by Jeremiah Short
Special to The New Tri-State Defender
When Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes' founder, Harold Melvin, died in 1997, many thought it was the end of the legendary group. They were mistaken. The group pressed on with the remaining members: Donnell "Big Daddy" Gillespie, Anthony "Tony" Brooks, Rufus "Fuss" Thorne, and John Morris.
After Melvin's passing, the ensemble reorganized, renaming the group Harold Melvin's Blue Notes. On tour, Harold Melvin's Blue Notes continued to perform trademark hits such as: "Wake Up Everybody," "If You Don't Know Me By Now" and "The Love I Lost." McFadden and Whitehead – and not Gamble and Huffs as many have long believed – wrote the majority of those hits.
The Blue Notes have capitalized on a market that still craves live, soulful and original music. One of their next stops will be in Memphis for "Hank Aaron Celebrity Sports Weekend," which is slated for Aug. 24, 25 and 27.
The Aug. 25 performance at Minglewood Hall in Midtown will take place during the annual "UNCF (United Negro College Fund) Black Tie Gala," which gets underway at 6 p.m. All the proceeds from the gathering go to the UNCF and The Lemoyne-Owen College, an HBCU (Historically Black College and University).
For Blue Notes singer Tony Brooks, who attended an HBCU (Tennessee State University, 1969-1970), the event has extra meaning, in part because of his fondness for Hank Aaron.
"Hank Aaron...was a great athlete...(and) he was good person," said Brooks. "You find some athletes today that don't care about people. They are great athletes...but they don't have any social consciousness. It's been diluted by the fact that they make so much and are being put in a different class."
The Blue Notes have always prided themselves on being socially conscious, coming from an era where those with a voice were expected to care about important issues.
"We were militant....We wanted change and we wanted it now. That's why we wore our Afros out," Brooks said about the mentality of entertainers during his era.
"When I started out there were certain places we couldn't go to and there were certain venues we couldn't play in. Actually, when we started there were schools we couldn't go to...that is why I went to Tennessee State."
Although the Blue Notes no longer have Melvin, there is a living connection. His widow, Ovelia Melvin, and daughter, Trudy Melvin, are co-managers of the quartet. The younger Melvin loves working with the group because she feels it keeps her close to her father.
"It's ecstatic! That's why I like traveling with the group so much. I like the feedback I get when they find out I'm his daughter. It's like having him here with me, even though I know he's not here," said Melvin, explaining what it feels like helping carry on her father's legacy.
"I know he's very proud of me and also them for carrying on the name and keeping the group working."
Brooks said he feels the former lead singer still with him on the stage.
"He's still around....I can still feel him kicking me in the leg, telling me to step right," said Brooks with a slight chuckle.
In a music culture that often seems to celebrate artists more for their Twitter and reality show exploits, Harold Melvin's Blue Notes have stayed relevant the old fashion way – by performing and letting their talent do the talking.