Pittsburghers will be transported back to a happier time in history when ’70s R&B group Blue Magic performs at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty,?May 1
“We came to Pittsburgh in the ’70s and we loved it,” said Wendell Sawyer, an original member of the group. “Pittsburgh is an industry town and although we were famous, everyone was the same. We’re going to take people back to a time that was filled with love and peace. Even though there was a war in Vietnam, people were feeling good because of the music that was on the radio. Some of that was our music.”
The group will be on hand to celebrate New Horizon Theater’s annual black tie event.
“We are trying to stay in the same genre because that’s been a good seller for us in the past,” said New Horizon Theater chairperson, Joyce Meggerson-Moore when asked why the theater decided to bring the soulsters to Pittsburgh. “We wanted something that people would support and people know they are going to get a good evening and that they are supporting a theater group that is worthwhile.”
In years past, New Horizon has brought such hot ’70s soul groups as the Chi-Lites, The Stylistics and Melba Moore to headline the yearly soiree.
In addition to headliners Blue Magic, this year’s show will include a tribute to late crooner Teddy Pendergrass, by Stan “The Man” Hampton. Talk show host Chris Moore will serve as the master of ceremonies.
Known for smooth ballads and dance moves, Blue Magic was formed in Philadelphia in 1972 by Randy Cain, a former member of The Delfonics.
Cain brought in Ted Mills, a singer-songwriter who was tapped to do some writing with WMOT production company.
“We were around 18 or 19 years old and we sang to keep us out of trouble,” Sawyer said. “We used to go to a club in Philly called the Uptown, which was like the Apollo in New York City. We saw singing groups there and we noticed that the music was good, the dance moves were cool and the girls were screaming and we knew that was what we wanted to do. We practiced daily and we went up against other groups in the neighborhood in talent shows.”
A few weeks later the group known as Shades of Love, featuring Sawyer and his brother Vernon, Keith Beaton and Richard Pratt came into the production company for an audition. The company?thought the group had promise but needed a star-quality lead singer.
Mills was added to the group and the Shades of Love was renamed Blue Magic and signed to Atco Records later that year. Blue Magic’s first album was released in 1973 but the group didn’t taste the top of the charts until a year later with the top 10 hit “Sideshow.” The song earned the group a gold record by the RIAA. “Sideshow” climbed to No. 8 the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the R&B charts.
“Three Ring Circus,” which followed “Sideshow” also made a splash in the R&B world by reaching No. 36 on the pop charts and five on the R&B charts. And 1975 found Blue Magic still riding high on the charts and in the hearts of the public. “We’re On The Right Track,” a catchy dance number, was released off “Thirteen Blue Magic Lane” album. Another hit from that album included “Chasing Rainbows.”
“Sometimes it’s destiny that allows you to get someplace. During the time period that we came through it was about singing and having a record that people would love,” Sawyer said.
And audiences loved Blue Magic’s music.
Between 1975-1976 the group had six chart-topping hits. Blue Magic also had its first world tour in 1975. The tour lasted 16 weeks and included 48 states, five countries in Europe, a 10-day stay in the Philippines and a two-week stop in the Virgin Islands.
By 1977, Blue Magic’s popularity began to wane due to changing musical styles. Despite constant and consistent recording, Blue Magic’s music failed to make the charts. Hoping to make a splash on the charts again, the group changed labels several times. The label changes allowed the group to have a modicum of success.
As a result, Ted Mills and Richard Pratt left the group in the 1980s. Mills was replaced by Rod Wayne. In 1989, Blue Magic’s popularity was renewed with a comeback album. “From Out of the Blue.”
“We are always in the studio making music or rehearsing for shows. When we aren’t doing that, we go around and teach younger artists about the ups and downs of the music business. Show business is 10 percent show and 90 percent business. I tell people to get as much education as they can about whatever it is you want to do. Trust people to an extent, but learn it yourself and be educated,” Sawyer said.
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