Harvey Fuqua, 80

Harvey Fuqua, singer in doo-wop band the Moonglows, dies at 80

The Moonglows' Harvey Fuqua, a baritone, began singing on Louisville street corners as a youth.
The Moonglows' Harvey Fuqua, a baritone, began singing on Louisville street corners as a youth. (2000 Photo By Chuck Burton/associated Press)
By Terence McArdle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010

Harvey Fuqua, lead singer of the seminal 1950s doo-wop group the Moonglows who mentored Marvin Gaye and became an executive at Motown Records, died July 6 at a Detroit hospital. The Associated Press reported his age as 80 and that he had had a heart attack.

The Moonglows, who were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, were one of the most popular vocal groups in the first wave of rock-and-roll. Their hits, such as "Sincerely" (1954) and "See Saw" (1956), combined slick harmonies with what pop music critic Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times termed a "raw, teen-directed urgency."

Harvey Fuqua (pronounced FEW-kwah) was born in Louisville. His uncle Charlie Fuqua played guitar in the Ink Spots, one of the most popular vocal groups of the 1940s.

The younger Fuqua, a baritone, began his career singing on Louisville street corners, trying to impress girls with his renditions of Ink Spots songs.

In high school, Mr. Fuqua formed a vocal duo with his classmate Bobby Lester and found work in a rhythm-and-blues revue with saxophonist Ed Wiley.

After moving to Cleveland, he and Lester formed a vocal group with singers Prentiss Barnes, Alexander Graves and guitarist Billy Johnson.

The group, named the Crazy Sounds, initially specialized in vocalese -- a style popularized by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross in which singers put words to jazz melodies and solos -- before it shifted to a rhythm-and-blues style modeled on Sonny Til and the Orioles.

Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed caught the act in 1952. Freed, who is often credited with coining the term rock-and-roll, pushed the group to change its name to the Moonglows, a play on Freed's radio name, Moondog. He recorded the band for his record label, Champagne, and a Chicago label, Chance, before getting the Moonglows a contract with the larger Chess records.

They also performed on Freed's touring rock-and-roll revues and in the movies "Rock, Rock, Rock" (1956) and "Mister Rock and Roll" (1957).

Although Lester sang many of the lead vocals, Mr. Fuqua took the lead on "Please Send Me Someone to Love" (1957) and on the group's biggest hit, "The Ten Commandments of Love" (1957), which also featured a memorable spoken call-and-response of the song's lyrics by the group's guitarist, Billy Johnson.

By the time of the latter record, Lester had left the group and a personality dispute between him and Mr. Fuqua caused the other members to quit.

Mr. Fuqua then hired a District group, the Marquees, to perform as Harvey and the Moonglows. The group included a then-unknown Gaye, who sang lead on "Mama Loochie" (1958). The group broke up in 1961, and Mr. Fuqua continued as a soloist -- recording a hit duet with Etta James, "Spoonful" (1961).

By the 1960s, Mr. Fuqua focused less attention on performing and more on promoting new talent. He moved to Detroit, where he met Motown Records owner Berry Gordy while renting a room from Gordy's sister, Esther. With Gordy's backing, he and another Gordy sister, Gwen, started the Tri-Phi and Harvey record labels.

Mr. Fuqua and Gwen Gordy were married. A complete list of survivors could not be determined.

The labels had initial success with the Spinners' "That's What Girls Are Made For" (1961) and another discovery, saxophonist Junior Walker. In 1963, Mr. Fuqua disbanded the labels and joined Motown as the head of its artist development department, bringing the labels' rosters and Gaye with him.

When Motown moved its operations to Los Angeles in the 1970s, Mr. Fuqua joined RCA and briefly reformed the Moonglows in 1972. He later produced such disco acts as the Weather Girls and Sylvester.

Mr. Fuqua enjoyed reminiscing about the famous people whom he knew during his career. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer, he recalled that playing cards with other musicians was his favorite pastime while on the road with the Moonglows. But he added that he and others were always cautious about playing with Ray Charles. They would never let the blind singer deal.

"His cards were in Braille," Mr. Fuqua recalled, "and he'd know what everybody else had."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company