The O’Jays appeared on CBS Sunday Morning earlier today (February 11) and stated that they would be touring for two more years before calling it quits. More recent member Eric Nolan Grant added that, if Eddie Levert and Walter Williams left, that would be it for the group.
While everyone knows the group from their long string of hits in the 70’s, they actually formed in 1958 with Levert, Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles while they all attended Canton McKinley High School in Canton, OH.
The O’Jays released their first single in 1960 but it wasn’t until three years later when “Lonely Drifter” finally charted and it only made it to 93 on the Hot 100. Nine more singles hit the charts through 1970 with none of them breaking into the top 40 on the Pop charts but one making the R&B top ten “I’ll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I Was Today)” (1967 / #88 Pop / #8 R&B)) and three more peaking at between 11 and 20.
Isles and Massey left in early 1972 with the remaining three members moving on to work with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff at Philadelphia International Records. Within months, “Back Stabbers” (1972 / #3 Pop / #1 R&B) became their first major hit and they followed with five more top ten pop hits and 23 on the R&B Singles chart.
Original member Powell died of cancer in 1977 and was replaced by Sammy Strain, formerly of Little Anthony and the Imperials. Strain left in 1992 to be replaced by Nathaniel Best and, in 1996, by Grant.