The Dramatics and The Manhattans ensure Black male vocal groups remain at the helm BLACK MUSIC MONTH JUNE 2023


Photo By Alexander Johnson

By Timothy Cox

DETROIT, MI — A standing-room-only crowd filed into the Sound Board Theater inside Detroit’s MotorCity casino hotel, Sunday April 23, 2023. Unseasonably warm temperatures, for an early-Spring night in northern Michigan, helped spur good vibes on this evening prior to Detroit natives, The Dramatics, hit the stage after an opening act dressed in sparkling, baby blue tuxedos gave the flavor of 70 years prior to, when the 20 Grand and the Flame Showbar, were the hottest live-music night clubs in the 1940s thru their closure in the early 1960s.  During its heyday, the Showbar was the night-life capital of the “D” mainly a favorite of Berry Gordy and most of his Motown vocal and instrumental entourage.
The five-man outfit known as The Dramatics, failed to disappoint on the Spring Sunday night. Led by their 5-foot-7ish frontman, Larry James (LJ) Reynolds of Saginaw, Michigan, the fellows offered their sweet, five-part harmony, which has uniquely led them onto RnB vocal group royalty.
The group still carry that same sound, as when first tenor Ron Banks was their falsetto king and Willie Ford held the bottom bass notes. Also gone are Larry “Squirrel” Demps, Lenny “Mr. Cool” Mayes, William “Weegee” Howard and so many more. Also missing from this most recent gig was LJ Reynolds’ first-cousin, Donald Albert. He joined the group about five years ago, and was conspicously missing on this particular night in Detroit. A call to LJ to learn of details concerning Albert’s missing status, was not returned by press time.
The current Dramatics also includes first tenor Leon Franklin, the newest member, Lavell Jackson and the ever-present Winzell Kelly.
Having witnessed The Dramatics on various occasions, this night was special because the group was home, performing in front of family, old school mates, girl friends, church members and the like. And man, did the crowd respond. They hollared out names as if they were the special guys they came play to play.
Later in the Spring – about 400 miles away in Alexandra, Va., another legendary gifted soul music vocal act known as the Mighty Manhattans featuring Gerald Alston, Troy Mayes and Lawrence Newton, took it to the stage at the intimately-designed converted theater known as The Birchmere Music Hall and Theater. The former grocery store was gutted-out to be redesigned into one of the nation’s most comfortable live-music venues.
Lead singer Gerald Alston always proves that he’s one of the premier soul singers on the current circuit. Gone are Luther, Donnie and the rest. Therefore you must crown Gerald Alston as the lead-singer King. His smooth-but-resonant vocal quality is one-uva-kind. No one can match his velvety-strong rangey pipes. Thank God that Gerald Alston remains on this earth – he is definitely one singer who is worth the cost of admission to try and immulate. In rating current soul singers, I can never forget Peabo Bryson, David Hollister and Mark Middleton. The latter two, are members of Blackstreet – and can shonuff blow.