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Harlem's heartthrobs: Black Ivory

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 1/3/2013, 12:17 p.m.
Legendary all-male R&B singing group Black Ivory wowed fans with their smooth moves, velvet voices...
Harlem's heartthrobs: Black Ivory

Legendary all-male R&B singing group Black Ivory wowed fans with their smooth moves, velvet voices and shining charm in the 1970s. Today, the Harlem-based group, composed of longtime friends Russell Patterson, Stewart Bascombe and Leroy Burgess, is still satisfying fans while gaining a new audience.

Long before Justin Bieber, One Direction and Mindless Behavior, young girls across the country had posters of Black Ivory in their rooms and would scream at their concerts. The group started in Harlem in the late 1960s with three young local men, and after some personnel and name changes, grew to include five teens.

Bascombe said they got their big break when they auditioned for manager and producer Patrick Adams at a time when the band members were 15 or 16 years old.

"We sang over the phone for him," he said. "And he liked what he heard. We would rehearse after school and also met on Saturdays." Still, Bascome recalled, "Patrick felt five people was too much to work with."

After two of the youths departed, Burgess, Bascombe and Patterson were left, and Adams named them Black Ivory; the group got its name after going through the dictionary. As the act became more polished, the city and then the country began swooning for them.

"We did shows for social programs, block parties and one show at the International Club," Patterson recalls. "The second show we did was a talent show at Roosevelt High School in the Bronx. The girls went absolutely wild."

Black Ivory was soon recording a demo and then signed with Today Records. The group released its debut album, "Don't Turn Around," in 1972. The album features their signature song, with the same name as the album, which they still sing for audiences today.

"One of the things that made Black Ivory so successful is that everyone had a job," Burgess said. "I was in charge of music direction, Stewart was over choreography and Russell did our wardrobe. We were a well-oiled machine."

During Black Ivory's height, the trio got heavy rotation on the radio, performed around the country and did television appearances, including "Soul Train" in 1973. Throughout their career, the group also changed record labels, including a move to Warner Bros. Kwanzaa Records. In all, they have released six albums and 14 singles.

In 1977, Burgess left the group to pursue a successful music production career in the disco genre. The group reunited about 20 years ago. Through the years, the group has remained known through sampling by various hip-hop artists, including Raekwon, 9th Wonder and Madlib.

Today, Black Ivory is still going strong. The group now has their own record label, SLR Records, whose name is composed of their own first-name initials. The group released their sixth album in 2011, titled "Continuum." The album features their hit song "Don't Turn Around" among a mix of hip-hop, soul and dance music.

The group continues to perform at various venues, eliciting an enthusiastic reaction from old and new fans alike.

"Life is so unexpected," Bascombe said. "We are very proud of the album and having total control over our musical destiny. It's truly the best package we've ever had."

Knowing each other for almost 45 years, the three men say their brotherhood will live on forever.