“Unsung” is TV One’s acclaimed, original series of one-hour biographies celebrating the lives and careers of successful artists or groups who, despite great talent, over the years have been under-recognized or under-appreciated.
The series returned this Monday (September 13), kicking off the new season with a episode on Teddy Pendergrass, a legendary singer who many of today’s artists are influenced by, including T-Pain.
Nine of black music’s most talented artists and groups will be recognized this fall in all-new episodes, each airing week on Mondays at 10 PM.
Some of those musicians include George Clinton, 70s disco funk band Heatwave, The O’Jays, and the larger than life Fat Boys from the 80s, among others.
“‘Unsung’ continues to resonate with TV One viewers, and is a series our audience can’t get enough of,” said TV One Senior Vice President of Original Programming Toni Judkins. “There are so many remarkable artists who have had incredible raw talent and amazing careers, but whose life circumstances have prevented them from attaining the iconic status they deserve … and whose remarkable stories have never been told. We are delighted to be bringing our viewers more of these incredible, real-life stories.”
Below is a run-down of the featured legends on upcoming shows with dates:
Tammi Terrell (Sept. 20) – She had a record deal by the time she was 14. She was a featured vocalist with James Brown at 17. Berry Gordy signed her to Motown Records 3 years later. And in 1967 Tammi Terrell teamed up with Marvin Gaye to record a series of classic romantic hits — “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “Your Precious Love”, “Ain’t Nothin Like The Real Thing”, and more — that remain the gold standard for romantic duets. Ironically, Tammi’s actual love life was not nearly as perfect as the romance in her songs, and included abusive relationships with both James Brown and David Ruffin. And the magic of her career ended abruptly when she collapsed on stage from a brain tumor while singing with Marvin in the fall of 1967. But she refused to give in to her fate. Tammi underwent 8 surgeries over the next three years, and even returned to recording, before she died in 1974 at the age of 24. Her life was short, but full of passion, art, and courage, that will finally be told in its fullness on “Unsung.”
Heatwave (Sept. 27) – In the late 1970s, when disco, funk, and soulful ballads ruled the dance floors, few bands could match Heatwave’s range and originality. From the disco anthem “Boogie Nights” to the sweet and soft “Always and Forever,” Heatwave combined driving dance rhythms with creamy melodies to create a lasting sound and legacy. Their unique approach was in part the result of a remarkably international makeup: led by brothers Johnnie Jr. Wilder and Keith Wilder, straight out of Dayton, Ohio, Heatwave also included a keyboardist from England, a drummer who’d fled from Czechoslovakia, a bassist from Spain, and a guitarist with Jamaican roots. The group’s keyboardist, Rod Temperton, not only wrote most of their material, but eventually became the songwriter behind some of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits (including the songs “Off the Wall”, “Rock with You,’ and “Thriller”). Heatwave should have been the next “Earth Wind & Fire” — but a series of violent and horrific tragedies, including a gunshot murder and a car accident that left Johnnie Wilder paralyzed from the neck down, kept them from reaching their full measure of stardom. This is the redemptive story of gifted musicians, who despite their backgrounds, cultures, and crushing heartbreaks, came together to create an unforgettable sound that continues to get everyone up and dancing.
Musical Youth (Oct. 4) – In November of 1982, five boys aged 11 to 15, hailing from Birmingham, England by way of Jamaica, shot up the worldwide pop charts with an irresistible reggae single called, “Pass the Dutchie.” They toured the world, received a Grammy nomination and recorded with Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer and Eddy Grant. Four more singles charted in the UK. The world was theirs to conquer. But their second album, made up mostly of toothless pop songs thrust on them by the record company, failed to resonate. Within two years, the band was gone. By 1994, one member was dead, another in a mental institution and a third was lost to the seedy Birmingham underworld. For music fans, there’s further tragedy – the boys could play. All five were talented musicians who wrote much of their own music. Had they been nurtured properly, Musical Youth could have shed their boy band/novelty label and become full-fledged stars. On Unsung, the survivors tell their story, including two active former members — singer Dennis Seaton and keyboardist Michael Grant — as well as former guitar player Kelvin Grant, who, fiercely at odds with Seaton and his own brother, gives his first interview in 15 years. “Two types of people get ripped off in the music industry,’ Michael Grant says. “Kids and black people. We were both.”
George Clinton (Oct. 11) – In the intergalactic continuum of funk, the name best known by earth people and aliens alike is the Atomic Dog and Mothership Captain himself, George Clinton. Emerging from the most distant region in the galaxy (a home he calls Dog Star 9), this interplanetary traveler chose music as his language to communicate a message of love, respect and dance-floor artistry to earthlings the world round. His extraterrestrial brew of rock, soul, Motown and doo-wop made for a potent funk brew that became the recipe for two beloved 70’s groups — Funkadelic and Parliament — both of which he helmed, and populated with musicians who would themselves become some of the brightest stars in the 70’s and 80’s, including Maceo Parker and Bootsy Collins. Clinton’s own star blazed ever more brightly through the 80’s, when hits such as ‘Loopzilla’ and ‘Atomic Dog’ shook dance floors in all quadrants of the known universe. An entire generation of rappers grew up with his music, and in turn, made his beats and grooves the DNA of Hip Hop. But bad business deals hounded Clinton from the outset, and with finances further diminished by a proclivity for mind altering chemicals, his earthly empire crumbled, leaving him all but destitute today. On this exclusive episode of Unsung, George Clinton reveals the story of his long strange ride.
The Fat Boys (Oct. 18) – Funky, funny, and living large – literally – the Fat Boys became one of the most commercially successful groups of the 1980’s. They helped take rap from the parks of NYC to worldwide acclaim and sales. Mark Morales, (Prince Markie Dee), Damon Wimbley (Kool-Rock-Ski) and Darren Robinson (The Human Beat Box, aka Buff) parlayed a feel good brand of humor, all-you-can-eat buffets and an infectious party style into their music. Guided by manager Charles Stettler, a Swiss born hustler and novelty record maker, and produced by Kurtis Blow, they grew into international superstars, with inventive remakes of songs like “Jailhouse Rap,” “The Twist,” and “Wipeout” – the latter a hit and video they performed with the Beach Boys. They would go on to influence a new generation of rappers like Heavy D., Notorious B.I.G. and Rick Ross, showing that big could be sexy. But the pressure to stay on top would cause rifts which would split the group apart and endanger their health – and ultimately contribute to the tragic death of Buff in 1995. Finally reunited, the surviving Fat Boys recount the joys and sorrows of their career for Unsung.
Angela Winbush (Oct. 25) – When Angela Winbush came on the scene in the 1980s, she brought not only a powerful sultry voice infused with gospel roots, but also a versatile self-contained songwriting and producing talent at a time when few females, and even fewer African American females, were producing records at all. As one-half of Rene & Angela, and as a solo artist, she sold over ten million albums and singles worldwide. With a multi-octave voice heavily rooted in the church, this former member of Stevie Wonder’s band Wonderlove developed a strong desire to control the creativity of her music, and the talent to back it up. In this revealing episode of “Unsung”, Angela provides candid details about the ups and downs of her career. While writing a string of hits for herself, she also wrote and produced for a range of artists including Janet Jackson, Stephanie Mills and the Isley Brothers. Along with all the musical highs, Angela faced dramatic challenges along the way: the breakup of a prolific partnership with Rene Moore, bitter lawsuits over music copyrights, a celebrity marriage and divorce from R&B icon Ron Isley, and a high-stakes battle with ovarian cancer. Through it all, she has used her church roots to maintain a fearless spirit that has carried her through.
Miki Howard (Nov. 1) – One of the great hit-makers of the 1980s and ’90s, Miki Howard is a torch singer extraordinaire with a jazzy touch. Born and raised in a musical family – both parents were celebrated gospel singers– she burst onto the R&B scene with ‘Come Share My Love’ in 1986, a hit that climbed to number 5 on the charts. Miki went on to score a half dozen Top Five hits, including “Ain’t Nuthin’ in the World”, “Love Under New Management,” and “Ain’t Nobody Like You”, while recording old school standards as well. A romantic duet with Gerald Levert, titled ‘That’s What Love Is’ led to an intimate relationship that mirrored that song’s dizzying passions. Miki’s jazzy chops and smoldering good looks also won her a coveted role as Billie Holiday in Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X, after which she recorded a tribute album to Lady Day. (Another album of jazz standards, “Three Wishes” was nominated for a Grammy in 2001). But after that, her career plummeted, as Miki’s personal life mirrored the emotional dramas of her songs– hot romances and bad relationships, and subsequent struggles to make ends meet as a single mom with three kids. Now she’s back on the scene, with a voice as strong as ever, and singing with a style that reflects her hard-won experience. Unsung celebrates the artistry, the trials and the triumphs of an effervescent diva with a golden touch.
The O’Jays (Nov. 8) – The O’Jays are an amazing case study in survival, both in the music business and in life. Formed in 1958 in Cleveland, Ohio, as the Triumphs, and later re-naming themselves after popular local disc jockey Eddie O’Jay, the group has endured in one form or another for five decades, always anchored by the instantly recognizable voices of Eddie Levert and Walter Williams. Following several minor hits in the 1960s (such as “Lipstick Traces”) the group struck gold in the 1970s in association with the great Philadelphia Soul record label producers Gamble & Huff, with songs that mixed romantic and social messages, such as “Backstabbers,” “For the Love of Money” and of course, “Love Train.” But along with their artistic achievements, the individual members of the O’Jays have struggled with challenges that included Williams’ quiet, decades-long battle with multiple sclerosis, and the untimely deaths of Eddie Levert’s sons, Sean and Gerald. Still putting on a show after a half century of performing together, the O’Jays tell the inside story of their journey on “Unsung.”