View Full Version : Soul vocal groups top lead singers


08-17-2010, 05:57 PM
I love funk, soul, some modern R & B, jazz, and many other genres, but my favorite is classic soul sung by 5-person, 4-person, or 3-person groups. I love the harmonies, but what I love even more than that is a powerful lead singer. I think the lead makes the group. If you don't have that A-1 lead singer, in my opinion, it doesn't matter how well you harmonize, you won't succeed. So in order, my votes for the top lead singers of classic soul vocal groups.

1. Levi Stubbs, The Four Tops: As much as I love Ruffin, Wynne, and others, it's hard to imagine a more dynamic, more powerful lead singer than Stubbs. I've been getting into a lot of classic Four Tops on YouTube of late. The guy blows me away each and every time. I would argue the greatest lead singer of all-time of any soul or rock group ... yes, ahead of Mick Jagger and others.

2. David Ruffin, The Temptations: If you took a vote here or somewhere else, he'd probably top the list. And if you again go to YouTube and punch in the live version of "I Wish It Would Rain" off a TV show clip, you'd be absolutely speechless. It's tough to put him at No. 2, but hey, Levi is tough to topple out of the top spot.

3. Bobbie Smith, The Spinners: My underdog pick from my favorite group. Why Smith over Wynne? In my opinion, more versatile and a bit smoother, and he stood the test of time. It was Smith who sang lead on "I'll Be Around" and "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" and many more hits. Highly overshadowed by Wynne.

4. Russell Thompkins, Jr., The Stylistics: If you're going to vote on which singer carried the group, this would be No. 1. Let's face it, his trademark falsetto IS The Stylistics. Take him out of The Stylistics, and well, it's not The Stylistics. Unreal, unique voice.

5. Walter Williams, The O'Jays: Another surprise pick of mine, edging out group mate Eddie Levert. Why? I go back to his incredible range from bass to high tenor, his ability to really mix it up.

6. L.J. Reynolds, The Dramatics: Is there a more underrated group than The Dramatics? I don't think so. With that underratedness comes an underrated singer, who has plenty of power and emotion in his voice. Absolutely love his voice ... and he's still going strong today.

7. Eddie Kendricks, The Temptations: Number 7 is pretty low for this amazing talent, but it shows you the unreal gifts of the above singers. Left the group and this world way too early.

8. Eddie Levert, The O'Jays: It's not a group without Eddie, who some critics (see Dave Marsh) believe he sings all the leads. He doesn't, but he sings a heckuva lot of them, and has a bigger presence than Walter, thus the bigger publicity. A great talent.

9. Phillippe Wynne, The Spinners: Hit-making voice that pulled the group from out of the shadows. Tremendous performer on stage, a mega-talent.

10. Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes: Group probably should've been re-named Teddy and The Blue Notes. Incredible, powerful voice.

Vote and pick your own favorites on this thread!

08-17-2010, 06:23 PM
I like most of your choices tsull and would like to add Marvin Junior from The Dells and Eugene Record from the Chi-Lites.

08-17-2010, 06:35 PM
I would definitely add those, and omitting Eugene Record was probably pretty careless on my part.

08-17-2010, 09:42 PM
Heres a few more, No particular order but they deserve mention. Tsull every single one you mentioned and I've neglected to are favorites of mine. I'm sure there are more right now I'm kinda brain dead...lol...

Ron Banks
Ali Woodson
Dennis Edwards
Bobby Debarge
Harold Melvin
Gerald Alston
Walter & Scotty
Curtis Mayfield/Impressions
Emanuel Johnson (Enchantment)
Bobby Taylor (Vancouvers)
James Epps (Fantastic Four)
Tony Washington (Dynamic Superiors)

Ms Flo
08-17-2010, 10:19 PM

I'm with you on all the choices, especially RAT Jr. His voice is the Stylistics and has endured the test of time. Accept no imitations!

08-17-2010, 11:13 PM
Hi this is Kev-Lo

Smokey Robinson
Eddie Kendricks
David Ruffin
Curtis Mayfield
Clarence Burke Jr.
Martha Reeves
Gladys Knight
Willian Hart
Russell Thompson Jr.
Eugene Record

08-18-2010, 04:39 AM
Well ,the lists so far are on point, but I got to add Harry Ray for The Moments , Jeffery Osborn for L.T.D , Sugarfoot for The Ohio Players ,Phillip Bailey for E.W.F , Lenny Williams for Tower Of Power, Scotty Scott for the Whispers , and last but not least.......Michael for the Jacksons.

08-18-2010, 04:41 AM
OOPPPS , I forgot DYVA's man , Ron Isley for the Isley Bros. :D:D

08-18-2010, 06:44 AM
Especially for his vocal ability, but also for his loyalty to the group (he could easily have left and had a mega-successful solo career), Levi Stubbs stands head and shoulders above everybody else.

08-18-2010, 11:46 AM
Hey this is good stuff...may i add the great-clyde mcphatter[the drifters]..tony williams[the platters]..little sonny[the intruders]..patti labelle[the blubelles]..anthony gordine[the imperials..chaka khan[rufus]!

08-18-2010, 08:18 PM
Great replies, some huge omissions by me, though I stand by me top 10. :cool:

Shouldn't leave out either Walter or Scotty of The Whispers.

I kind of looked at Smokey and Michael Jackson as solo artists, though I did have Teddy in my top 10. Certainly if you're going to go top 10 singers of all-time in the soul era you couldn't leave out MJ, Smokey, or Marvin Gaye. I still contend that Levi is tops ... even if you included those other three. Man, the guy just had it!

08-18-2010, 09:16 PM
Hi this is Kev-Lo

Ted (the wizard) Mills, Cliff Perkins of the Soul Generation, Billy Brown of the Moments, Freddie Kelly of The Continental Four were remarkable lead singers as well

08-19-2010, 01:43 AM
I was going to mention Ted Mills, great point Kev.

What this thread tells me is the importance of the lead singer. The guy (or gal) shouldn't just be someone who can sing solidly, but outstandingly. That's what carries the group and moves it forward.

I feel blessed to be into these great groups and a huge soul music fan.

08-19-2010, 01:51 AM
Going off course a bit here ............
Jerry Wexler said of Sam & Dave " I put Sam in the sweet tradition of Sam Cooke or Solomon Burke, while Dave had an ominous Four Tops' Levi Stubbs-sounding voice, the preacher promising hellfire."
The above was the reason he signed the duo to Atlantic & then assigned them to record at Stax ..... but what if he had asked them to split and front up different soul harmony groups.
With his faith in their singing abilities (meaning they would have been assigned good producers & songs + been well promoted), I'm sure we would have had 2 more outfits to talk about and a couple more 'soul vocal group top lead singers' to recommend.

08-19-2010, 04:14 AM
Agree with most of those listed, Levi Stubbs, also I rate Eddie Levert as much as Walter, I also loved the vocal of Jimmy Ellis of The Trammps and Rance Allen, I do think a few of the vocalists listed were more of the pop 70's soul music and never had real soulful vocals!

08-19-2010, 10:59 AM
Did anyone mention the great[jerry butler]fans mostly remember his days with the[impressions for the classic[for your precious love]but mr.butler had other great leads before going solo,anyone here ever hear[this gift of love]?it will blow your brains out that's how good and deep it is...or our good friend-marvin smith[the softones]who in my estimation is the best first tenor since eddie kendricks!

08-19-2010, 01:23 PM
A voice I have loved for the last 35 years is the wonderful Jerry Lawson of the wonderful Persuasions.



08-20-2010, 01:35 AM
My Favorites:
-Dennis Edwards
-Levi Stubbs
-Marvin Junior
-Eddie Levert
-Russell Thompkins Jr

and many more