New Stylistics putting soul into Schwartz Center

Russell Thompkins Jr. (center) and The New Stylistics will sing their classics hits at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover Nov. 18. (Submitted photo)

Russell Thompkins Jr. (center) and The New Stylistics will sing their classics hits at the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover Nov. 18. (Submitted photo)

With a slew of Top-10 hits, The Stylistics became one of the most popular soul groups of the 1970s.

With songs such as “You are Everything,” “Betcha by Golly Wow,” “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and many more, the Philadelphia-based vocal group was characterized by the falsetto voice of its lead singer, Russell Thompkins Jr.

A member of the original group for over 30 years, leaving in 2000, Mr. Thompkins came back to the stage four years later with Russell Thompkins Jr. and the New Stylistics.

They will play the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.

The New Stylistics include Mr. Thompkins, Raymond Johnson, who toured with The Stylistics in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Jonathon Buckson. James Ranton is the fourth member of the group but is not currently on stage with them due to illness. He still works behind the scenes as a choreographer.

The Stylistics were created in 1968 out of two Philadelphia high school groups, The Monarchs and The Percussions.

“The majority of the members went to Ben Franklin High School. An English teacher was doing management and guidance with The Monarchs and sang in high school talent shows. At the end of the year’s talent show, we beat the Percussions,” Mr. Thompkins recalled earlier this week.

“After that, The Percussions lost members, some went to Vietnam and the remaining members merged and we became The Stylistics.”

Success in Philadelphia venues followed and then regional opportunities opened up. In 1971, the group got the shock of its young career.

“We were doing a job in Rhode Island and our parents came to visit us and told us that a song we had recorded ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’ had become a huge hit back in Philadelphia,” Mr. Thompkins said.

“We were very surprised. Radio was everything back then and were played a lot.”

The song later started a streak of 12 straight Top-10 R&B hits for The Stylistics, many of which went on to become Top-10 overall hits.

A key to that success came when they started working with producer Thom Bell, best known as one of the creators of the Philadelphia soul sound of that era.

Mr. Bell was especially taken with Mr. Thompkins who didn’t even put the other members of the group on the first three albums.

Best Bets logo -NEWTogether with legendary songwriting and production team Gamble and Huff, Mr. Bell fashioned a sound mainly using Mr. Thompkins and assorted backup singers.

“They didn’t like the sound of the original guys and would rather use their own people. For many years they would use different people on the records and then when we would go out on the road, people would complain because we didn’t sound like the record,” Mr. Thompkins said.

Mr. Thompkins said throughout his career with the original group there was great deal of dissension among the members.

“In 1973, Tommy Bell didn’t want to work with us anymore and a lot of problems developed in the group,” he said.

He was going to leave The Stylistics but Eddie Kendricks, who cofounded The Temptations set him straight.

“He just said ‘Do you realize how many people you are feeding?’ He taught me that I couldn’t just think of myself but everyone in the organization so I stayed and toughed it out,” Mr. Thompkins.

He stayed throughout the bumpy times until 2000 when he “just couldn’t fight it off anymore.”

His voice was weakening and it was time to step back. So he went back to school to learn how to play piano.

A few years later, his voice became stronger and he got the urge to get back on stage. Thus The New Stylistics were born in 2004.

“A lot of the musicians who had played with the original group weren’t playing with them anymore and they all wanted to get back together so we did,” he said.

“I never dreamed we’d still be out doing it years later and I’d be 65 years old now. But I love to be in front of people and I love to sing.”

He says he’s having a better time now than he did when he was climbing the charts.

“I’m definitely having more fun now but I know what I’m doing more now. Back then, they would say you’re going to Memphis next week. And I didn’t know what to look for but now I do. Back then someone else took care of business but I learned a long time ago to never let someone else count your money,” Mr. Thompkins said.

Business aside, he said it all comes down to the music.

“The songs are the great poetry of the past that people still want to hear. You had Tommy Bell, Gamble and Huff and (songwriter) Linda Creed. They had a method and a talent to create songs that touched people. They were at the right place at the right time and so were we,” Mr. Thompkins said.

Tickets for the show at the Schwartz are $30-$45 and available by visiting schwartzcenter.com, calling 678-5152 or at the box office at 226 S. State St.

Cavaliere, Rascals in town

As we told you last week, Harrington Raceway and Casino presents Felix Cavaliere‘s Rascals at Exhibit Hall at 8 p.m. Saturday as part of the On Stage – Harrington series lineup.

Mr. Cavaliere formed a group called the Young Rascals in 1965 along with friends Dino Danelli, Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish. That October, they caught the eye of a music producer who got them a deal with Atlantic Records and changed their name to The Rascals. February of 1966 would bring their first mega-hit “Good Lovin’” which would reach No. 1 on the charts.

This would start a string of hits for The Rascals including “I’ve Been Lonely To Long,” “Groovin’ (No. 1 in 1967), “How Can I Be Sure,” “A Girl Like You,” “A Beautiful Morning” and “People Got to Be Free (No. 1 in 1968). This made The Rascals one of the best-selling groups of that era.

Tickets are $34 and can be purchased at www.harringtonraceway.com, by calling (888) 887-5687, ext. 5246, or visiting the Casino Gift Shop.

Potter beers

Harry Potter fans, take note, Mispillion River Brewing will host “Fantastic Beers and Where to Find Them” Saturday to debut five Harry Potter inspired beers.

Starting at noon, attendees will have the opportunity to be sorted into their Hogwarts’ house and try each house’s signature brew. Gryffindor will be represented by a 9 percent ABV Double IPA, Hufflepuff by a 6 percent ABV Kolsch, Ravenclaw by a 5.2 percent ABV Porter, and Slytherin by a dry-hopped American Sour. Deathly Hallows, the brewery’s small batch Belgian Trippel, will be making its yearly return. Additionally, brewers have concocted a non-alcoholic butter beer.

Entertainment throughout the event includes a scavenger hunt for horcruxes, beer quidditch, and a photo booth. A trolley witch will be vending Bertie’s Botts throughout the day. Attendees are invited to wear their best costumes, but the brewery is asking that people use their wands only for good.

The event is free to attend. Commemorative pint glasses with the Hogwarts’ house logos will be available while supplies last. As with all Mispillion events, the brewery is asking that people bring a canned donation for the Food Bank of Delaware.

Mispillion River Brewing is at 255 Mullett Run St., Milford.

Happiness in Dover

Due to a scheduling conflict, The Happiness Project Music Festival’s Donate for Happiness event originally scheduled for Saturday at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford has been moved to the Old Statehouse in Dover on the same date. It will be held from 5 to 9 p.m., and is a free family-friendly show.

Live music will be provided by four talented singer-songwriters, including Kiera Sankey from Landenberg, Pennsylvania, Amy Spampinato from Dover, Brandon Mesen from West Chester, Pennsylvania, and Every Heard from Philadelphia.

More information about the new venue for the previously scheduled Donate for Happiness event on Dec. 3 will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Happiness Project Music Festival was established in 2015 by Jason Burlew and Candy Fortney. It is a free one-day event that merges music and mental health awareness together to provide community outreach and entertainment. The three festivals held to this date have included more than 60 performers, 30 non-profit organizations and have been attended by more than 2,500 people.

The primary goal of the event is to combine local music with local non-profit groups and vendors to provide community outreach. The secondary goal is to collaborate with local businesses, non-profit groups, and community agencies to provide positive entertainment for their establishment, special event, or community program.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/happinessprojectmmh or follow happinessmusicfest on Instagram.

Now showing

New this weekend in theaters is the holiday comedy “Almost Christmas,” the science fiction flick “Arrival” and the thriller “Shut In.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the Disney hit “Finding Dory.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.