HUNTINGTON — The Huntington Symphony Orchestra kicks off its Picnic with the Pops season Saturday, June 15, with a sweet Motown show down on the Ohio River.
Conductor Kimo Furumoto and the 55-member-strong Huntington Symphony Orchestra will be joined by veteran R&B vocalists Joe Coleman of The Platters, Joe Blunt of the Drifters, and Theo Peoples, the only singer to have been in both The Temptations and The Four Tops.
Tickets are now on sale for that concert at Harris Riverfront Park. General admission tickets are any concert are $20 and reserved tickets are $45 for each concert. Go online at http://huntingtonsymphony.org/ to buy tickets online or stop by the HSO office located at 763 Third Ave., Huntington or call 304-781-8343.
Joe Coleman of The Platters and Joe Blunt of the Drifters are back by popular demand after having performed with their childhood friend and partner, Glenn Leonard. That trio of veterans and award-winning R&B vocalists last played with the Symphony on December 2014 in a concert that also featured Landau Eugene Murphy Jr.
The three Washington, D.C., natives have a back-story right out of a Hollywood movie. Leonard, Coleman and Blunt grew up singing together in church and on street corners throughout the 1960s before finding fame and fortune separately, then reuniting after 30 years to harmonize together.
Joe Coleman remembers meeting Joe Blunt at church for the first time as members of the Junior Choir, which was directed by his mom Rev. Effie Coleman and Joe's Blunt's mom, Rev. Nan Brown.
Coleman and Blunt said growing up in the church singing and listening gave them the solid rock foundation for their lives and music.
"The church is the foundation, and certainly it is for most black artists growing up with that high degree of spirited emotions and then some wonderful singers who are just in the choir," Coleman said. "You just grow up with a great example of what the can sound like and what it should sound like and that becomes a part of your being. I attribute my ability to sing and phrase things a certain way all the back to the beginning when we were being taught harmonies and listening to Mrs. Crump, she was our Aretha Franklin. I grew up just in awe of her. She could blow the church doors down and you knew on any given song she was going to light things up."
For the past 10 years, they have been touring together with their long-time friend Glenn Leonard.
Blunt and Coleman sang with Leonard as the special guests of WV's nationally touring jazz and R&B artist Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr., at the HSO's 2014 Christmas concert.
The two Joes said they love to work with HSO conductor Kimo Furumoto and to have a full wall of instruments fill out that Motown sound.
"There is nothing quite like the sound of a symphony," said Blunt who performed and recorded with the Drifters for over a decade in venues all over the world alongside Ben E. King and Johnny Moore, earning a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sony Records. "Especially with the kind of music the Drifters, and The Temptations recorded over the years there was always a lot of instrumentation on those tracks and it feels good to be able to duplicate that one stage. It is amazing."
"It is like creating that Phil Spector wall of sound and that is an amazing feeling in the moment it is thrilling," said Coleman, who joined the Platters for a two-decade stint as the group's lead singer in addition to gaining a successful career as a songwriter and playwright.
At the Picnic With the Pops, concert attendees will be treated to incredible showmanship, classic dance moves, and some of the biggest hits of all time including "My Girl," "The Way You Do The Things You Do," "Get Ready," "The Great Pretender," "Only You," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," "Under The Boardwalk," "On Broadway," "Save The Last Dance For Me," and many others.
Whether it is through such Broadway hit shows as "Ain't Too Proud — The Life and Times of The Temptations," or live concerts such as Saturday night, that Motown sound is one that still garners new and young fans daily.
"A lot of our shows we find a lot of young people who come and hear the music and they are hearing it for the first time and they are becoming fans and yes that is amazing that someone who wasn't around during that time still can relate so much to the music," said Blunt, who will turn 70 in a few days.
Coleman said for many the Motown music is simply part of people's lives.
"Borrowing this term, I think the music is like the soundtrack of our lives," Coleman said. "Most of the people in our audiences grow up with this music and it is a part of everything they relate to that first kiss, that prom dance, that wedding song and so many things. It is in the fabric of our being and the music has just stood the test of time sonically and I think people want to relate to those times in their life and the music just went along with them on the journey."
While typically, Coleman and Blunt sing with Glenn Leonard, at this concert, they will be joined by Theo Peoples who is subbing for Leonard, who had another commitment. Peoples, a 58-year-old R&B and soul singer out of St. Louis, is the only person to be lead singer of both The Temptations and The Four Tops. He sang with The Temptations from 1992 to 1998 before joining The Four Tops with whom he still performs.
During his six year tenure with the Temptations, Peoples recorded on two albums, "For Lover's Only," and platinum Grammy-winning album, "Phoenix Rising." Peoples seized the spotlight with a flawless performance of the classic, "Night and Day. He stood up and delivered on the hit single "Stay," as well as, penned the devotional composition, "This Is My Promise."
Having made his national debut as a Temptation, earning the reputation as 'The Voice,' Peoples was called on by yet another legendary group, the "Four Tops," following the 1997 death of original member, Lawrence Payton.
After making the history-making decision to accept that personal invitation, Peoples continued 12 plus years touring with the Four Tops. He has managed to leave a stamp on their legacy, paying brilliant homage to Levi Stubbs while re-imagining those classic 'Four Tops' songs with his own indelible vocal style.
He has shared the stage and the studio with legends, holding his own, with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Bill Medley, Martha Reeves, and The Pointer Sisters, just to name a few. Peoples has earned the singular honor of being the only man to be a member of both 'The Temptations' and "The Four Tops."
"He is a fantastic artist. He graciously agreed to do the show, so we're really excited and we're going to do some Four Tops material in there so it is going to be fun," Blunt said.
Having come full circle from their gospel days, Coleman and Blunt said they are excited to revel in this latest chapter, having come full circle, and still friends performing together. On June 22, they are releasing a new book and EP called, "My Time to Shine."
Both feel blessed to have been there for decades bringing different people all over the world together over a love of good music.
"That Motown-era music and Barry Gordy put out all of those uplifting and let's-have-a-good-time songs about how we can find common ground," Coleman said. "Dancing In the Streets' was all inclusive. It wasn't just about brothers and sisters it was about all brothers and all sisters and the music was ours to share."
The other Picnic With the Pops performances include a Saturday, July 13, concert at Barboursville Park with soulful country crooner John Berry, a South Carolina native, who placed 20 singles on the county charts, 6 of which went Top 5. He has earned multiple Gold and Platinum records over the years. John was nominated for the ACM Top New Male Vocalist in 1994, won a Grammy Award in 1996 for his participation in "Amazing Grace: A Country Salute to Gospel Vol. 1," was nominated for another Grammy in 1995 for his smash hit "Your Love Amazes Me" and was nominated for the CMA Horizon Award and Top Male Vocalist Award in 1995. In 1997, he was nominated for Vocal Event of the Year.
Berry has never performed with the Huntington Symphony Orchestra. He has brought his Christmas tour to the Paramount off and on for at least a decade.
The Pops' Aug. 17 concert is at Harris Riverfront Park with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, Mary Wilson of The Supremes. Founded as The Primettes in Detroit, Michigan, in 1959, the Supremes were the most commercially successful of Motown's acts and are, to date, America's most successful vocal group with 12 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. At their peak in the mid-1960s, the Supremes rivaled the Beatles in worldwide popularity, and it is said that their success made it possible for future African American R&B and soul musicians to find mainstream success. Wilson, the longest member of the Supremes, remained with the group following the departures of other original members, Florence Ballard in 1967 and Diana Ross in 1970. Following Wilson's own departure in 1977, the group disbanded. Wilson has since released three solo albums, five singles and two best-selling autobiographies, "Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme," a record setter for sales in its genre, and "Supreme Faith: Someday We'll Be Together."
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, Wilson is back by popular demand. She played with the Symphony for the Pops in July 2015. She last played the Tri-State in 2016 when she and Freda Payne sang at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland.
Go online at http://huntingtonsymphony.org/ to buy tickets online or stop by the HSO office located at 763 3rd Ave., Huntington or call 304-781-8343.