Louisville-Bred Moonglows Inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame

By Bill Ede

On Monday, March 6, the Moonglows, an R&B group with Louisville origins, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Hall in Cleveland.

Songwriter Paul Simon did the honors in a ceremony that included the induction, for the third time, of Eric Clapton; Earth, Wind and Fire; The Lovin' Spoonful; Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor. Also inducted were Nat "King" Cole and Billie Holiday for their contributions to the climate that fostered rock 'n' roll, and industry mogul Clive Davis, for his overall influence on the development of rock 'n' roll.

The Moonglows

The Moonglows originated with the friendship of Harvey Fuqua and Bobby Lester (Dallas), who were students at Louisville Central High in the mid-to-late '40s. The two later connected with Prentiss Barnes and Danny Coggins in Cleveland to form The Crazy Sounds. Disc jockey Alan Freed caught wind of them and, in 1952, recorded "I Just Can't Tell No Lie," featuring Bobby Lester on lead vocals, for his own Champaign Records, in the process changing their name to the Moonglows. The record was a Cleveland hit and led to regional touring. Coggins dropped out and was replaced by the much younger Alexander "Pete" Graves (Walton). Guitarist Billy Johnson joined them a couple of years later.

They recorded at least ten "sides" for the Chicago's Chance label, including a soulful reading of the Sammy Fein-Paul Frances Webster classic "Secret Love," but it wasn't until their signed with Chess Records in October, 1954 that their real success as recording artists began.

Barely three months into their Chess contract, their first single, "Sincerely," with Lester singing lead, was climbing to the top of the R&B charts, unseating the Penguins "Earth Angel" for the No. 1 spot. The record reached #20 on the pop charts in early 1955 and almost immediately spawned the McGuire Sisters mega-hit recording of the song.

The Fuqua-Freed-penned follow-up, "Most of All," featuring great bass vocal work by Prentiss Barnes, reached #5 on the R&B charts in the spring of 1955. Don Cornell took his version to #14 on the pop charts around the same time.

Three non-charting records followed, including Billy Johnson's first guitar appearance on "Starlite." The group continued to do package tours, which occasionally took them to New York, where Freed had recently relocated. While the group remained busy, they found time to sing backup on Bo Diddley's classic "Diddley Daddy" for the Checker label. Checker also issued some sides under the ironic name Bobby Lester and the Moonlighters - ironic in that these recordings were essentially Lester/Fuqua close harmony duets while the records on which Lester clearly sang lead were simply credited to The Moonglows.

"We go Together," featuring the Moonlighters-style close harmony singing of Lester and Fuqua, put them at #9 on the R&B chart in the summer of 1956, but it was the gruffer-voiced Fuqua who sang lead on the follow-up "See Saw," which put them back on the pop charts at #25 in the fall of 1956. The elegant, vintage-Moonglows-sounding flip-side, "When I'm With You," graced the R&B chart for one week at #15.

The Moonglows appeared in the 1956 Alan Freed film "Rock, Rock, Rock," performing "I Knew From the Start" and "Over and Over Again" ( which appeared on the 45 in both slow and fast versions) and again in "Mr. Rock and Roll" in 1957, another Freed vehicle. They did not chart again until July 1957 with "Please Send Me Someone to Love," a remake of Percy Mayfield's 1950 hit. Fuqua's presence as lead vocalist hinted at his future prominence in that role and at Lester's decreasing involvement with the group.

Fuqua's ascendancy as group leader would be even harder to deny when their next chart record came out under the name Harvey and the Moonglows. "The Ten Commandments of Love" is said to be the last recorded appearance of the original Moonglows, although some other sources claim that the "Moonglows" on this recording are actually members of a Washington, D. C.-based group called the Marquees. The record climbed to #9 on the R&B charts and reached #22 on the pop charts in Fall, 1958.

Fuqua did in fact break up with the original Moonglows and took up with members of the Marquees shortly after the recording of "Ten Commandments." These "new Moonglows" included Reese Palmer, James Knowland, Chester Simmons and the then-unknown Marvin Gaye. Gaye made his first official appearance as a Moonglow on the 1959 single "Twelve Months of the Year," on which Fuqua sang the lead. (Fuqua had sung the flipside tune, "Don't Be Afraid of Love," solo - as Harvey Fuqua - in Alan Freed's 1958 film, "Go, Johnny,. Go") Gaye's first recording in the lead role was on "Mama Loocie," a 45 which did not chart.

Fuqua tried his hand as a solo artist with "I Want Somebody." (According to Chuck Lewis, a 1972-period Moonglow, Fuqua showed his Jesse Belvin influences on that record.) Fuqua also produced "Am I The Man" as a solo recording for Bobby Lester on Checker. Neither record made the charts, although "Am I The Man" later appeared on both the R&B and Pop charts for Jackie Wilson in 1960.

Fuqua did production work for Chess before starting the Tri-Phi label in Detroit in 1962. His "Moonglows" of that time later became The Spinners on the Tri-Phi label.

He later became part of the Motown organization and was important in the careers of Marvin Gaye, Etta James and Junior Walker and the All-Stars, among others. His co-writing credits include the Supremes' "Someday We'll Be Together"; Walker's "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" and "Pucker Up, Buttercup"; David Ruffin's "My Whole World Ended"' "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and Edwin Starr's "Twenty-Five Miles."

Fuqua was also involved throughout the 1970s with the Louisville-based New Birth (charted 15 times on R&B and eight times Pop) and related groups the Nite-Liters and Love, Peace and Happiness.

In 1972, Fuqua, Lester, Peter Graves, Chuck Lewis and Doc Williams (Prentiss Barnes was ill at the time) re-recorded several Moonglow hits for Pig P Records in Philadelphia. RCA-Victor picked up the album and released "Sincerely '72" as a single, reaching #43 on the R&B charts. It was their last charting record. The song demonstrated its inherent buoyancy when it was picked in the original 1955 version for the 1991 film "Good Fellas." A year earlier, it had earned a Grammy nomination for a country version by The Forrester Sisters.

Bobby Lester died in 1980 and guitarist Billy Johnson followed in 1987. Prentiss Barnes and Alex "Pete" Graves are both retired. Harvey Fuqua remains associated with the music industry.