Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Soul music legend Ronald Isley is probably better known to many as the lead singer of the legendary soul, funk and R&B group the Isley Brothers. However, he enjoyed a career resurgence in the 90s as his alter ego, Mr. Biggs, captivated by him and R&B singer-songwriter-producer R. Kelly.
Born the second eldest of five brothers and two sisters in New Jersey in 1941, Ronald, like many of his siblings, began his career in the church. It was there as a young adolescent in Cleveland, Ohio where the family had now resided at, that Ronald and his brothers Rudolph , O'Kelly and Vernon formed the original lineup of what would be the Isley Brothers.
After Vernon's tragic death as a result of a car accident in 1954, Ronald and his brothers continued on as a trio. By 1957, the band had abandoned their gospel roots for more secular affair recording doo-wop ballads and up-tempo numbers that went nowhere. All that changed in 1959 when the brothers recorded a call-and-response answer to soul legend Jackie Wilson's classic Lonely Teardrops. Titled Shout, the song, while barely missing the Hot 100 (#41, 1959), the song became the group's first internationally-known hit single inspiring more than two generations of performers and was immortalized by Otis Day's cover from the Animal House movie.
By 1962, Ronald and the brothers achieved success again with their cover of the Topnotes' Twist and Shout (#16, 1962). However success was lenient for the group and they decided to form their own label, which they called T-Neck in 1963. The label's name was inspired by the brothers' old hometown of Teaneck, New Jersey. However, the label folded for a brief time when Motown Records chief Berry Gordy, Jr. offered the brothers a contract to be on his label.
Signing in 1965, the Isley Brothers only scored one hit for the legendary Detroit label titled This Old Heart of Mine (#11, 1966). The group's tenure in Motown lasted until 1968 when, after a successful tour of Europe, decided to run their own empire instead become part of one. By this point, the Isleys had become somewhat of an institution. Several rock groups and singers were covering the group's material, most famously, The Beatles took the Isleys' Twist and Shout and made it a Number One hit the year after the Isleys' version peaked at the Top 20. The group also had recruited future legends like Elton John and Jimi Hendrix as part of their touring act. Hendrix took part in a seminal 1964 recording with the Isleys titled Testify. It was the legendary guitarist's first recording ever.
In 1969, reforming their T-Neck label and signing with a New York label named Buddah Records, and hiring their younger brothers Ernie , Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper, the Isleys captured gold with the groundbreaking 1969 funk anthem, It's Your Thing (#2, 1969). Led by Ronald's soulfully charged gospel-inspired vocals, the song became the group's biggest hit to date and led to their first Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Recording by a Duo or Group.
On a high, the brothers would find huge R&B success in the early 70s with records like Pop That Thang, Work to Do, their cover of Love the One You're With and Get Into Something. By 1973, the Isleys had updated their lineup. Now Ernie, Marvin, and Chris were officially members of the band allowing this lineup to be called 3 + 3. That year, they released the album of the same name and soon found mainstream success with their rock-infused That Lady, Pt. 1 (#4, 1973) and Summer Breeze, which was a Top 20 hit. After the Platinum success of this album, the Isleys didn't look back as the 70s rolled on.
Some of the group's seminal 70s hits not only became bedroom classics but also would create one of the greatest sample machines in hip-hop. Songs like Make Me Say It Again Girl, Footsteps in the Dark, For the Love of You, Hello It's Me, and At Your Best (You Are Love) filled with Ron's legendary falsetto were instant classics especially amongst Black music listeners.
Artists like Michael Bolton, R. Kelly and The Notorious B.I.G. owe their careers to the group and to Ronald especially. In 1975, the Isleys released their biggest record, The Heat Is On, which was their first album to hit #1 on the pop albums chart. The album quickly became a gold success yielding the memorable hits, the funky Fight the Power (#5, 1975) and the groovy ballad For the Love of You (#15, 1975).
By the end of the 70s, the Isley Brothers were now music legends, having survived many years of adversity, music industry politics and a changing musical landscape, but the 3 + 3 lineup had began to crumble. By 1983, tensions between them were so big that their classic Between the Sheets album ended up being the last album they recorded as a sextet. Ronald's vocals and the Isleys' powerful musical productions led to classics like Between the Sheets (today one of the most sampled songs in hip-hop and most covered in R&B) and Choosey Lover.
In 1985, the original Isleys (Ronald, Rudolph and O'Kelly) released their final recording together titled Masterpiece. A year later, O'Kelly died of a heart-attack. Two years later, now shortened to a duo of the original members Ronald and Rudolph, the group released the 1987 album, Smooth Sailing, which included production from soul musician Angela Winbush, who was a hitmaker herself. By 1989, Rudolph had retired to venture into a life of ministry in the church, and while Chris, Ernie and Marvin had also defuncted from their own group, Isley-Jasper-Isley, which released the classic tune, Caravan of Love, Ronald would continue on with the Isleys' name as a soloist.
However, by 1991, Ernie and Marvin had rejoined Ronald for the first new Isley Brothers record in four years titled Tracks of Life, again, some of the songs were produced by Ronald's new muse and romantic companion Angela Winbush. The two would marry in 1993 and Isley became Winbush's manager. In 1996, the Isley Brothers found a resurgence of popularity thanks to their collaboration with famed R&B singer-songwriter-producer R. Kelly, who grew up on old-school music, including the Isleys', on the group's 1996 album, Mission to Please, the record became the group's highest-selling recording since the 70s, which included the Billboard Top 20 hit, Floatin' On Your Love with Winbush, 112 and Lil' Kim. Much of the group's new popularity had a lot to do with a new image Isley and Kelly had captivated. Ron played the alter-ego, Mr. Biggs, on Kelly's video for his 1996 Top 10 hit, Down Low. The character soon became infamous and young music listeners suddenly were listening to old as well as new records from the Isleys.
In 2001, the Isleys' Eternal album became their biggest-selling record ever since 1975's The Heat Is On by debuting at #3 on the Pop Albums chart. Fresh off their smash hit, Contagious (#19, 2001), the album would become their first Platinum record since 1980's Go All the Way and would garner the brothers a Grammy nomination. Isley followed that success with 2003's Body Kiss album. The album became their first #1 album in 28 years on the pop album charts and would eventually go gold. That same year, Ronald released a solo record with famed pop-soul producer Burt Bacharach on an album titled Here I Am.
Most recently, Isley released a hit single with fellow soul legend Patti Labelle on the song I Gotta Go Solo. Currently signed with Def Soul Classics, the Isley Brothers (with just Ronald and Ernie) plan to release their first album for the label in the spring of 2005, with new productions from Kelly.
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