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Spotlight Artist - The Fifth Dimension

 

The Fifth DimensionIn my opinion The Fifth Dimension was one of the most versatile groups of the 60s and 70s. They were originally known as the Hi-Fi's.  They changed their name to The Versatiles and then The Fifth Dimension in late 1966.

In the early 1960s, Lamonte McLemore and Marilyn McCoo, a former beauty pageant winner, got together with two other friends from Los Angeles, Harry Elston and Floyd Butler, to form a group called the Hi-Fis. In 1963, they sang at local clubs while taking lessons from a vocal coach. In 1964, they came to the attention of Ray Charles, who took them on tour with him the following year. He produced a single by the group, "Lonesome Mood", a jazz-type song that gained local attention. However, internal disagreements caused Butler and Elston to go their own way, eventually leading to their organizing the Friends of Distinction.

Lamonte sought to form another group and started looking for members to join him and McCoo. One was Florence LaRue, who had received training as a youngster in singing, dancing, and violin, and who also won the talent portion, as McCoo had the year prior, at Miss Bronze California. About the same time she was approached to join the group, Lamonte recruited an old friend of his, Ron Townson, who at age six had started singing in choirs and gospel groups in his hometown of St. Louis. His grandmother fostered his career by arranging for private voice and acting lessons as he grew up. In his teens, he toured with Dorothy Dandridge and Nat King Cole, joined the Wings Over Jordan Gospel Singers for a while, and also played a small part in the film Porgy and Bess. He demonstrated his considerable skill as a classical artist by placing third in the Metropolitan Opera auditions held in St. Louis. After finishing high school, he worked his way through Lincoln University by conducting the school and church choir. After graduating, he organized his own 25-member gospel choir.

Lamonte's cousin, Billy Davis, Jr., started singing in gospel choirs at an early age. He later saved enough money to buy a cocktail lounge in St. Louis, which he used as a base for experimenting with various musical groups. When he was asked to join his cousin's new group, he immediately said yes.

The members began rehearsing in early 1966 and took the name of the Versatiles. They auditioned for Marc Gordon, who headed Motown's Los Angeles office. Although their demo tape was rejected by Motown, he agreed to manage them and brought them to the attention of Johnny Rivers, who had just started his own label, Soul City Records. Their first Soul City single, "I'll Be Lovin' You Forever", was a flop, but a cover of the Mamas & the Papas' "Go Where You Wanna Go" climbed into the top 20 on both R&B and pop stations.

 

Budding young songwriter Jimmy Webb supplied the group with their breakthrough hit, "Up, Up and Away", a top 10 hit in mid-1967, which won five Grammy Awards. The following year, the group scored major hit singles with Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic" (U.S. #3) and "Sweet Blindness" (U.S. #13) and received a gold record for their album Stoned Soul Picnic, which also included the Ashford & Simpson-written "California Soul". In 1969, they had two number one singles: "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" from the musical Hair and the Nyro composition "Wedding Bell Blues", with a U.S. #20 cover of Neil Sedaka's "Workin' On A Groovy Thing" in-between.

Later hits included "One Less Bell to Answer" (U.S. #2) (1970), "Love's Lines, Angles and Rhymes" (U.S. #19), "Never My Love" (U.S. #12) (1971), "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" (U.S. #8), and "If I Could Reach You" (U.S. #10) (1972).

The 5th Dimension performed "Sweet Blindness" on Frank Sinatra's 1968 TV special Sinatra Does His Thing and sang "Workin' On A Groovy Thing" and "Wedding Bell Blues" on Woody Allen's The Woody Allen Special in 1969. They introduced "Puppet Man" as guests on "It Takes a Thief" in 1970.

n 1975, McCoo and Davis, who married in 1969, left the group to do both collective and individual projects. They went on to have success as a duo with "Your Love" and the chart topper "You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)". McCoo also served a stint as the host of the TV show Solid Gold. The remaining trio carried on with new members, and nearly had a hit in 1976 with the LaRue-sung "Love Hangover"; however, Motown issued Diana Ross' original version shortly after the 5th Dimension's hit the charts, and hers soared to the top of the charts. The group signed with Motown not long after, releasing two albums in 1978. R&B singer Lou Courtney was in the group briefly in 1978 and 1979, Joyce Wright joined in 1979, and Phyllis Battle joined in 1988.

The original quintet reunited in 1990 and 1991 for a tour. Townson briefly left the group to try a solo career, but soon returned, as the group eventually resigned itself to the nostalgia circuit. In 1995, the quintet of LaRue, Townson, McLemore, Battle, and Greg Walker recorded a new album, In the House, for Click Records. In 1998, Willie Williams replaced Townson, who died in 2001 due to diabetes-related kidney failure. Battle departed in 2002, to be replaced by Van Jewell. McLemore retired from the group in March 2006.

McCoo and Davis continue to tour separately as their own act. As of April 2009, the group is actively touring as "Florence LaRue & The 5th Dimension", led by LaRue with Willie Williams, Leonard Tucker, Patrice Morris, and Floyd Smith.

 

 

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