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    Whitehead, John (2 July 1948 – 11 May 2004)

    Producer and singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who started up The Epsilons with childhood friend Gene McFadden while they were still in their teens.  They went to see Otis Redding in concert and got to meet him backstage and after an impromptu audition/sing-along, he asked them to go on tour with him.  He also offered to manage them.  Unfortunately, it was a short-lived collaboration.  Otis died in 1967.  Guilda Woods took over the reins and they released “The Echo” in 1968, but it failed to make much noise.  The Epsilons morphed into Talk of the Town, which also included James Knight and Lloyd Parks, but a pair of singles on the North Bay label fell short of chart success. 

     

    John took a job at Philadelphia International Records, which was just the foot-in-the-door he needed to gain an audience for his and Gene’s “Backstabbers”.  Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff listened to it and liked it and Leon embellished it with a piano riff and presented it to The O’Jays, who consented to record it.  It became the upstart label’s first record to reach gold status, and Gene and John were in.  In 1975, they scored another hit with “Wake Up Everybody (Part 1)”, co-written with Victor Carstarphen, and recorded by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. 

     

    Itching to record on their own, Gene and John went into the studio in 1978 and recorded “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”, which was virtually improvised by John in one take.  The song topped the R&B chart, peaked at #13 on the Billboard Top 100, went platinum eight times over, and garnered John two Grammy Award nominations.  The Philadelphia Phillies adopted it as their unofficial theme song on their way to win the World Series in 1980.  A couple of follow-ups, “I Heard It in a Love Song” and “I’ve Been Pushed Aside”, enjoyed limited success, and after recording 1982’s Movin’ On, Gene and John did just that. 

     

    Unfortunately for John, he was movin’ on to prison, where he would serve a two-year sentence for tax evasion.  In 1988, he resurfaced with the self-explanatory I Need Money, which didn’t make much, and eventually he and Gene got back together and did the oldies circuit in the 1990s.  He recorded a solo CD in the new millennium, and one of its songs, “Let Freedom Ring”, became something of an anthem for the Citizens United Foundation Rally for the Troops in April 2003. 

     

    On 11th May 2004, John was shot to death while working on his car outside of his home in Philadelphia.  Motive for the killing is unknown.  He was interred in Philadelphia’s Mount Moriah Cemetery.  His legacy lives on not only in his songs but through the John Whitehead Music Foundation, located at 6815 Ogontz Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

     

    Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes recordings

    To Be Free To Be Who We Are (Victor Carstarphen, Gene McFadden, John Whitehead)

    Philadelphia International – SPIR 4909 (UK 45)

     

    Sources:         

    1. http://www.nndb.com/people/639/000047498/
    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Whitehead_%28singer%29
    3. http://www.merchantcircle.com/business/John.Whitehead.Music.Foundation.215-924-3980
    4. http://www.letfreedomringinc.com/john-whitehead-bio.htm
    5. http://www.blogofdeath.com/archives/000953.html
    6. http://www.jahsonic.com/Whitehead.html
    7. http://www.answers.com/topic/john-whitehead
    8. http://www.soulwalking.co.uk/McFadden%20&%20Whitehead.html
    9. http://www.hiphopmusic.com/2004/05/john_whitehead_19482004.html
    10. http://blogs.philadelphiaweekly.com/music/2010/05/11/today-in-sadness-john-whitehead-murdered/
    11. http://www.letfreedomringinc.com/john-whitehead-memorial.htm
    12. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/john-whitehead-549920.html

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     



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