One of Philadelphia's most famous R&B vocal groups, Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes were incredibly popular in the early to mid-1970s but had roots going back to 1954. Although the group was led by singer Harold Melvin for over 40 years, its most famous member was the charismatic Teddy Pendergrass, who didn't actually join until 1970.
Many R&B historians insist that The Blue Notes did their most essential work when Pendergrass was being featured prominently from 1973-1975, and while that assertion is hard to argue with, it is also true that the group was together for 14 years before Pendergrass' arrival.
Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes were formed in Philly in 1954, when Melvin (b. Jun. 25, 1939, Philadelphia, PA, d. Mar. 24, 1997, Philadelphia, PA) was only 15. Starting out singing doo wop, they did their first recordings for the small, New York-based Josie Records in 1954 before landing on the R&B charts in 1960 with their Valley Vue single "My Hero." They also charted in 1965, when "Get Out" on the Landa label became a Top 40 R&B hit.
But like the O'Jays, The Blue Notes didn't start to enjoy supergroup status until joining forces with the producing/songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who signed them to their Philadelphia International label in the early 1970s. Another crucial event for the group was, of course, the arrival of Pendergrass in 1970. Born and raised in Philly, Pendergrass was hired as a drummer that year, but in 1972, Melvin and Gamble & Huff agreed that he would be featured prominently as a lead singer.
Between the input of Gamble & Huff and Pendergrass' presence, Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes seemed unstoppable for several years. In the early to mid-1970s, they enjoyed their share of major soul hits, including "The Love I Lost", "If You Don't Know Me By Now", "Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back)", "Bad Luck", "Where Are All My Friends" and "Miss You". In 1975, Melvin hired the talented female singer Sharon Paige, who shared the lead vocal duties with Pendergrass on the number one R&B hit "Hope That We Can Be Together Soon".
It was also in 1975 that The Blue Notes recorded the excellent Wake Up, Everybody, which boasted the classic "Don't Leave Me This Way" and turned out to be Pendergrass' last album with the group. The Blue Notes' sales dropped considerably after Pendergrass' departure, and Pendergrass' solo albums on Philadelphia International were much bigger sellers.
The Blue Notes did make it to number six on the R&B charts with 1977's "Reaching for the World" and had a few other post-Pendergrass hits, but while they still had expressive singers in Melvin, David Ebo and Paige, the general consensus among R&B fans was that the group was past its prime.
This isn't to say that the post-Pendergrass albums The Blue Notes recorded for ABC, Source and Philly World were bad - some of them were decent, although none were essential. The name Harold Melvin And The Blue Notes remained active into the 1990s, but after Melvin died in 1997 at the age of 57, the group continued to perform live as simply The Blue Notes.