TVOne’s documentary series “UnSung” is gearing up for season #6, and a 10-episode run is scheduled to begin right after we ring in 2012. If you are a fan of soul music, you need to be watching these excellently crafted documentaries, which concentrate on artist that haven’t really gotten their just due. Here’s a rundown of the latest group of subjects. Each episode promises to be filled with drama, tragedy and some fantastic music.
Vesta Williams (January 2)
A mainstay on the R&B charts in the late Eighties and Nineties, Vesta is best known to casual pop fans as the singer behind the power ballad “Congratulations” and for an astounding vocal similarity to Chaka Khan. She also achieved mainstream success going toe-to-toe with Sting on his 1987 hit “We’ll Be Together.” Vesta tragically passed on as this episode was being filmed, under somewhat mysterious circumstances.
Bobby Womack (January 9)
Bobby Womack is a Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer, best known for hits like “I’m In Love”, “Harry Hippie”, and “If You Think You’re Lonely Now.” His empotive, raspy voice was a direct influence on singers like Jodeci’s K-Ci Hailey. He’s also a celebrated guitarist and sideman, having worked with Sly & the Family Stone. His career has been sidelined several times due to addiction issues, and he’s infamous for having married the widow of Sam Cooke (the man who discovered him) less than six months after Cooke was murdered.
Atlantic Starr (January 16)
This lite-funk outfit from New York State had a ginormous #1 hit with 1987’s “Always.” They also had huge pop hits with the ballads “Masterpiece” and “Secret Lovers” over the course of nearly a decade and a half. In that time period, they also cycled through three lead singers, a topic I’m sure will be discussed in their episode.
Freddie Jackson (January 23)
This Harlemite was THE biggest non-crossover R&B star during the late Eighties. His second album, Just Like The First Time, spent six MONTHS at the top of the Soul Albums chart, and he peeled off six #1 singles in a row. However, much like his contemporary Luther Vandross (to whom he was often compared), Freddie spent most of the decade searching in vain for crossover success. While Luther obtained it at the beginning of the Nineties, Freddie gradually faded from view. Also like Luther, Freddie struggled with his weight, and also like Luther, there have been rumors about his sexuality almost from jump street. Will they be addressed on his episode of “Unsung”?
Full Force (January 30)
Coming from my neighborhood in Brooklyn, the 6-man crew of Full Force was the first hip-hop/R&B band. They found success as artists as well as writer/producers, discovering UTFO, Ex-Girlfriend and Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, while also working with The Force MDs, Samantha Fox and La Toya Jackson. They are probably best remembered by the pop audience for playing the bullies in the “House Party” movie series. By the turn of the century, the Full Force team was most likely counting stacks upon stacks of dough after producing and writing songs on the debut albums by *NSYNC, Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys.
Millie Jackson (February 6)
Before there was Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, there was Millie Jackson. In the Seventies and Eighties, Millie was the Queen of Tell-It-Like-It-Is soul, with music that was generally not played in the company of children. I got sent to my room on more than one occasion when a relative or family friend put on one of her records. Much more versatile than one would think, Millie was able to tackle blues, funk, disco, proto-rap, rock and roll (check out her cover of Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” for proof) and even country.
Ray Parker, Jr. (February 13)
Who you gonna call? The talented singer and musician charmed his way into the hearts of many ladies during a decade-long run at the top of the charts. Beginning as a guitarist for the likes of Stevie Wonder and Barry White, the Detroit native scored hits as a songwriter (“You Got The Love” by Rufus), as a producer (working with Diana Ross, New Edition, and the ubiquitous La Toya Jackson) and scoring hits including “You Can’t Change That”, “The Other Woman”, and the #1 smash “Ghostbusters.” Will Ray talk about the plagiarism lawsuit brought forth by Huey Lewis, claiming that “Ghostbusters” was a ripoff of his “I Want A New Drug”? Hmmm…
Sheila E. (and the E. family) (February 20)
Sheila Escovedo comes from a long line of percussion virtuosos. However, Sheila was handpicked by Prince (then at the height of his success) to become a star, and the two went on to have a lengthy professional and personal relationship; one that suspiciously went up in smoke earlier this year. Will we finally find out why she and the Purple one are on the outs?
David Ruffin (February 27)
Singer of seminal Temptations hits like “My Girl”, “Since I Lost My Baby” and “I Wish It Would Rain”, the bespectacled, wiry Ruffin was one of Motown’s first male stars. Ego problems led to his ouster from the group, at which point he embarked on an up-and-down solo career. As you may know from having watched the “Temptations” docu-drama, Ruffin was never able to shake a debilitating addiction to drugs, and he died under tragic circumstances in 1991.
Whodini (March 5)
Along with Run-DMC, LL Cool J and the Fat Boys, part of hip-hop’s first wave of Gold and Platinum sellers. However, they’re also the least-heralded. Unlike the Fat Boys, they weren’t a novelty. Unlike Run-DMC, they didn’t take part in a rock-rap fusion that resulted in worldwide acceptance for the genre, and unlike LL, they didn’t go on to a lengthy and successful career. However, that’s not to say they aren’t worthy of props. With a list of hits that includes “Friends”, “Five Minutes of Funk” and “One Love”, it’s about time someone paid tribute to these hip-hop pioneers.
I know I’ll be logging plenty of time in front of the tube, tuned into TVOne when these episodes air. You should too!
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