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On this date in 1937, O’Kelly Isley was born. He was a Black R&B vocalist.
Born in Cincinnati, he, along with siblings Ronald, Rudolph, and Vernon Isley, was known as the Isley Brothers. They began singing in church while their mother played piano for them. They also sang at school functions and social gatherings, such as Girls' Town and Boys' Town. They won talent shows on TV. Vernon died in 1955 in a bicycling accident, and Ronald was tapped as the remaining trio's lead vocalist.
Early singles did not sell very much, but "Shout,” their 1959 debut for RCA, sold a million copies, despite failing to crack the Top 40. Only after the Isleys left RCA for the Wand label did they again have another hit, this time with their seminal 1962 cover of "Twist and Shout." After recording for their own T-Neck label, they signed to the Motown Records subsidiary Tamla in 1965, joining forces with the Holland-Dozier-Holland writing and production team.
The Isleys' first single, the shimmering "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)," was their finest moment and barely missed the pop Top Ten; still, the group felt straitjacketed by the Motown style of production formula, and in 1969 they exited Tamla to resuscitate the T-Bone label. Their next release, the muscular and funky "It's Your Thing," hit number 2 on the U.S. charts in 1969, and became their most successful record. In 1973, the Isleys had a massive hit with their rock-funk fusion cover of their own earlier single "Who's That Lady," re-titled "That Lady (Part I); " the album 3 + 3 also proved highly successful, as did 1975's "The Heat Is On," which spawned the smash "Fight the Power (Part I).”
As the decade wore on, the group again altered its sound to fit into the booming disco market. While their success on pop radio ran dry, they frequently topped the R&B charts with singles like 1977's "The Pride," 1978's "Take Me to the Next Phase (Part 1),” 1979’s "I Wanna Be With You (Part 1)," and 1980's "Don't Say Goodnight.”
A longtime member of the Isley Brothers, singer and songwriter O'Kelly Isley performed with his influential family group for close to four decades, a period spanning not only two generations of siblings but also massive cultural shifts which heralded their music's transformation from gritty R&B to Motown soul to blistering funk. O'Kelly Isley died of a heart attack on March 31, 1986.
ACSAP Biographical Dictionary
R. R. Bowker Co., Copyright 1980