Soul Serenade: The Whispers, “Bingo”

The WhispersIt’s the Fourth of July as I write this but you won’t be reading it until at least tomorrow. So I’ll just say that I hope it was a great day for you and your family and friends. These are troubled times in this country and it’s nice to have one day a year to remember how it all began for us and the principles that informed the country’s founding fathers.

This week we’re traveling out west to Los Angeles, California, specifically to the Watts section of the city. It was there in 1964 that Wallace and Walter Scott, identical twin brothers, got together with Gordy Harmon, Marcus Hutson, and Nicholas Caldwell to form the Whispers. Among their fans was Sly Stone who suggested that the group relocate to the San Francisco area. It wasn’t long before they were knocking audiences out with their powerful live show.

It was the Vietnam era and Walter Scott was among those who were drafted. He spent 18 months in the service before being discharged in 1969. That year, the Whispers released their first single on the local Dore label. “The Time Will Come” was a successful debut, reaching #19 on the R&B chart. Before long, the Whispers joined producer Ron Carson at his Soul Clock label. There they had their breakthrough single, “Seems Like I Got to Do Wrong,” in 1970. It was a Top 10 R&B hit and reached the Top 50 on the pop chart.

The Whispers

The Whispers continued to work with Carson although they left his label for the larger Janus Records, which was based in New York. Much of their recording in the mid-’70s was done in Philadelphia, working with Gamble & Huff producers and songwriters like Norman Harris, Bunny Sigler, and Earl Young, with backing tracks provided by MFSB. They scored a non-stop string of hits during this era with songs like “I Only Meant to Wet My Feet,” “Somebody Loves You,” “A Mother for My Children,” “Bingo,” and “In Love Forever.” In 1977, the Whispers returned to the Top 10 with their cover of the Bread hit “Make it With You” and in the late 1970s they scored with hits like “(Olivia) Lost and Turned Out,” and “A Song for Donny.”

The 1980s began with a bang for the Whispers as they rose all the way to the top of the R&B chart with their cover of the Sonny & Cher classic “The Beat Goes On.” The record also found Top 20 success on the pop chart. More big hits followed including “Lady,” “It’s a Love Thing,” “In the Raw,” “Tonight,” and “Keep on Lovin’ Me,” all of which reached the Top 10. But their biggest hit came with the 1987 smash “Rock Steady” which topped the R&B chart and was a #7 hit on the pop chart. Many of the ’80s hits were for the SOLAR (Sound of Los Angeles Records) label.

In the 1990s, the Whispers continued their string of hits with Top 10 successes like “Innocent,” “My Heart Your Heart,” and “Is it Good to You.”

Unlike many of their contemporaries, the Whispers had very few lineup changes over the years. In 1973, Gordy Harmon was injured in an automobile accident and he was replaced by Leaveil Degree who had been a member of the Friends of Distinction. Marcus Hutson died in 1992 and the Whispers decided not to replace him, continuing as a quartet. Nicholas Caldwell died in 2016 leaving the Scott Brothers and Degree to carry on the Whispers name.

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