Isley Brothers Biography
The Isley Brothers are a hugely popular African-American music group from Cincinnati, Ohio, who hold the record for being the longest-running charted group in music history. Starting in 1954 and lasting into the new millennium, the group has spanned decades, two generations of members and music genres as diverse as gospel, doo-wop, R&B, soul, funk, rock, adult contemporary and even hip-hop. Their early hits, "Shout!", "Twist & Shout" and "Nobody But Me", laid the groundwork for 1960s rock acts and became soul standards in the process. They also pioneered the ground for other artists and bands to form their own labels forming T-Neck Records in the mid-1960s. They also helped pave the way for self-contained funk bands after Sly & the Family Stone with the release of their groundbreaking 1969 single, "It's Your Thing". Founded in 1954, the original members were brothers O'Kelly, Jr., Rudolph, Ronald and Vernon Isley, singing just gospel until Vernon's death from a car accident in 1955. After a brief split, the three older brothers reformed as a trio. In 1973, they added younger brothers Ernie and Marvin and brother-in-law Chris Jasper, reinventing the vocal group as a band with the moniker 3 + 3. The younger half broke off from the group in 1984, making the group a vocal trio again, until 1986 when oldest brother O'Kelly, Jr., suddenly died of a heart attack. After one album as a duo, Rudolph retired to become a minister and Ronald carried on with a solo career until he, Ernie and Marvin reformed the Isley Brothers in 1991. After Marvin left due to his battle with diabetes in 1997, Ronald and Ernie carried on right into the new millennium. In the process, Ronald's new alter ego, the gangster and R. Kelly video villain Mr. Biggs, helped bring newfound success to the group well into the new millennium.
Unlike most R&B groups who came around the same time they did, the Isley Brothers had survived every changing trend in the music business from the arrival of The Beatles in the 1960s to the domination of hip-hop in this generation. Also, overall, the group scored a rare feat by having a song chart on the Billboard chart in six decades since their influential rock classic, "Shout!", charted in 1959. They're also the only group to have a top 40 hit in five decades since "Twist & Shout" peaked at number seventeen on the pop chart in 1962. Their last Top 40 pop hit, "Contagious", charted at number nineteen in 2001.
Like many black artists in the 1950s and 1960s, most of the Isley Brothers' famed early material was covered to a great deal by white rock and blue-eyed soul acts ranging from The Beatles (who covered "Shout" in performance only and "Twist & Shout" on record, taking their version to number two on the pop singles chart in 1964) to Scottish singer Lulu (who took "Shout" to the top ten pop charts in her native United Kingdom that same year). Other songs the Isleys wrote and recorded, like "Nobody But Me" and "Respectable" was also covered by white rock acts The Human Beinz and The Yardbirds respectively. Other groups and acts who covered their material either on record or live include The Who, Rod Stewart and Michael Bolton, who unsuccessfully tried to buy the Isley Brothers' catalogue after the Isleys won a lawsuit where Bolton allegedly covered their 1966 Motown track, "Love is a Wonderful Thing".
But it wasn't only white acts who covered the Isleys' material. R&B singers such as Ann Peebles, The Supremes, and Vanessa L. Williams covered Isleys tunes in various periods. Allegedly, James Brown's backing group The JBs covered the Isleys' 1970 funk charter, "Keep On Doin'", for their famous instrumental, "The Grunt". Much of the Isleys material has also been covered a great deal in commercials, much particularly, "Shout" and most recently, "It's Your Thing" - songs that the group wrote - have been played in several commercials to this day. The Isleys have gotten much love from the hip-hop community who sampled several Isleys songs for their own material such as Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Da Brat, Aaliyah, The Beastie Boys and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Most famously, rappers Ice Cube and The Notorious B.I.G. scored their biggest hits sampling Isleys material with their respective hit songs "It Was a Good Day" (covering "Footsteps in the Dark") and "Big Poppa" (covering "Between the Sheets") and R&B singer Aaliyah covered the Isleys' "At Your Best" and took it to the top forty on pop radio in 1994.
The Isley Brothers were also instrumental in the careers of Elton John and Jimi Hendrix enlisting the future music legends into their touring bands for a time and, at one point, allowing Hendrix to live at the family home after he told them he didn't have a home to stay in. In turn, the group allowed Hendrix to play solos on the brothers' first records for their T-Neck Records imprint. The Isleys recruited Elton when he was known as Reginald Dwight, in 1964, for their England tour. Much notably, they were able to bridge the gap between black and white music first covering rock tunes as shown on their 1971 album, Givin' It Back and later making their own soulful seminal versions of some of those rock tunes such as "Summer Breeze", "Love the One You're With" and "Hello It's Me". Among the bands they influenced along the way when their matured funk was making them a commercial staple in the 1970s include Earth, Wind & Fire, The Commodores, The Bar-Kays, Cameo, The Ohio Players and Kool & the Gang. Their music also influenced the careers of solo artists such as Michael Jackson (and The Jackson 5), R. Kelly and Babyface.
The Isleys were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2004 they were inducted to Hollywood's Rock Walk. Other honors include the Soul Train Music Award for the Quincy Jones Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 and the BET Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2004.
For a detailed listing of albums and singles, see: Isley Brothers discography.