Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Levert Legacy

It took me a few days to wrap my mind around the fact that within 16 months Eddie and Martha Levert and their family have lost another son. If you don’t know, Eddie Levert is one-third of the soul defining sound that is the O’Jays. His sons, Gerald and Sean, formed their own group, LeVert, in the eighties and each had their own solo careers. Both sons performed with their father; Sean just last year at the Essence Music Festival. If there is anything more palpable than the Levert family’s love of music it would be their love for each other.

To understand what Gerald and Sean meant to their fans and to music you must know the Legacy of Eddie Levert and the O’Jays. Once the O’Jay’s met the dynamic producing duo of Huff & Gamble they sealed their destiny as musical legends and The Sound of Philadelphia. Their songs were center stage and the backdrop for generations of Blacks in America. Always backed by an abundance of lushness, they sang plaintively with a sound akin to gospel, sopped in soul, then coated with Rhythm & Blues. They also sang about real issues and sang in the name of love. The O’Jays are so in the tradition and Eddie Levert passed down that desire to entertain from the heart and create with substance. Gerald Levert remarked in a 1999 Essence interview, “I just can’t sing those worthless songs about doing it all night long, that don’t really mean anything.”

For me the loss of Gerald is still tender, and if you are a true music lover, the absence is two-fold. At just 40 years old when he passed away it was an unexpected and devastating blow. When I heard about his death I was at an artist residency in a small town in New Mexico. There was no Black community to commiserate with, so alone in my cabin, I played every note on every O’Jays and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes albums that I had with me. I thought of Eddie Levert and how demonstrative he and Gerald were in their love for each other. I thought of Gerald’s three children and how he could sing about Chiclets and bring an audience to their feet like church. How he’d get down on his knees and make a song surrender. He gave everything when he performed; still sing after the last notes faded, leave the stage spent and drenched in sweat.

And now 16 months later I think about Sean Levert dead at 39, his three children also left behind and a family not over their other loss. In a statement released by the family this past Monday their grief is overwhelmingly clear, “There are no words that can express what we’re feeling today. There is no song that can capture the loss we have in our hearts…” All I can do, as the family asked, is say a prayer for them, those six children who will be raised in the absence of their fathers, and play every note of every song that I possess, made by a family whose musical legacy will outlast us all.

-Adisa Vera-Beatty

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