Washington will bury a beloved native son today - Van McCoy, singer, songwriter, producer and musical arranger who was hailed throughout the music world for his artistic genius and generous spirit.
The funeral services, which are open to the public, will be held at noon at the Metropolitan Baptist Church, 1225 R. St. NW, where the McCoy family has worshipped for several years.
Until his death of a heart attack last week, Van McCoy had reigned as the country's undisputed disco king following the success of his 1975 Grammy Award-winning single "The Hustle." The song catapulted McCoy into stardom and the nation into a pulsating, disco frenzy.
But his friends and family also remember McCoy, who was 39 when he died, for the 2 1/2 decades he brought his music into their lives.
"He was one hell of cat!" said his brother Norman McCoy Jr., in an interview earlier this week.
Although his current success rested on the disco beat, McCoy enjoyed a more subtle fame in the '50s and '60s with his rhythmic do-wah singles and lyric ballads, which were recorded by such popular artists as the Shirelles, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Nat Kin Cole and Ruby and the Romantics.
His success in the '70s also was achieved as a producer-arranger for Peaches and Herb, a group he discovered, and for artists Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips as well as a bevy of new artists from the streets of Anacostia and other Washington neighborhoods.
McCoy's many contributions to the Washington community were honored in 1977, said local artist Wayne Davis, when Rap Inc. presented McCoy with a brother award.
Friends and business associates spoke of McCoy as a low-key, unselfish spirit with a gift for helping other people. Several friends speculated that it was this unselfishness that eventually led to his death.
"I think he probably overworked himself," said local film producer and entertainment promoter Dewey Hughes. "I don't known where he hid his ego. He was always the real, real nice guy. It's rare in this business to always find someone willing to help."
McCoy wouldn't have had if any other way, contend Alfred Parker, a friend who, like Hughes, helped the artist promote local groups under one of the many record labels McCoy created over the years.
"He wanted to help people in Washington. He wanted to make Washington happen musically," Parker said.
And it is his music that mystifies and brings awe into the voices of many of his friends.
"When it came to music, I used to say he was the weirdest cat in the world," laughed James L. Kelsey, general manager of WOL radio. "We would be riding down the street and he'd say, 'Hey man, pull over.' We would pull over and he would write something down."
Kelsey and Norman McCoy say the inspiration for "The Hustle" developed just that way.
"Some of the things he would hum you would laugh at," said Kelsey. "Then later it would blow your mind when you heard it. He was a hard guy to understand."
Norman McCoy said the musical drive began when he and Van were children. Norman played the violin and Van, the piano and organ. Encouraged by their mother, Van began playing piano at age 6 and the brothers gave numerous church concerts.
Throughout his life, the classical composers - Mendelssohn, Mozart, Tchaikovsky - and "everybody that talked to him" inspired him, Norman McCoy said.
At Dunbar High School, Van McCoy directed a singing group, The Star-lighters, with himself, Norman and two high school friends, Fred Smith and Paul Comedy.
They cut their first record singing two Van McCoy compositions, "Birdland" and "12 O'clock."
Later, Van transferred to Roosevelt High School, where he graduated in 1957. He then spent two years at Howard University before moving to Philadelphia to begin his composing career with Rock'n records, a label started by an uncle, Reginald Morrison.
From Rock'n records, McCoy moved on to composing for Scepter Records, The End Music, Columbia and finally, McCoy-Kipps Productions, which he founded with partner Charles Kipps. He made a dozen guest appearances on the Johnny Carson show and was signed to Columbia Records by Mitch Miller, then a producer with Columbia, following one of the Carson appearances, Norman said.
Larry Bryant, a local songwriter and film producer, remembers that while Van McCoy was his mentor - "he was the first person to take me into a recording studio" - Miller was McCoy's.
"Mitch had taught him a lot in terms of the business. He went to New York and worked as Mitch Miller's protege."
Bryant said McCoy eventually left the association with one burning conviction - that while a hit song might last for a season, a classic song would endure forever.
Therefore, Bryant said, McCoy spent much of his time charting symphonic arrangements, arranging innovative combos and expanding his musical talents to create music he felt would endure. He didn't do that with "The Hustle," Bryant said, and "it took him by surprise being as big as it was."
In the months before McCoy's death, 12-year-old Stacy Lattisaw, of Southeast Washington, was the last new singer with an album produced by McCoy. The album, entitled "Young and In Love" features nearly a dozen new and old songs composed by McCoy, including the melodic, title balad which Sandra Lassitaw, Stacy's mother, recalled hearing as a young girl.
"Stacy does a ballad version and a disco version on the album. This is the way he wanted it.
"We heard it on the radio the other day after he passed," she signed. "The song is so touching you can just see him when you hear it." CAPTION: Picture 1, Young Van McCoy, at professional debut in Harlem's Apollo Theater.; Picture 2, McCoy "wanted to make Washington happen musically," said a frend. By Douglas Chevalier - The Washington Post