Thursday, January 19, 2012

O'Jays: Wowed the Bronx Crowd

By Deardra Shuler
Photo by Seitu Oronde

Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and Eric Nolan Grant, of the O’Jays, rocked the house at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx, NY, on Saturday, January 14th, singing songs from their classic repertoire. The entertainers lit up the stage in their sparkling white outfits, regaling the crowd with amusing banter and dance numbers that had some women rushing to the stage, grabbing the hand of their favorite entertainer in the hope of receiving a touch, glance and/or even a smile from the fabulous O’Jays. Adding a spark of warmth inside that made the temperature rise while the weather outside dropped down into the 20s making everyone feel the chill. The O'Jays got the crowd roaring and some feeling pretty hot. One woman even threw her scarf on the stage causing Eddie to gentle wrap it back around her neck as she swooned in ecstasy.

Comedian “Hamburger” is one of the funniest men alive and he proved it, joking with the audience and even embarrassing a few late comers and 'seat stealers.' The late comers unfortunately for them were in the very front row. However, once they got down to the front row there were no vacant seats. Confused and chagrined as Hamburger pelted them with quips, the late comers walked back and forth with tickets in hand, glimpsing at all the filled seats, walking from left to right in front of the stage, until Hamburger had to finally yell for an usher to get down stage and help them get seated. What made it even more hilarious is -- turns out, a daring couple who had usurped the late comers seats, now had to publicly reveal themselves, get up and march sheepishly back to their own seats in the back while the audience laughed hysterically.

Hamburger's opening act set the tone for the rest of the evening, putting everyone in a jovial mood. Eddie got the crowd roaring himself when he introduced the band. He introduced all the band members he knew but when he got to the side of the stage where some of the musicians were white, he apparently did not know their names, so simply introduced them collectively as "the white folks," setting off peals of laughter. All done in good fun.

The O’Jays started their career in Canton, Ohio in the late 1950s. They came to epitomize the Philly sound via their rich harmonies and contemporary funk. Two of the originals, Eddie Levert and Walter Williams still continue to regale their adoring fans with the songs they made famous. The O’Jays sang “Love Train,” “Backstabbers,” “Use Ta Be My Girl” and “For the Love of Money,” to a sold out house on January 14th, proving why the O’Jays have earned 24 Top Ten hits, ten gold albums, nine platinum and ten #1 hits.

In fact, all three O’Jays are putting out individual solo recordings. Walter Williams released his CD Exposed last year and Eddie and Eric are in the final stages of completing their individual CDs.

I had the opportunity to speak to Eddie Levert before their Bronx concert. ”My project is called “Eddie Levert: I Still Have It” remarked Eddie. “There is a song entitled Last Man Standing. This will be my first shot as a solo artist outside the O’Jays. I hope my fans will give me a chance and listen to it. It was hard for me. Even though I tried to reinvent myself while doing my album, it’s difficult not to sound like an O’Jay. I just can’t help it,” chuckled the talented singer. “I stayed within my ballpark so the Cd contains songs that have a spirit of its own. It’s taken me 3 years to complete the project. I am rather proud of it. I wrote and produced it with the help of a few talented people. I still appreciate the art of creating music from the bottom to the top. I like doing it natural, doing it raw with no cut and no chaser,” claimed the 2009 BET Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2011 Trumpet Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

These days Eddie Levert is satisfied with life. He spoke about his life-time relationship with Walter Williams, who he considers to be as close as a brother, and his relationship with those dear to him. “I have to say that this is the happiest time of my life" remarked Eddie sincerely. "I try to infuse that feeling into the songs I write. The CD I am presently working on is really my story. It talks about the happy place I am at with the person I am with. In fact, my opening song is called “Lonely," because when my wife is not with me, I realize how much I miss her.”

"Lonely" is a song Eddie wrote in tribute to the love he feels for his wife, whom he says makes him get in touch with his heart and make up his mind to be a better person.

Eddie talked about how he started off in music. “It was my younger and older brother, Walter Williams and me initially. We began by singing in the church. We did not know what we were doing, we just had good voices. From there, we started auditioning. We auditioned for Decca Records but got our first deal with King Records. In California, we sang pop. In New York, we worked with DJ Eddie O’Jay, who managed us for awhile and so eventually we adopted his name as the group name. We became ballad singers and beach crowd singers, so over the years developed a diverse fan base. In Detroit, we sang with Thelma Gordy and started hanging out with the likes of Wilson Pickett, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Edwin Starr and the Four Tops. Listen to me name-dropping,” grinned Levert, whose statement to me on my Internet radio show, “Topically Yours,” on, Rainbow Soul, suggesting fans come out to see the O’Jays soon because they were planning a possible National Retirement Tour this summer. His talk about a possible O'Jay retirement created quite a stir and took everyone around Mr. Levert by surprise.

Upcoming 2012 shows at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, will be a Doo Wop show featuring the likes of The Drifters, The Platters, and The Chiffons, et al. Also appearing are: The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Gloria Gaynor and the Hit Men, Bobby McFerrin, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Forever Freestyle, Salsa Con Amor, Blues Brother Tribute, Capone, Smokey Robinson, The Moscow Ballet Festival featuring Cinderella and again appearing with Swan Lake. Check the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts Show roster for all their upcoming engagements. Tickets are affordable, so get your tickets now.

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