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Members include Jimmy Hayes, bass; Jerry Lawson, lead; Herbert "Toubo" Rhoad (died on December 7, 1988, in Davis, CA), baritone; Joe Russell, tenor; Jayotis Washington, tenor. Addresses: Contact--Jerry Lawson, P.O. Box 1921, Scottsdale, AZ 85252. Website--Jerry Lawson Official Website: http://www.jerrylawson.biz.

The Persuasions are perhaps the best known and longest-lived a cappella group in the history of pop. The group has been together since 1961, when they first sang on New York City street corners. Their unique sound encompasses all styles, including pop, gospel, doo-wop, and classical. They have been featured in a PBS documentary directed by Spike Lee, performed backing vocals for such musical icons as Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and Bette Midler, and have played several world tours. Although the group has yet to score a hit record, as lead singer Jerry Lawson pointed out to Larry Katz in the Boston Herald, "we're still out there, still working." No small achievement in the turbulent world of popular music.

The Persuasions started in New York City in the early 1960s, when Jerry Lawson met Jimmy Hayes at the department store where they both worked. They began to sing together at the store, in elevators--every chance they got. The duo soon met Joe Russell, who was so inspired by Lawson and Hayes that he left another singing group to join them. The lineup was completed after they recruited Herbert "Toubo" Rhoad and Jayotis Washington, a partnership that would last until Rhoad's death in 1988.

The group's chemistry was apparent to everyone who heard their first impromptu concerts. They met in parks, on street corners, and on basketball courts after working their day jobs, and performed for all who would listen. As their audiences grew, so did their ambitions. To achieve wider success, they decided to recruit a guitarist. But as lead singer Jerry Lawson later told Richard Duckett in the Worcester, Massachusetts, Telegram & Gazette, "Every time we got a little gig somewhere, the guitarist would get drunk and wouldn't show up." And, he told Hugh Hart in the Chicago Tribune, "It got to the point where it was like the Lord telling us, 'Just leave the guitar alone.'"

After they decided to remain a purely vocal group, the question of what to call themselves was settled. If they were to succeed as an a cappella pop group, they would have to "persuade" listeners to overcome their prejudices about what pop music should be.

As predicted, the group had a tough time persuading record executives to back a band an instrumentless band. In the interim, they played gigs in small clubs after working their day jobs. Their following continued to grow, and, finally, their break came in 1968. They were singing in a record store when the man who would become their manager, David Dashev, happened to walk by. As Lawson later explained to Larry Katz in the Boston Herald, "He made a phone call, put the phone in the middle of us and told us to start singing. It was Frank Zappa on the other end. A couple of weeks later we had a recording contract and five tickets to LA."

After their 1970 debut, Acappella, the Persuasions recorded new albums steadily through the decade, one of the most popular of which was the 1972 release Street Corner Symphony. Each song was arranged using a method the group developed as a method of working together. The first step was to have Hayes lay down a bass line. Next, Russell and Washington stepped in to layer on their parts. Finally Lawson's lead vocals were added, with the others supporting him much as an orchestra does a soloist.

The group's output slowed in the 1980s, years during which Jerry Lawson pursued other interests. After a hiatus of about six years, the band reunited again in the late 1980s, playing dates on the East Coast before heading west for a tour in 1988. Still fighting radio and recording formulas that worked against a cappella groups, the Persuasions nevertheless stuck with their winning style.

Tragedy struck during the West Coast tour. Rhoad died of a brain hemorrhage before a concert in Davis, California, in December of 1988. He was 44 years old, and like the others, had been with the group for 26 years. "He was one of the finest baritone singers and one of the finest gentlemen in the whole world," Joe Russell told Rip Rense in the Los Angeles Times. Rhoad was survived by a wife and two daughters.

Their number reduced to four, the Persuasions soldiered on. They played the rest of the tour's concert dates, but they left an empty microphone on the stage in Rhoad's place. They believed that was what Rhoad would have wanted them to do--go on singing, no matter what. But a lot of the heart had gone out of their music; they needed to grieve. After completing the tour, five long years passed before they released their next album.

The Persuasions came back from Rhoad's death with the 1993 tribute Toubo's Song. Back on their feet, they followed up with a new album, Right around the Corner, just a year later. Subsequent releases followed at a steady pace, and the latter half of the 1990s saw a rise in their popularity, culminating in the release of On the Good Ship Lollipop, an album of children's music, in 1999.

In 2000 the group had one of its most prolific years ever. The began by recording another tribute album, this time to the man who had given them their first recording contract--Frankly a Cappella: The Persuasions Sing Zappa. The group then covered Grateful Dead songs in another release that same year: Might as Well ... The Persuasions Sing the Grateful Dead. Following the success of this work, Rounder Records put out a previously unreleased recording of the Persuasion's gospel music called Sunday Morning Soul that had been languishing on the studio's shelves. In 2002 came a Beatle tribute, The Persuasions Sing the Beatles.

In the new millennium the group expanded their audience to include children, traveling to schools to teach children to sing a cappella. Still going strong in the twenty-first century, Lawson insists that the Persuasions, far from fading, are just hitting their stride. "We're picking up more and more fans every day," he told Duckett. More than that, though, Lawson attributed the group's staying power to their love of what they do. "I wake up every morning, man, and just thank God so much for what he gave us and for what we do, which is to go around the world and make people happy."

by Michael Belfiore

The Persuasions's Career

Group formed in New York, NY, 1961; played on street corners, in parks, and small clubs, 1960s; signed with Rhino Records, 1968; released first album, Acappella, 1970; released numerous albums throughout the 1970s; went on hiatus, 1980s; made a comeback, late 1980s; member Herbert "Toubo" Rhoad died while group was on tour, 1988; released numerous albums through the 1990s and 2000s.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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almost 16 years ago

7/24/08 Jerry Lawson, my husband, left The Persuasions in 2003. He hasn't gone public yet with the details of "why" but he will soon. He was through with a cappella. He bought a home in Scottsdale, Arizona & got his first day job in 40 years. Working with developmentally disabled adults & lending his vocals here & there. He began preparing to make the musical dream of his life come true. We were on our way to Russia to record with The Moscow Philharmonic when fate revealed other plans. Out of nowhere we intersected with the most talented a cappella singers who had been studying Jerry's work & singing his arrangements for 35 years in the San Franciso area. We knew we had to record with them. In 2007 we released the a cappella masterpiece of Jerry's career. Creating the harmonies he long dreamed of but had never achieved. "Jerry Lawson & Talk of The Town" It's historical not just in the world of a cappella but in the history of all music. There is to date nothing comparable. And Ray Ragler, the bass man is other-worldly - beyond phenomenal. He is miraculous, the kind of talent you may only meet up with once in a lifetime. Sadly Ray passed away shortly after the CD came out. Jerry is still devastated as they were 2 peas in a pod & Jerry had big plans to feature Ray on the road & give him the limelight. Strange how we were all brought together just in time to producewhat is very likely Jerry's last a cappella CD.

about 16 years ago

Buffalo Soldier