Founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the early 1950s as The Charlemagnes, the group is most noted for several hits on Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International label between 1972 and 1976, although they performed and recorded until Melvin's death in 1997. However, the remaining members, the Blue Notes, were reunited in 2013 for the Soul Train Cruise.
Despite group founder and original lead singer Harold Melvin's top billing, the Blue Notes' most famous member was Teddy Pendergrass, their lead singer during the successful years at Philadelphia International.
The group formerly known as The Charlemagnes took on the name "The Blue Notes" in 1954, with a lineup consisting of lead singer Harold Melvin (born June 25, 1939, in Philadelphia, died March 24, 1997), Bernard Williams, Roosevelt Brodie, Jesse Gillis, Jr., and Franklin Peaker.
The group recorded for a number of labels without success from its inception into the 1960s. The 1960 single "My Hero" was a minor hit for Val-ue Records, and 1965's "Get Out (and Let Me Cry)" was an R&B hit for Landa Records. During this period, the group's lineup changed frequently, with Bernard Williams leaving the act to start a group called "The Original Blue Notes", and Harold Melvin bringing in new lead singer John Atkins.
In 1970, the group recruited Teddy Pendergrass as the drummer for their backing band. Pendergrass had been a former member of Philadelphia R&B group The Cadillacs (not the New York group that had hits in the late 1950s) and was promoted to lead singer when John Atkins quit the same year.
This line-up of the group, featuring Melvin, Pendergrass, Bernard Wilson, Lawrence Brown, and Lloyd Parks, was signed to Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International label in 1972, scoring several major R&B and pop hits including million-selling singles and albums over the next four years.
Among the Blue Notes' most important and successful recordings are love songs such as 1972's "If You Don't Know Me By Now" (#1 Billboard R&B, #3 pop), their breakout single, "I Miss You" (#7 R&B, #58 pop), "The Love I Lost" (#1 R&B, #7 pop, 1973) and socially conscious songs such as "Wake Up Everybody" (#1 R&B, #12 pop) and "Bad Luck" (#4 R&B, #15 pop), both in 1975. "Bad Luck" holds the record for the longest-running number-one hit on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart: 11 weeks. A fourth #1 R&B hit for the group was 1975's "Hope That We Can Be Together Soon" which featured female vocalist Sharon Paige.
A 1976 cover of "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Motown artist Thelma Houston was a number-one hit on the US pop chart; her version is one of the defining recordings of the disco era. The Blue Notes' version on the album, "Wake Up Everybody" was not released as a single in the USA at the time, but proved to be the group's biggest hit in the UK (#5) when released there as a single in 1977. The track was finally issued as a single in the US on 12-inch in 1979, coupled with "Bad Luck". The group recorded four albums with Gamble & Huff, all of them going gold (over 500,000 copies), according to RIAA, including "To Be True (#26, Billboard Top 40 albums) and "Wake Up Everybody" (#9), both in 1975. "Wake Up Everybody" and a greatest hits compilation released in 1976 called "Collector's Item" have now sold over a million copies.
Despite success, the Blue Notes' lineup continued to change regularly. In 1974, Melvin brought in Jerry Cummings to replace Lloyd Parks and Sharon Paige was added to the lineup at that time, providing solo performances on several recordings. While at the top of their success in 1976, Pendergrass quit after an argument over the money he earned. A year earlier, he had gained billing recognition by having the act renamed to "Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass", starting from the "Wake Up Everybody" album.
Pendergrass went on to a successful solo career, almost tragically cut short by a paralyzing 1982 car accident. He made a triumphant comeback in 1984, signing with Asylum/Elektra Records, and recording the hit LP Love Languageand then the platinum selling Joy LP, released in 1988, which featured the Grammy nominated title song, an R&B number 1; his comeback was cemented by an appearance at the Live Aid concert in 1985. He had four million-selling albums with Philadelphia International between 1977 and 1980.
Melvin replaced Pendergrass with David Ebo while Cummings and Wilson also left. The Blue Notes departed Philadelphia International (who had signed Pendergrass for solo recordings) and joined ABC Records in 1977, where they recorded two albums produced by Melvin. "Reaching for the World" (#7 R&B, #74 pop) became the group's last major-selling single. Harold Melvin, Jerry Cummings, and new members Dwight Johnson, David Ebo and William Spratley moved to MCA Records and, in 1980, recorded two commercially successful albums, again with Melvin as producer.
Gil Saunders took the lead position in 1982, replacing David Ebo. With Gil Saunders, the group had success in the United Kingdom with the Philly World album Talk It Up (Tell Everybody), and singles such as "Today's Your Lucky Day" and "Don't Give Me Up". Several of the Pendergrass-era hits were re-recorded in England with Gil Saunders on lead. Saunders left the act in 1992, and Harold Melvin continued to tour with various lineups of Blue Notes until suffering astroke in 1996. Melvin died on March 24, 1997 at the age of 57. Brown died on April 6, 2008 at the age of sixty-three of a respiratory condition. In addition, three former members of the group would die during the year 2010. First Teddy Pendergrass died on January 13, 2010 at the age of fifty-nine from complications of colon cancer. Six months later, original member Roosevelt Brodie, who was the second tenor for the original Blue Notes, died July 13, 2010 at the age of seventy-five due to complications of diabetes. And just five months later in that year, Bernard Wilson died on December 26, 2010 at the age of sixty-four from complications of a stroke and a heart attack. Pendergrass' predecessor, John Atkins, and successor David Ebo, are also deceased (1998 and 1993 respectively).
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes are arguably the most-covered Philly soul group in history:many of their hits have been re-recorded by other artists, including Simply Red, David Ruffin, Jimmy Somerville, Sybil, and John Legend, while dance music DJ Danny Rampling cites "Wake Up Everybody" as his favorite song of all time. Today, Gil Saunders continues to perform as a solo artist, and still performs all the hits of the past as well as his own material. Several members of various incarnations of the Blue Notes continue to tour as "Harold Melvin's Blue Notes". Melvin's widow, Ovelia currently manages Harold Melvin's Blue Notes, featuring lead singer Donnell "Big Daddy" Gillespie, Anthony Brooks, Rufus Thorne,Ronnie Canada, John Morris and Sharon Paige.
For his album This Note's for You, singer Neil Young named his back-up band, The Blue Notes, without permission from name rights holder Harold Melvin. Melvin took legal action against Young over use of the Blue Notes name, forcing the singer to change the name of the back-up band to "Ten Men Workin'" during the balance of the tour that promoted the This Note's for You album.
The band is mentioned on Snoop Dogg's 1993 album Doggystyle. In the intro for "Doggy Dogg World" Snoop says "Bitch, you without me is like Harold Melvin without the Blue Notes, you'll never go platinum!"
Former member, Jerry Cummings, is an ordained minister and has been asked to form Jerry Cummings' Blue Notes but has turned down the offer. He is a major conference speaker.
Rapper Big Boi uses a sample of "I Miss You" on his song "Shine Blockas" feat. Gucci Mane. "I Miss You" was also sampled by Kanye West on Jay-Z's song "This Can't Be Life", featuring Beanie Sigel and Scarface.