LaRue looks back on 50 years with The 5th Dimension

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Florence LaRue and The 5th Dimension will perform at Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Exhibit Hall Jan. 23 at 8 p.m. (Submitted photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to last weekend’s storm, this concert has been postponed until Oct. 1. 

For buyers who have purchased tickets, those tickets will be honored on the rescheduled date. For any refunds, online purchasers will receive instructions through an email notification from Ticket Fly. For refunds for tickets purchased at the casino, stop by the Gift shop or call 888-887-5687, Ext. 5246 for information. Refund deadline is Jan. 31.

Formed in 1965, The 5th Dimension originally was known as The Versatiles. Although the name changed a year later to what we all know today, “versatile” always has been the hallmark of the group.

With a blend of pop, soul, R&B, Broadway and even light opera, The 5th Dimension sang its way to the top of the music charts throughout the 1960s and ’70s.

These days, just one original member remains with The 5th Dimension in Florence LaRue, who last year celebrated 50 years as part of the iconic ensemble.

She brings today’s version of the group, which has been together since 2009, to Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Exhibit Hall Jan. 23 at 8 p.m., as part of the casino’s On Stage — Harrington lineup.

Best Bets logo CLEAR copyWith hits such as Jimmy Webb’s “Up, Up and Away,” Laura Nyro’s “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Stoned Soul Picnic,” Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “One Less Bell to Answer,” and “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In (The Flesh Failures),” from the Broadway musical “Hair,” The 5th Dimension has defied genres for six decades.

In an phone interview Tuesday from her home in Southern California, Ms. LaRue said the group was versatile — well, because they could be.

“We always had the voices so we didn’t have to choose what kind of group we wanted to be,” she said.

“Some bands have pop voices, so they become a pop band. Some have gospel voices, so they do gospel. We happened to have such versatility that it didn’t matter what we did. We could do everything from ‘Pagliacci’ to pop.”

Indeed, The 5th Dimension did perform the aria “Vesti La Giubba” from the 1892 opera on the group’s “Traveling Sunshine Show” television special in 1971.

Ms. LaRue also credits the group’s longtime producer Bones Howe with helping them to stretch musically.

“He brought songs to us that we never would have chosen for ourselves,” she said. “He was responsible for a lot of our success.”

She also credits her late husband and manager Marc Gordon and vocal arranger Bob Alcivar for helping them hit the heights that they did.

“Marc always envisioned us the black Beatles,” she said.

Although many of the songs came to them from the outside, perhaps their biggest hit, the combo of “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In,” was the group’s idea.

“We had just seen the show and loved it. We especially liked (the show’s opening number) ‘Aquarius’ right away,” Ms. LaRue said.

“But when we took the idea to Bones, he wasn’t as excited about it as we were. He said, ‘There’s a cast album out with all the songs on it and it’s really not doing that great.’ But then he came back to us with the idea of putting it with (the play’s closing song) ‘Let the Sunshine In.’”

The recording hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100, Adult Contemporary and Canadian charts in March of 1969.

Originally composed of Billy Davis Jr., Marilyn McCoo, LaMonte McLemore, Ron Townson and Ms. LaRue, The 5th Dimension won six Grammys, performed at the Hollywood Bowl, Royal Albert Hall in London, the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and went on a European tour with Frank Sinatra.

That musical odyssey started off for Ms. LaRue as a beauty contest winner, taking home the title of Miss Bronze California.

A photographer shooting the contest, who happened to be the group’s co-founder Mr. McLemore, heard her perform during the talent portion and asked her to join the group.

She was reluctant, to say the least.

“I did not want to join. It was my last year of college. I was getting my bachelor’s degree in education and thought of myself as more of an actress than a singer anyway,” she said.

“I had sung in church and sang around town but teaching was what I was really interested in.”

Some convincing followed and she joined the group soon after — although education is still near and dear to her heart.

“I believe teaching is the most underrated profession out there. I hold teachers in such high regard. I always told my students that you have to be here by law, so you might as well find something you like and enjoy it,” she said.

“I always tried to make learning a lot of fun. I remember once we baked bread and I was able to incorporate math and spelling into the lesson. The whole school smelled like bread. It was wonderful.”

At 71, Ms. LaRue says she still enjoys singing the songs that made her and her cohorts music legends.

“The music is so positive. It crosses all age barriers. I’ve had four generations come to the show. With young people, often they have never heard of us. They will come with their parents,” she said.

“After the show, they will come up to us and say, ‘Hey, you were pretty cool.’ ”

She is joined onstage now by Willie Williams, Leonard Tucker, Patrice Morris and Floyd Smith, singing the same arrangements as were heard on the records years ago.

Ms. LaRue thinks that’s important.

“These are people’s memories that you are dealing with. There is no reason to update or change that,” she said.

“People want to remember where they were when they first heard these songs, whether they were in high school or danced to them at the prom, or wherever. Plus they are still good arrangements with great harmonies, so why not?”

Tickets for Florence LaRue and The 5th Dimension are $34. They can be purchased at www.harringtonraceway.com, by calling (888) 887-5687, ext. 5246, or stopping by the Harrington Casino Gift Shop.

Tribute to jazz legends Saturday

As we told you last week, singer Denise King presents “A Tribute to the Great Lady Legends of Jazz” at Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts at 7:30 Saturday night.

Ms. King sings pop and jazz standards with touches of the blues, soul and even gospel in a voice steeped in a sophisticated swing, sometimes soulful, satin style.

The tribute includes songs from such singers as Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Nancy Wilson.

Noted trumpeter Duane Eubanks also will be featured along with Aaron Graves on piano, Lee Smith on bass, Abraham Burton on tenor sax and Khary Abdul-Shaheed on drums.

Tickets are $25 to $28. To purchase them, visit www.schwartzcenter.com or call the box office at (302) 678-5152.

Dan and James rock out

Also Saturday night, the Delaware Friends of Folk are welcoming 2016 with acoustic rockers Dan and James at 7:30 during the Friends’ monthly coffeehouse.

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The duo of Dan and James perform Saturday at the Delaware Friends of Folk Coffeehouse in Dover. (Submitted photo)

The duo, consisting of Danny Beck and James Marquardt, are the guitarist and vocalist from the classic rock band Hooverville, recently seen New Year’s Eve at Tom’s Bullpen in Dover.

Dan & James have appeared throughout the local festival and restaurant circuit, while also winning the 2014 Delmarva Folk Hero competition at the Friends of Folk’s Delmarva Folk Festival.

As in Hooverville, they focus on classic rock hits, with hard-driving guitar work and an edgy blues delivery. Saturday night’s audience also can expect to hear a few of the duo’s originals.

Indie singer/songwriter Hanna Paige, from Newark, will be the opening act.

The event takes place at the Wesley College Chapel, Bradford and Division streets in Dover.

For more information about this concert, call (302) 827-FOLK.

Delaware Friends of Folk is supported by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

Artwork sought for fest

Attention artists, The Rehoboth Beach Film Society is seeking original submissions to be adapted for the 2016 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival.

The selected submission will become the theme for designing the festival’s poster, program, T-shirt, and other promotional materials. Submissions must be new, original and created with film and coastal Delaware in mind.

Several thousand festival programs will be printed with the chosen artwork on the cover and an interior page devoted to a biography and photo of the selected artist. The program also will be posted on the film society’s website.

The selected artwork will be auctioned at the festival in November with proceeds to benefit the Rehoboth Beach Film Society.

Artists interested in making a submission can visit the film society website for criteria at www.rehobothfilm.com/festival_artwork_guidelines.html — or call the film society office, (302) 645-9095. The deadline for submissions is 4:45 p.m. March 11.

This year’s festival is Nov. 4-12.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the action-adventure film “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” the action-comedy sequel “Ride Along 2” with Ice Cube and “Kevin Hart” and the animated “Norm of the North.”

On download and DVD starting Tuesday is the rap drama “Straight Outta Compton,” the Robert De Niro comedy “The Intern” and the action film “Everest.”

To share news of your entertainment event, venue or group, contact Craig Horleman at 741-8224 or chorl@newszap.com.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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