The O'Jays

The story of The O'Jays started in 1957 when Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles started singing together as a quintet called The Triumphs at McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio. After changing their name to The Mascots, a 1961 recording called "Miracles" got the attention of Cleveland disc jockey Eddie O'Jay, who not only played their single often, but also gave them career advice. In return, they paid tribute to him by renaming themselves The O'Jays.

The group signed with Imperial Records in 1963 and released "Lonely Drifter", which was followed by "Lipstick Traces" in 1965, "Stand In For Love" in 1966 and "Soul Sounds" in 1967, none of which cracked the Billboard Hot 100. Despite gaining their first R&B Top 10 entry with "I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I Was Today)" the group was reduced to a quartet following Isles' departure in 1967. The sweet harmony of The O'Jays made them much in demand as session singers, backing artists including Nat 'King' Cole and The Ronettes.

The band's fortunes took a change for the better in 1968 when they met producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, with whom they recorded a series of singles on the duo's Neptune label. After Neptune folded in 1971, Bobby Massey decided to leave the group, but the remaining trio followed Gamble and Huff to Philadelphia International Records where they recorded what was to be their break through number, "Back Stabbers", which rose to #3 on the Pop chart and #1 on the R&B chart in the U.S.

Between 1972 and 1978, the O'Jays scored eight #1 R&B singles including "Back Stabbers," (1972), "Love Train" (1973), "Give the People What They Want" (1974) "Message In Our Music" (1976) "Use To Be My Girl" (1977) and "So FuIl Of Love" (1978). They also had five albums that went Gold and three that attained Platinum status. Unfortunately, there were also some rough spots in this successful era. In 1975, William Powell was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was forced to leave the band. He died in Canton two years later. Sammy Strain, a twelve-year veteran of Little Anthony And The Imperials, became his replacement.

The O'Jays continued to release R&B hits all the way through the '80s and into the '90s including "Love Fever" (1985) and "Let Me Touch You" (1987), before topping the Soul chart with "Lovin' You", also in 1987. The group continued to place hits on the R&B charts with "Serious" (1989) and "Emotionally Yours" (1991). Another line-up change came about when Strain left the band in 1993. He was replaced by Nathaniel Best before the release of yet another R&B Top 10 album, "Heartbreaker". The O'Jays have earned their place in music history, putting more than fifty singles on the Billboard charts in their forty year career. The band continued to tour and record and were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2002 for their album "For The Love Of".

The group was in the news again in March, 2007 when it was announced that former member Sammy Strain was suing group members Eddie Levert and Walter Williams, producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and Philadelphia International Records, alleging that he never received royalties during his sixteen years with the group. During that time, The O'Jays recorded eleven albums, including two Platinum and three Gold. The lawsuit asked for $15 million.

On June 28th, 2009, The O'Jays were honored with a Life Time Achievement Award at the 2009 BET Award Show in the Shrine Auditorium. Tevin Campbell, Trey Songz, Tyrese Gibson, and Johnny Gill performed a medley of the group's songs, followed by the presentation of the award by Don Cornelius, the former host of TV's Soul Train. On October 30th, 2010, the group performed at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C. On August 17, 2013 The O'Jays were inducted into The Official R&B Music Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

Throughout their career The O'Jays have achieved 10 Gold Albums with 9 going Platinum and are still going strong, currently performing at concerts across America.

For more, be sure to read Gary James' interview with Walter Williams of The O'Jays.