving in the capacity of a communications, foreign affairs and domestic policy advisor for seven years. Joining Byrd’s office as press secretary, Willard quickly became a top advisor, traveling with Byrd to visit world leaders in the senator’s capacity as Presidential Emissary for President Jimmy Carter. Wanting to open a business in West Virginia, Willard first returned to the state as Communications Director for then Gov. John D. Rockefeller IV. Willard served as a political advisor to Rockefeller in his successful bid to win a US Senate seat. Prior to joining Byrd, Willard was a political reporter for United Press International in Nashville, and later State Manager for UPI in Kentucky and then West Virginia. In Nashville, he wrote an internationally distributed music column called “The Music Beat.” In his spare time, Willard is a painter and songwriter. He has held three one-person exhibitions in Kyiv galleries and sold paintings in Europe and the US. A native of Vidalia, Georgia, he is a graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in advertising and marketing and is a former member of the board of directors of the European Business Association and Burson- Marsteller’s European board of directors.

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True Reflection (L-R) Bobby Cox, Glenn Leonard, Joe Blunt, Joe Coleman Glenn Leonard with The Temptations

The Temptations (L-R) Glenn, Richard, Melvin, Otis, Louis Price Glenn Leonard with The Temptations

The Drifters 1976

The Drifters featuring Johnny Moore & Ben E. King


The Chancellors

Brother William, sister Claudette, Joe Coleman, Mom at Joe Coleman’s wedding

Topaz* – William Coleman, Richard Gant, Joe Coleman (1978) *Topaz was the name of Joe Coleman’s group before it was changed to Mirage by RCA

Joe Coleman, Richard Gant, William Coleman


The Drifters Souvenir brochure Topaz* – William Coleman, Richard Gant, Joe Coleman (1978) *Topaz was the name of Joe Coleman’s group before it was changed to Mirage by RCA

LCB with former DC Mayor Vincent C. Gray

Joe Blunt receives gold disc from Sony Music for Drifters compilation CD



former lead singers of

MY TIME TO SHINE J. Michael Willard

J. MICHAEL WILLARD


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