Obituaries: Marcus Melvin Gordon, Charles “Melvin” Lewis, Lonnie W. Heard, Bill Aucoin and Deborah Jo White

Marcus Melvin Gordon. Photo, Arno 5th Legacy Collection, All Rights Reserved

Marcus Melvin Gordon, the manager of The 5th Dimension circa its heyday of the late ’60’s through the ’70s, died June 16, 2010, according to the group’s biographer, Robert-Allan Arno, and group member Florence LaRue. He was 74.

Gordon had been ill for a number of years. An executive at Motown in the early ’60s, Gordon departed the label in 1966 while discovering The Versatiles, who auditioned for but were not signed to the label. He asked the quintet to find a hipper moniker —The 5th Dimension — and connected them with Johnny River’s Soul City label. The rest was Grammy, Gold and Platinum record history. Gordon co-produced The 5th Dimension’s signature tune, Jimmy Webb’s “Up, Up and Away.”

“We had so much respect for Marc Gordon and his vision; it was his faith and hard work that had a great deal in getting The 5th Dimension launched,” said founding members Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.
“Marc envisioned us as the black Beatles,” Florence LaRue recently reflected. LaRue was married to Gordon and has a son, Geoffrey, with him. LaRue continues to tour as Florence LaRue and The 5th Dimension.

Gordon also managed Tony Orlando and Dawn, Thelma Houston and Willie Hutch. His Rocky Road records garnered mega hits for Al Wilson (“Show and Tell”) and Climax (“Precious and Few”) in the ’70s.

— Robert-Allan Arno

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Charles “Melvin” Lewis, a baritone singer who joined the Jesters in 1959 and sang on their 1960-61 Winley label sides including the group’s remake of “The Wind”, died in Bronx, New York, on May 4, 2010. He was 70.

Born July 17, 1939, Lewis began his recording career in 1957 with Joe Rivers, who was half of the duo Johnnie and Joe who later hit with “Over The Mountain, Across The Sea”. Both were part of the Climbers, who recorded two singles for J&S Records in 1957. Lewis joined original members Adam Jackson and Anthony “Jimmy” Smith after the original quintet disbanded and, after adding Melvin’s late brother, Donald Lewis on bass, began recording and performing on the strength of the “Paragons Meet The Jesters” album.

The act recorded one additional single for Starlight Records in 1986 and, with Adam’s brother, Ronald, who joined in 1974, continued performing live into the 1990s. Adam Jackson died in 1994, Donald Lewis died several years later, and Melvin continued the Jesters into the 21st century with Ronald Jackson, Marshall Cherry and newer members. Before retiring, Melvin was also employed as a photo shop manager.

— Todd Baptista

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Lonnie W. Heard, second tenor in the 5 Dollars (Fortune Records), died Friday, Feb. 23, 2010, in Highland Park, Mich. Heard was born May 8, 1937.

The group, which initially consisted of Andre Williams, Eddie Hurt, Heard, James Drayton and Charles Evans, also had been known as The Don Juans, according to All Music Guide. An online discography lists their first release in 1955 on Fortune 821 (“Harmony of Love” b/w “Doctor Baby.” Its last release on Fortune came in 1960 with “My Baby-O” b/w “That’s The Way It Goes.”

— Todd Baptista

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Anita Humes Chappelle, lead voice in The Essex, died May 30, 2010, in Harrisburg, Pa.

A U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army veteran, Chapelle’s lead voice graced the hits “Easier Said Than Done” and “A Walking Miracle”.

In poor heath for the past few years, she apparently died in her car and was there for two days before her body was discovered. Chapelle was born Oct. 10, 1940, in Harrisburg, Pa.

— Todd Baptista

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ilene Woods, 81, the voice of Cinderella in Disney’s animated classic, died July 1, 2010 of causes related to Alzheimer’s disease at a nursing home in Canoga Park, Calif., according to a family spokesman.

Woods was an 18-year-old radio singer in 1948 when she recorded a demo for an upcoming Disney feature. Two days later, Walt Disney himself auditioned her and she went on to voice the title character’s speaking and singing parts for 1950’s “Cinderella,” about a mistreated stepdaughter who finds her Prince Charming.

Woods sang on the Perry Como and Arthur Godfrey shows in the 1950s before retiring from show business in the early 1970s.

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WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. (AP) — Allyn Ferguson, an Emmy-winning composer who co-wrote the themes for the 1970s TV shows “Charlie’s Angels” and “Barney Miller,” has died at 85.

Ferguson died at his home in Westlake Village near Los Angeles on June 23, 2010, his daughter, Jill Ferguson, said.

Ferguson wrote scores for dozens of TV episodes in the 1970s and 1980s but was best-known for the “Charlie’s Angels” and “Barney Miller” themes he co-wrote with Jack Elliott.

He received eight Emmy nominations, winning the award for music composition in 1985 for scoring a television adaptation of the classic novel “Camille.’’

Ferguson also conducted and was musical co-director for Academy Award, Emmy and Grammy shows.

During his career, Ferguson also was an arranger or musical director for artists such as Sarah Vaughan, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis and Julie Andrews.

He wrote the arrangements for the Count Basie Orchestra’s 1998 Grammy-winning album, “Count Plays Duke.’’
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CULLMAN, Ala. (AP) Former Lynyrd Skynyrd backup singer Deborah Jo White, who performed under her maiden name “Jo Jo Billingsley,’’ died at her Cullman home on June 24, 2010, after a bout with cancer. She was 58 years old.

A spokesman for Cullman Funeral Home confirmed her death and said arrangements are pending.

White toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd for three and one-half years before departing the Florida-based group in August 1977. She was invited to rejoin the group two months later when she warned the band about having a dream about its plane crashing. It did on Oct. 20, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and others.

She later left rock music, becoming a minister and Christian singer in Cullman. The band’s current lead singer, Johnny Van Zant, said it was tough to hear about another member of the Skynyrd family dying.

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AVENTURA, Fla. (AP) — Bill Aucoin, who is credited with launching the rock group Kiss into stardom, died June 28, 2010, in Florida. He was 66.

Aucoin died at Aventura Hospital and Medical Center in Aventura of surgical complications from prostate cancer, said Carol Kaye, a family spokeswoman.

A former television cinematographer, Aucoin discovered Kiss in New York City in 1973 and helped launch the makeup-wearing, fire-breathing quartet into a moneymaking machine.

He financed the band’s first tour on his personal American Express credit card when money was tight, but he was well rewarded when the band’s popularity exploded in 1975 with the hit “Rock And Roll All Nite.”
“He was the fifth Kiss,” said drummer Peter Criss, who had Aucoin serve as the best man at his second wedding. “If it wasn’t for Bill, there would be no Kiss.’’

Aucoin first saw the band at a showcase gig at New York’s Diplomat Hotel, then brought it upstairs to meet with record company executive Neil Bogart, who signed it as the first act on his Casablanca Records label.

Criss said Aucoin had an eye for what was visually striking and recognized the vast merchandising potential of rock bands in a way that few others could. With Aucoin’s help, Kiss became as famous for the vast array of products bearing their likeness — including belt buckles, Halloween costumes and makeup kits, action figurines, vitamins and even a Kiss pinball machine — as they were for their music. By 1978, Kiss was voted the No. 1 band in America in a Gallup poll.

“He was a genius,” Criss said. “Anything you could do, he could do bigger.”

After parting with Kiss in the early 1980s, Aucoin managed Billy Squier and Billy Idol.

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CHICAGO (AP) — Fred Anderson, a jazz tenor saxophonist well-known for his smooth, velvety playing style and whose Chicago club, the Velvet Lounge is known as one of the cradles of contemporary jazz, has died. He was 81.

His sons, Eugene and Michael Anderson said their father died June 24, 2010, but declined to say where. Anderson, a native of Louisiana, performed in relative obscurity for years, saying he was determined to stay in Chicago and help foster cutting-edge jazz instead of going to New York or elsewhere. He took odd jobs until he opened the Velvet Lounge in 1982, naming it after someone’s praise for his playing style.

He kept the club going almost single-handedly for decades as owner and resident mentor. At times, Anderson did everything from tending bar to collecting the $10 cover charge to jamming on stage to taking out the garbage. Some artists have gone so far as to refer to the club as Fred Anderson University. Dozens of acclaimed albums have been recorded at the club, including 2005’s “Blue Winter,’’ featuring Anderson, drummer Hamid Drake and bassist William Parker.

Performers typically made a modest amount of money compared with what other clubs paid. But Anderson never considered money the point. Instead, he believed the goal was to give aspiring musicians a place to hone their skills and to experiment playing harder-edged, freewheeling jazz that more commercially minded jazz clubs tended to shun.

In 2006, Anderson described what he called the most difficult task of his life: moving the club to a new location and watching as crews bulldozed the much-beloved venue to make way for a housing complex.
Anderson rose to prominence in the 1990s. Music companies began to release recordings of his work to favorable reviews and he became a regular on the jazz-festival circuit in the U.S. and Europe.

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