Formed in 1958, The O’Jays are an amazing case study in survival, both in the music business and in life. They’ve gone through so many transitions over the course of their 52-year career span that their original name, The Triumphs, would have probably been more fitting.
By FELICIA C. HANEY
Throughout the past eight weeks TV One has shared the ups, downs, trials, tribulations, success stories and downfalls of some of Black America’s brightest stars during their second season of “Unsung.” In week nine, the final episode of the season to air two days prior to the anniversary of Gerald Levert’s death, they examine the rise of one of soul music’s longest running acts, Cleveland’s own The O’Jays.
Formed in 1958, The O’Jays are an amazing case study in survival, both in the music business and in life. They’ve gone through so many transitions over the course of their 52-year career span that their original name, The Triumphs, would have probably been more fitting. Re-naming themselves after then popular local disc jockey Eddie O’Jay –who helped them get their start – would only be the start of their evolution.
From humble beginnings in Canton, Ohio, the O’Jays began as a quintet. Over years of relocating cities, swapping members, a secret battle with Multiple Sclerosis and losing loved ones as well as an original member, two things that have remained constants are Eddie Levert and Walter Williams. Narrated by actor Gary Anthony Williams, “Unsung” gets in-depth, behind the scenes commentary from Levert and Williams on the stories of struggle and success over the past five decades.
Following several minor hits in the 1960s (such as ‘Lipstick Traces’) the group struck gold in the 1970s in association with the great Philadelphia Soul record label producers Gamble & Huff, with songs that mixed romantic and social messages, such as ‘Backstabbers,’ ‘For the Love of Money’ and of course, the infamous “Love Train.” Out of the ‘80s would emerge LeVert, the trio headed by Gerald, ushering in a new generation of O’Jays fans. The ‘90s and 2000s brought continued success and a Rock Hall induction along with tragedy.
See scenes of Cleveland and share the O’Jays’ miraculous journey at 10 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8 on the TV One network. It’s worth the watch!