My favorite musical documentary series is TVOne’s “UnSung.” The show takes a look at artists from the R&B, hip-hop and even reggae genres that have not gotten their critical due. It’s a very important show, particularly when it comes to the preservation of modern Black music.
Following Season 5, in which they profiled artists ranging from Gerald LeVert to Arrested Development, TVOne has announced a new season, beginning in January. They’ve announced six of their twelve subjects so far, and it’s a pretty stellar lineup. Here’s who you’ll get educated on during Season Six.
Eddie Kendricks: The falsetto-voiced Temptations singer gets the UnSung treatment two seasons after his groupmate David Ruffin. While it wouldn’t appear that Eddie has the colorful backstory that Ruffin has, he did have the more successful solo career, scoring smashes like “Boogie Down” and “Keep On Truckin’” back in the Seventies. Kendricks (also occasionally known as Eddie Kendrick) died of lung cancer in 1992. He is an inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (as a Temptation.)
EPMD: Coming out of nowhere (OK, Long Island,) EPMD (Erick & Parrish Making Dollars) scored four straight Gold albums when hip-hop wasn’t expected to move millions. They built an empire of sorts, developing talent that included Redman, DAS-EFX and K-Solo, among others. Erick Sermon also made a name for himself as an in-demand producer. The two split under mysterious circumstances in 1993, and I’m sure there will be plenty of time devoted to that (although they reunited just a few years later.) I’m sure there will also be attention paid to a still-curious incident about 10 years ago during which Sermon jumped (or fell?) out of a window and busted himself up pretty badly.
Isaac Hayes: Bald and badass, I don’t know if you could call Isaac Hayes “unsung,” per se, but the man deserves props nevertheless. He started out as a songwriter/producer for the legendary Stax label in the Sixties, before striking out on his own with epics like Hot Buttered Soul (featuring songs that topped 10 minutes long) and the iconic soundtrack to the Blaxploitation flick Shaft. He won an Oscar for the title track, and continued scoring hits as an artist and producer (for artists like Dionne Warwick) through the end of the decade. In the Nineties, he underwent a resurgence in popularity by voicing the popular character Chef in the animated series South Park before leaving the show after an episode aired criticizing Hayes’ religion, Scientology. While taping South Park, Hayes also became a respected radio personality in New York City. He died in 2008. He is an inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Lou Rawls: Rawls’ dusky baritone won him legions of fans in the Sixties and early Seventies, but the crooner is probably best known for a couple of elegant disco/funk hits in the latter half of the decade, including the #1 smash “You’ll Never Find (Another Love Like Mine)” Rawls is also famous for voicing the cartoon cat Garfield in television specials, and for founding (and hosting) the Lou Rawls Parade of Stars, an annual telethon benefiting the United Negro College Fund. He passed away in 2006.
Midnight Star: Midnight Star stood at the forefront of the synth-soul movement that took fans away from traditional funk bands in the early Eighties, although they were pretty much the same size as bands like Earth, Wind & Fire and Cameo. Led by singer Brenda Lipscomb and brothers Reggie & Vincent Calloway, Midnight Star broke through with 1983’s million-selling No Parking On The Dance Floor (come on, you can feel yourself doing the worm already,) an album that boasted some very early contributions by a songwriter by the name of Babyface. The Calloways maintained a successful production career as well, working with artists like LeVert (“Casanova”) Klymaxx (“Meeting in the Ladies’ Room) and Teddy Pendergrass (“Joy”.) The Calloway brothers split in the mid Eighties, and the group sputtered along for a few years before going on extended hiatus.
The Whispers: One of the most widely beloved vocal soul groups of all time (and one of the most recognizable, thanks to identical twin vocalists Walter and Scotty Scott,) the Whispers toiled on the chitlin’ circuit for a solid decade before making their breakthrough in the late Seventies. Signing to Don Cornelius and Dick Griffey’s Soul Train (later Solar) Records, the fivesome scored hits including “It’s A Love Thing,” “Olivia (Lost & Turned Out)” and the #1 R&B smashes “And The Beat Goes On” and “Rock Steady.”
Six slots have yet to be announced, and I’m hoping that the last episodes will be comprised of some grouping of the following artists:
My wish list:
Apollonia 6/Vanity 6
Boogie Down Productions/KRS-ONE
The Five Stairsteps
Guy/Teddy Riley/BLACKstreet/the Hall Brothers/Dave Hollister
Heavy D & The Boyz
The Mary Jane Girls
Stephanie Mills (even though she says she won’t do it…)
Ready For The World
The S.O.S. Band
Tony Toni Tone
Luther Vandross (not that he’s unsung, but…)
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