conductor, keyboardist, producer and songwriter from Englewood, New Jersey,
who started out playing in the Dwight Morrow High School orchestra and marching
band and singing in the DMHS vocal group, The Chansoneers. He graduated in 1961 and
matriculated to Howard University in the nation’s capital. Here he earned a music education
degree and put it to work by teaching high school, conducting Jerry Butler’s
road band, and tickling the ivories for Chubby Checker.
Freddie and his college chum, Fonce Mizell, decided to make the great egress to
California. It was here they
hooked up with Deke Richards, who already had
Motown Records on his resume.
The threesome collaborated on a song called “I Wanna Be Free” and hoped to have it recorded by
Gladys Knight or Diana Ross.
Motown boss Berry Gordy liked the song—well, except for the
subject, and the title—and it morphed into “I Want You
Back”, and became The Jackson 5’s breakout hit. It was included on the album, Diana Ross
Presents The Jackson 5, and topped both the pop and R&B
From here on
in, the songwriting trio, plus Berry Gordy, became known as “The
Corporation”, and they were the brain trust of the Motown hit-making
machine, churning out hits for the aforementioned quintet. They followed “I Want You
Back” up with “ABC”, which also ascended the pop and
R&B charts. Its eponymous
album reached the top five on the Billboard Top 200 in the summer of 1970,
which also saw “The Love You Save” top the pop chart. It was a banner year for Freddie,
who wed his girlfriend of three years, Christine Yarian.
Pearl” peaked at #2 on the pop and R&B charts and “Never
Can Say Goodbye” went to #1 on the R&B chart and #2 on the pop
chart. When Michael struck out
on his own, The Corporation was also responsible for his first #1 hit,
“Ben”, the theme song to the horror film, Willard.
out on his own, as well, as The Jackson 5 became The Jacksons and The
Corporation shut its doors. One
of his first projects, with Fonce Mizell, was working in music production on the Fred
Williamson film, Hell up in Harlem. He wrote some hits for The Miracles,
including “Do It Baby” and “Don’t Cha Love
It”, both of which went to #4 on the R&B chart. In 1975, he dabbled in film again,
this time contributing the song, “It’s
So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday”, to the soundtrack of Cooley High.
He produced a
string of successful singles in 1975 and 1976: “Boogie Fever”,
“Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel”, “High School
Dance”, “Hot Line”, and “Love Machine (Part
I)”. In 1978, Freddie
inked a deal with his friend, Herb Fame, and Linda “Peaches”
Greene, and co-produced their first album, 2 Hot, on Polydor Records. The album went platinum, and yielded
two mega-hits, “Reunited” and “Shake Your Groove
partner-in-crime was Dino Fekaris, who had built
a similar resume as a producer, and the two of them became a formidable
songwriting team. In October
1978, Polydor released “Substitute”,
backed with “I Will Survive”, by Gloria Gaynor. DJs weren’t biting on the A
side, but they flipped the record over and soon “I Will
Survive” was getting so much airplay that Polydor
did the same thing and re-issued the single with “I Will
Survive” in its rightful place.
The song became one of the biggest hits of the disco era and won the
first and only Grammy award for Best Disco Recording in 1980. Freddie had been a recipient of the
Grammy the previous year for his production work on the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever.
In 1991, Boyz II Men took “It’s
So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” to the top of the R&B chart
and #2 on the pop chart. The
summer of the same year saw Naughty By Nature sampling “ABC”
for their double-platinum single, “O.P.P.”
Freddie had a stroke. Eleven
years later, it claimed his life.
He was only 61. Freddie
is buried at Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California.
It is hard to
imagine the ‘70s without Freddie’s input. His songs continue to get airplay to
this day and are frequently used in commercials and films. “Shake Your Groove
Thing” was famously lip-synched by a chicken in an Amoco ad in 1999. “I Will Survive” was
also lip-synched by a chicken, namely Chicken
Little, and a pooch, Frank the Pug, in Men in Black II. It
has recently been parodied in a commercial for cisco.com.
Billie Jo Spears recordings
I Will Survive (Dino Fekaris/Freddie