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Members include Ernie Isley (born c. 1952 in Cincinnati, OH), lead guitar, drums; Marvin Isley (born c. 1953 in Cincinnati, OH), bass, percussion; O'Kelly Isley, Jr. (born on December 25, 1937, in Cincinnati, OH; died on March 31, 1986), vocals; Ronald Isley (born on May 21, 1941, in Cincinnati, OH), vocals; Rudolph Isley (born on April 1, 1939, in Cincinnati, OH), vocals; Chris Jasper, keyboards. Addresses: Record company--DreamWorks, 9268 W. Third St., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, website: http://www.dreamworksrecords.com. Booking--Booking Entertainment.Com, 236 West 26th St., Ste. 701, New York, NY 10016, website: http://www.bookingentertainment.com. Website--The Isley Brothers Official Website: http://www.theisleybrothers.com.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, the Isley Brothers are an enduring rhythm and blues band known to several generations of music fans for a multitude of hits, beginning in the late 1950s. Their biggest single, "It's Your Thing," was released in 1969 and rose to Number Two on Billboard's pop charts. Young audiences in the sixties knew the band for their rollicking "Shout" and "Twist and Shout," the latter of which was later recorded by the Beatles. During the 1970s, the Isley Brothers scored big with their expanded lineup, and in 1990, pop-rocker Rod Stewart revived their 1966 Motown version of "This Old Heart of Mine" in a duet with Ronald Isley to score a top ten pop hit.

When O'Kelly Isley, Sr., first married Sallye Bernice Bell, he announced that he wanted to have four sons who would replace the Mills Brothers, a World War II-era pop group that got their start in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Isley patriarch got his wish when the young Isley Brothers, all born in Cincinnati, began as a trio consisting of brothers O'Kelly, Jr. (known as Kelly), Rudolph, and Ronald. (A fourth brother, Vernon, died tragically in 1954 when he was knocked off his bike while riding to school.) In the early 1950s, the brothers were singing gospel music in the churches of southern Ohio and northern Kentucky with their mother accompanying them on piano. Around 1973 they added two younger brothers, Ernie (on guitar and drums) and Marvin (on bass and percussion), and their brother-in-law Chris Jasper (on keyboards) to form the "3+3" lineup.

In 1956 Kelly, Rudolph, and Ronald set out for New York City. When they arrived, they worked odd jobs for fast cash and tried to break into the music business. By the beginning of 1957 they had demonstrated enough talent to land a spot on a bill at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. They made their first record that year, "Angels Cried" on the Teenage label, and toured the East Coast circuit of black theaters from the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., to the Uptown in Philadelphia.

After making several records in New York for George Goldner, who owned the Mark X, Cindy, and Gone labels, they were searching for their first hit when they found what they were looking for at D.C.'s Howard Theater. Influenced by rhythm and blues pioneer Jackie Wilson's ability to get a crowd going, Ron Isley wrote "Shout," the song that became their first hit when it was recorded by RCA and released in the summer of 1959.

The Isley Brothers developed a reputation for a rousing stage show. One such show was described by singer James Brown in his autobiography: "We saw the Isley Brothers coming from the back of the theater, swinging on ropes, like Tarzan, onto the stage. They hardly had to sing at all. They'd already killed 'em."

After releasing a couple of songs that went nowhere, the Isleys came up with "Twist and Shout" in 1962. It received airplay in England, and the Beatles recorded their version of the song in January of 1963 with John Lennon on lead vocals. The Beatles met the Isley Brothers in person when the Isleys were touring England in 1962, but it wasn't until 1964 that the Beatles' version of the song went to number two on the American charts.

Over the next couple of years the group formed their own label, T-Neck, named after Teaneck, New Jersey, where the family had settled after "Shout" became a hit. In 1964, a young guitarist named Jimmy (later Jimi) Hendrix joined the group for a brief time before skyrocketing to fame on his own. By late 1965 the Isley Brothers had signed with Berry Gordy's Motown Record Corporation. Gordy had high hopes for the band and assigned them right away to his top songwriting-production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. Their first Motown release--on the Tamla label--was the Holland-Dozier-Holland composition "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)." They also released an album featuring ten other Holland-Dozier-Holland songs.

Some of Motown's other acts were reportedly jealous of the treatment given to the Isleys, and they were soon assigned to other producers there. They left the label in 1968 and the next year released their biggest hit, "It's Your Thing," on the T-Neck label. Appearing on the record were the Isleys' younger brothers Ernie and Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper. The success of the song enabled the Isleys to record other groups on their label, and in the summer of 1969 they organized and headlined one of the biggest live performances of their career at New York's Yankee Stadium.

With their new 3+3 lineup, the Isley Brothers opted for a new pop-rock sound. In June of 1971 they covered Stephen Stills's "Love the One You're With," which featured Ernie's acoustic guitar playing. It became a top 20 hit and was included on the album Givin' It Back, on which the Isleys chose to record the pop-rock songs of several other artists.

With the younger members of the group studying for their fine arts degrees in music, the group's sound expanded to include a range of musical ideas. According to Marvin, they began to incorporate a jazz idiom based on their studies with jazz pianists Billy Taylor and Ramsey Lewis. The 3+3 lineup became official in 1973 when the group signed with CBS/Epic for distribution of their T-Neck releases and recorded their 3+3 album.

The Isleys were heavily influenced by Stevie Wonder's self-produced 1972 album, Music of My Mind. Rather than containing one or two good songs and a lot of filler material, Wonder's was a concept album in which all of the songs were significant. When the Isleys discovered Music of My Mind had been recorded in Los Angeles, they decided to go there to record 3+3. The recording facility was state of the art and allowed them to use a Moog synthesizer and phase shifter, a pedal that Ernie used to alter his guitar sound.

Marvin Isley also noted another influence: "Marvin Gaye and Ronald definitely had influence on each other, because they kind of admired the same people.... When Marvin put that What's Going On album out [in]1971, that became the way of, 'Let's approach our album like these artists are doing now.'"

3+3 was a landmark album for the Isley Brothers, both from a commercial standpoint and from a creative one. The album balanced cover songs of other artists with a selection of original compositions. It made the Isleys one of the first black groups to go platinum, selling over two million units.

The Isley Brothers were one of the top rhythm and blues acts of the 1970s, along with their two main competitors, Earth, Wind, and Fire and the Commodores. Their 1975 hit, "Fight the Power," went to Number Four on the pop charts, and their live performances were held in 20,000-seat arenas such as the Forum in Los Angeles and Madison Square Garden in New York.

In 1984 the six-member 3+3 group split up. Ernie, Chris, and Marvin stayed with CBS to record for them as Isley/Jasper/Isley. Ronald, Rudolph, and Kelly signed with Warner Bros. T-Neck Records closed, marking the end of an era. In 1986 Kelly died of a heart attack in his sleep in Teaneck, New Jersey.

In addition to the Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout," other songs written by the Isleys became hits for various groups in the 1960s and 1970s. The Outsiders, known mainly for their 1966 hit "Time Won't Let Me," made the Isley Brothers' "Respectable" a top twenty hit later that same year. In addition, the brothers wrote "Work to Do," recorded by the Average White Band, and their earliest hit, "Shout," was revived by Otis Day and the Knights in the film Animal House.

The breakup of the six-man lineup was not the end of the Isley Brothers. Aside from Ronald's solo successes, Marvin, Ernie, and Ronald reformed a band in 1990, and by 1992 they released an album titled Tracks of Life. "[We] see ourselves as the next generation of Isley Brothers, in touch with the past but looking to the future," Ronald was quoted as saying in a Warner Bros. press release. Part of that future included a 1994 lawsuit against singer Michael Bolton for incorporating elements of their hit "Love is a Wonderful Thing" into his own similarly titled song. In 2000, a Los Angeles federal judge upheld a lower court's $5.4 million dollar ruling against Bolton.

Staying abreast of current trends, the Isley's 1996 album Mission to Please was produced by Babyface and R. Kelly. They made a bigger splash signing with DreamWorks in 2001 and releasing the hip-hop oriented Eternal and 2003's guest-star laden Body Kiss, the latter garnering a Grammy nomination for the group. Collaborations with R. Kelly, Lil' Kim, and Snoop Dogg, among others, raised the group's profile for a whole new generation. Also in 2003, Ronald Isley's collaboration with 1960s pop icon Burt Bacharach Here I Am: Isley Meets Bacharach drew critical raves, proving that in one form or another, the Isley's remain a force to be reckoned with.

by David Bianco and Ken Burke

The Isley Brothers's Career

Brothers Kelly, Rudolph, and Ronald Isley performed gospel music, Cincinnati, OH, early 1950s; established professional singing career, New York City, 1956; recorded first hit, "Shout," RCA Victor, 1959; recorded for various labels including Atlantic, Wand, United Artists, and Tamla; moved to Teaneck, NJ, 1960, and formed own label, T-Neck (distributed by CBS/Epic during most of 1970s and early 1980s); joined by Ernie and Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper for 1969 recording "It's Your Thing"; became sextette with album 3+3, 1973; Ernie and Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper left group, 1984, to perform separately as Isley/Jasper/Isley; Marvin, Ernie, and Ronald Isley reformed the Isley Brothers as a trio, 1990; recorded album Tracks of Life, 1992; signed with DreamWorks Records, 2001; released Body Kiss, 2003.

The Isley Brothers's Awards

Grammy Award, Best Rhythm and Blues Vocal by a Duo or Group for "It's Your Thing," 1969; inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1992; inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, 2003.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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