This top 10 list is based upon record sales, stage presence, top ten hits, Grammy Awards, longevity and the groups ability/talent to write songs, and play instruments. So, without further ado, here are the Top 10 Greatest Black Male R&B Groups of All Time. Let the top 10 debate begin!
10. The Ohio Players
The Ohio Players were a funk and R&B band, most popular in the 1970s. The band’s first big hit single was “Funky Worm”, which reached #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and made the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1973. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in May 1973. The band signed with Mercury Records in 1974. By this time, their line-up had changed, adding keyboardist Billy Beck and Jimmy “Diamond” Williams on drums. On later album releases, they added second guitarist/vocalist Clarence ‘Chet’ Willis and conga player Robert “Rumba” Jones. The band had seven Top 40 hits between 1973 and 1976. These included “Fire” (#1 on both the R&B and pop chart for two weeks and one week respectively in February 1975 and another million seller) and “Love Rollercoaster” (#1 on both the R&B and pop charts for one week in January 1976; another gold disc recipient). The group’s last big hit was “Who’d She Coo?” a #1 R&B hit in August 1976.
War is a funk band from California, Formed in 1969, War was a musical crossover band which fused elements of rock, funk, jazz, Latin American music, rhythm and blues, and reggae. The band also transcended racial and cultural barriers with a multi-ethnic line-up. Although War’s lyrics are often socio-political in nature, their music usually had a laid-back, California funk vibe. In 1971 War released All Day Music which included the singles “All Day Music” and “Slippin’ into Darkness”. The latter single sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in June 1972. In 1972 they released The World Is a Ghetto which was even more successful. Its second single, “The Cisco Kid” shipped gold, and the album attained the number one spot on Billboard, and was Billboard magazine’s Album of the Year as the best-selling album of 1973. The next album, Deliver The Word (1973) contained the hits “Gypsy Man,” and a studio version of “Me And Baby Brother” (previously issued as a live recording), which peaked at number 8 and 15 respectively on the Billboard chart. The album went on to sell nearly two million copies. The next album, Why Can’t We Be Friends? was released in 1975. It included “Low Rider”, and the title track, which were among the band’s biggest hits. In 1976, War released a greatest hits record which contained one new song “Summer” which, as a single, went gold and peaked at number 7 on the Billboard chart. The group continued to attain success with their next album, Galaxy (1977) whose title single was inspired by Star Wars. A particular feature of War’s sound is the use of harmonica and saxophone playing melody lines in unison, sounding like a single instrument, for example in the melody of “Low Rider”. The music of War has been sampled and recorded by many singers and groups, ranging from R&B / pop singers such as Janet Jackson to hip hop groups like TLC.
8. The Spinners
The Spinners are a soul music vocal group, active under that name since 1961, and popular with a long run of pop and R&B hits during the 1970s. The group, originating from Detroit, still tours regularly as of 2010. The band is also listed occasionally as The Motown Spinners, or (after they left the Motown label) as Detroit Spinners. These were used in the UK to avoid confusion with a British group also called The Spinners. When The Spinners signed to Atlantic in 1972, they were a respected but commercially unremarkable singing group who had never had a top-ten pop hit—despite having been a recording act for over a decade. However, under the helm of producer and songwriter Thom Bell, The Spinners would chart five top 100 singles (and two top tens) from their first post-Motown album, Spinners (1972), and would go on to become one of the biggest soul groups of the 1970s
7. The Ojay’s
The O’Jays are a Canton, Ohio based soul and R&B group, originally consisting of Walter Williams, Bill Isles, Bobby Massey, William Powell and Eddie Levert. They formed the group in Canton, Ohio in 1958 while attending Canton McKinley High School. Originally known as The Triumphs, and then The Mascots, the friends began recording with “Miracles” in 1961, which was a moderate hit in the Cleveland area. In 1963 they took the name “The O’Jays”, in tribute to Cleveland radio disc jockey Eddie O’Jay who was part of the powerful management team of “Frankie Crocker, Herb Hamlett & Eddie O’Jay,(Toop, 1991), and released “Lonely Drifter”, which charted nationally. Their debut LP was Comin’ Through. Throughout the 1960s, they continued to chart with songs such as “Lipstick Traces” (which they performed nationally on the ABC Television program, Shivaree), “Stand In For Love”,”Stand Tall”, “Let It All Out”, “I’ll Be Sweeter Tomorrow”, “Look Over Your Shoulder” , “Deeper In Love With You” and “One Night Affair”, along with several other regional and national Pop and R&B hits. In 1972, they finally scored with their first million-seller, “Back Stabbers”, from the album of the same name. By this time, original members Bill Isles and Bobby Massey had also departed, leaving the group a trio. This album produced several more hit singles, including “992 Arguments”, “Sunshine”, “Time To Get Down” and the #1 Pop smash, “Love Train”. During the remainder of the 1970s the O’Jays continued releasing chart-topping singles, including “Put Your Hands Together” (Pop #10), “For the Love of Money” (Pop #9), “Give the People What They Want”, “Let Me Make Love To You”, “I Love Music” (Pop #5), “Livin’ for the Weekend”, “Message in Our Music” and “Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby (Sweet Tender Love)”. Original member William Powell died of cancer in 1977 at age 35. The O’Jays were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
6. Kool & the Gang
Kool & the Gang is a jazz/R&B/soul/funk/disco group. They originally formed in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1964. They went through several musical phases during the course of their recording career, starting out with a purist jazz sound, then becoming practitioners of R&B and funk, progressing to a smooth pop-funk ensemble. They have sold over 90 million albums worldwide. The group’s main members over the years included brothers Robert Bell (known as “Kool”) on bass and Ronald Bell on tenor saxophone; lead vocalist James “J.T.” Taylor; George Brown on drums; Robert Mickens on trumpet; Dennis Thomas on alto saxophone; Claydes Charles Smith on guitar, and Rick Westfield on keyboards.
5. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles) were an American rhythm and blues group from Detroit, Michigan, notable as the first successful group act for Berry Gordy’s Motown Records company. Their single “Shop Around” was Motown’s first million-selling hit record, and the group went on to become one of Motown’s signature acts of the 1960s. During the same period, the Miracles’ original lead singer and founding member Smokey Robinson became one of the most successful songwriters and record producers of all time. During their nineteen-year run on the American music charts, The Miracles charted over fifty hits and recorded in the genres of doo wop, soul, disco, and R&B. Twenty-six Miracles songs reached the Top Ten of the Billboard R&B singles chart, including four R&B number ones. Sixteen of the Miracles’ songs charted within the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100, with seven songs charting within the Top Ten and two – 1970′s “The Tears of a Clown” and 1975′s “Love Machine” (Part 1) – reaching number-one. Referred to by critics as Motown’s “soul supergroup” , The Miracles are multiple Grammy Hall of Fame inductees, Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Doo-Wop Hall of Fame inductees, and have a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Smokey Robinson & the Miracles #32 on their list of “The Immortals: 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”
4. The Temptations
The Temptations are a vocal group that achieved fame as one of the most successful acts to record for Motown Records. The group’s repertoire has included, at various times during its five-decade career, R&B, doo-wop, funk, disco, soul, and adult contemporary music. Formed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1960 as The Elgins, the Temptations have always featured at least five male vocalists/dancers. Known for its recognizable choreography, distinct harmonies, and flashy onstage suits, the Temptations have been said to be as influential to soul as The Beatles are to pop and rock. Having sold tens of millions of albums, the Temptations are one of the most successful groups in music history and were the definitive male vocal group of the 1960s. As of 2010 the Temptations continue to perform and record for Universal Records with its one living original member, Otis Williams, still in its lineup. The original lineup included members of two local Detroit vocal groups: from The Distants, second tenor Otis Williams, first tenor Elbridge “Al” Bryant and bass Melvin Franklin; and from The Primes, first tenor/falsetto Eddie Kendricks and second tenor/baritone Paul Williams (no relation to Otis). Among the most notable future Temptations were lead singers David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards (both later solo artists), Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, Ali-Ollie Woodson, Theo Peoples, and G. C. Cameron. Like its “sister” female group, the Supremes, the Temptations’ lineup has changed frequently over the years. Over the course of their career, the Temptations have released four Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles and 14 Billboard R&B number-one singles. Their material has earned them three Grammy Awards, while two more awards were conferred upon the songwriters and producers who crafted their 1972 hit “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”. The Temptations were the first Motown act to earn a Grammy Award. Six Temptations (Dennis Edwards, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Otis Williams, and Paul Williams) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Three classic Temptations songs, “My Girl”, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, are among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
3. Isely Brothers
The Isley Brothers are a R&B, soul music and funk group. They have had notably long-running success on the Billboard charts, and are the only act to chart in the Top 40 in six separate decades. In 2006, their most recent release became their ninth album to reach the Top Ten of the Billboard 200. Over the years, the act has performed in a variety of genres, including doo-wop, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, funk, disco, urban adult contemporary and hip-hop soul. The group has gone through several lineups, ranging from a quartet to a trio to a sextet; they are currently a duo. Originally raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, the original group consisted of the three elder sons of O’Kelly Isley, Sr. and Sally Bell Isley: O’Kelly Jr., Rudolph and Ronald, who formed in 1954 and recorded with small labels singing doo-wop and rock ‘n’ roll. After modest success with singles such as “Shout”, “Twist and Shout” and the Motown single “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)”, and a brief tenure with Jimi Hendrix as a background guitar player, the group settled on a brand of gritty soul and funk defined by the Grammy-winning smash “It’s Your Thing” in 1969. After reforming the group as a six-member lineup in 1973, featuring younger brothers Ernie and Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper, they became known to fans as 3 + 3 and charted gold and platinum success with albums such as 3 + 3, The Heat Is On, Go For Your Guns and Between the Sheets, while charting a succession of hit singles such as “That Lady”, “Fight the Power”, “For the Love of You”, “Don’t Say Goodnight (It’s Time For Love)” and “Between the Sheets”, between 1973 and 1983. After the younger brothers splintered from the group in 1984 the remaining trio continued recording until O’Kelly’s death from a cancer-related heart attack in 1986. Rudolph left the group for a career in the ministry in 1989. In 1991 Ron reformed the group with Ernie and Marvin returning to the lineup. Since 1997 after diabetes forced Marvin into retirement, the lineup has been Ron and Ernie. Much like James Brown, The JB’s, Parliament-Funkadelic, and Zapp, the Isleys are among one of the most-sampled groups in hip-hop history with their recordings sampled by the likes of 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Outkast, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg, among others.
2. Earth, Wind & Fire
Earth, Wind & Fire is an African-American R&B and disco band formed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1969 and led by founder Maurice White. Also known as EWF, the Elements or the Elements of the Universe, the band has won six Grammy Awards and four American Music Awards. They have been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Having sold over 90 million albums worldwide has earned them a place on the list of best-selling music artists, where they are ranked as the seventh best selling American band of all time.Rolling Stone has described them as “innovative, precise yet sensual, calculated yet galvanizing” and has also declared that the band “changed the sound of black pop”. In 1998, they were ranked at number 60 on VH1′s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Rock N’ Roll. The band’s music contains elements of African, Latin American, funk, soul, pop and rock music, jazz and other genres, as well. The band is known for the dynamic sound of their horn section and the interplay between the contrasting vocals of Philip Bailey’s falsetto and Maurice White’s tenor. The kalimba (African thumb piano) is played on all of the band’s albums.
1. The Jackson Five / The Jacksons
The Jackson 5 (also spelled The Jackson Five, or The Jackson 5ive), later known as The Jacksons, are an American popular music family group from Gary, Indiana. Founding group members Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael formed the group after performing in an early incarnation called The Jackson Brothers, which originally consisted of a trio of the three older brothers. Active from 1964 to 1989, the Jacksons played from a repertoire of R&B, soul, pop and later disco. During their six-and-a-half-year Motown tenure, The Jackson 5 were one of the biggest pop-music phenomena of the 1970s, and the band served as the launching pad for the solo careers of their lead singers Jermaine and Michael, the latter brother later transforming his early Motown solo fame into greater success as an adult artist. The Jackson 5 were the first act in recording history to have their first four major label singles (“I Want You Back”, “ABC”, “The Love You Save”, and “I’ll Be There”) reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Several later singles, among them “Mama’s Pearl”, “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Dancing Machine”, were Top 5 pop hits and number-one hits on the R&B singles chart. Most of the early hits were written and produced by a specialized songwriting team known as “The Corporation”; later Jackson 5 hits were crafted chiefly by Hal Davis, while early Jacksons hits were compiled by the team of Gamble and Huff before The Jacksons began writing and producing themselves in the late 1970s. Significantly, they were the first black teen idols to appeal equally to white audiences thanks partially to the successful promotional relations skills of Motown Records CEO Berry Gordy. With their departure from Motown to CBS in 1976, The Jacksons were forced to change their name and Jermaine was replaced with younger brother Randy as Jermaine chose to stay at Motown. After two years under the Philadelphia International Records label, they signed with Epic Records and asserted control of their songwriting, production, and image, and their success continued into the 1980s with hits such as “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”, “Lovely One”, and “State of Shock”. Their 1989 album 2300 Jackson Street was recorded without Michael and Marlon. Michael and Marlon did appear, however, on the title track. The disappointing sales of the album led to the group being dropped by their record label at the end of the year. The group has never formally broken up, but has been dormant since then, although all six brothers performed together at two Michael Jackson tribute concerts in September 2001.