Any Philadelphia native that ever attended a “blue light” house party or witnessed a spectacular “Battle of the Groups” at the legendary Uptown Theater, knows that those occasions would not have been nearly as monumental or as memorable without the music of the “supersonic” Delfonics, comprised of brothers William “Poogie” Hart and Wilbert Hart, along with original member Randy Cain and his replacement, Major Harris, both now deceased.
Their timeless tunes and the complicated relationship between the two supremely talented siblings will be explored when TV One presents “Unsung: The Delfonics,” airing Nov. 20 at 8 p.m.
Beginning in 1966 with their debut, “He Don’t Really Love You,” the Delfonics released a series of songs that epitomized love and romance, and an era when men truly had to work to win a woman’s affection and respect:
If I saw you with somebody new,
I’d be so helpless.
So tell, me. What are you gonna do?
Don’t leave me breathless.
In addition to the poignant “Break Your Promise,” the group’s catalog of classics includes the fervent “Hey Love!” “Somebody Loves You,” “Ready or Not,” “I’m Sorry,” “When You Get Right Down to It” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind this Time?)”, as well as their signature song, the captivating crossover hit, “La La Means I Love You.” The Delfonics’ heavenly harmonies were embellished by the bold orchestral arrangements of classically trained musician Thom Bell, and supported by the prolific rhythm section of Ronald Baker (bass), Norman Harris (guitar) and Earl Young (drums).
Turn your head ‘round.
Take off that frown.
You’re in love!
Open the door!
Don’t cry no more!
You’re in love!
“Philadelphia and its music and its artists have actually played a pretty substantial role in our show through the years,” said producer Mark Rowland, who recalled that Philly natives Phyllis Hyman, Teddy Pendergrass and Tammi Terrell have all been featured on “Unsung.”
“The reason why I really wanted to do this show is because in many ways, the Delfonics are co-architects of what has become known as the Philly Sound, and the Philly Sound, along with Motown and Stax, to me, are the three great pillars of soul and R&B music in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Rowland chronicles the rise and fall of the Delfonics, including the complex, often strained relationship between the Hart siblings, both gifted singer/songwriters — charismatic and confident older brother William, who is blessed with a soaring, unmistakable falsetto, and the cerebral, sensitive Wilbert, who possesses a soothing, touching tenor voice.
“One of the best lyricists in the world: William Hart,” Wilbert Hart asserted. “He had the ability to put a story together that you could relate to, and that’s a blessing.”
Among those interviewed for the revealing documentary are William Hart Jr., Maurice Hart, legendary disc jockey Sonny Hopson, Sheila Hart, air personality Dyana Williams, Pamela Hart, producer Adrian Younge, journalist/author Nelson George, and drummer Earl Young, who played on the Delfonics’ biggest hits.
“I never saw money as being a problem between the two brothers,” said music business consultant and songwriter Linda Lou McCall, as the show examines the strife that is so evident between William and Wilbert. “It was the two brothers who were the problem between the two brothers.”
“I think the thing that happened between us — a long story short — is greed,” Wilbert said during an exclusive interview at the Philadelphia Tribune offices. “We didn’t look out for one another. I’m going to say one another, because I don’t want you to feel as though it was one-sided all the way, but it was certain things that happened to me in this situation that caused me to lose respect actually, for my partner in the situation. Anytime you would find someone who would actually take money from you … In the beginning, we were fighting this thing together against people who were trying to do us harm. I’ve always been the one who always got the lawyers and tried to straighten things out, and this is what I’ve been doing — my path with the Delfonics. So, when I found out that my brother would be one of those people who would attack me in that certain way, that kind of like, broke my heart.”
In regard to the ongoing conflict with his brother, William, when asked about the possibility of a reconciliation, replied, “I never had a conflict. I wrote hit records. I wrote hit records, so I didn’t have a conflict. Somebody had a conflict, but it wasn’t the guy that wrote the hit records!”
Regardless of the circumstances, William would like viewers to leave the show on a positive note and said, “I want them to see how beautiful we were as a group back in the day, I want them to see why so many people tried to imitate the Delfonics’ sound. There’s always a signature sound in every group. I happened to have a signature sound connected with the Delfonics. Smokey [Robinson] had a signature sound connected with the Miracles, and Little Anthony has a signature sound that is connected with the Imperials.”
As for Wilbert, he is ecstatic now that the Grammy Award for “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time?),” which won Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group, Vocal or Instrumental in 1970, is now in his possession. His receipt of the coveted golden statuette has been delayed for more than 40 years, but that is another story for another day.
“[It’s] just great music that’s very under-rated as a whole, as a catalog,” said Rowland. “Everyone knows the two big songs, but once you get past that, people might recognize a couple of the others, but most of the other songs really don’t get played on the radio much anymore, but they really stand the test of time. Those five albums are just packed with great music.”