The Voices Of East Harlem – 1970 – Right on Be Free
Essentially, this is a raw and funky youth choir that mixed traditional gospel with downhome Soul (they opened up for Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies concert, FYI). This LP will make you clap your hands, stomp your feet and say YEAH in a way that few LP’s of recent times will do.
The gutbucket rhythm section works well with traditional gospel tunes such as “No No No” and “Music in the Air“. This is mixed with early 70s liberation anthems like the title cut and “Simple Song of Freedom.” The VOEH (not to be confused with the Boys Choir of Harlem) also adds then funky gospel choir treatment to preiod tunes like “For What It’s Worth” to great effect and the rendition of “Let It Be Me” is enough to bring tears to your eyes. But the pint-sized marvel Kevin Griffith really sets things on fire with his high powered lead on Ritchie Havens’ “Shaker Life” (reminds one of Little Stevie Wonder leading a choir).
This wonderful, high energy album is reminiscent of the soulful gospel of the Choirs of Edwin Hawkins and Andrae Crouch that were the predecessors of what Kirk Franklin and Hezekiah Walker are doing today.
A1 Right On Be Free 3:48
A2 Simple Song of Freedom 4:04
A3 Proud Mary 2:49
A4 Music in the Air 3:19
A5 Oh Yeah 1:34
A6 For What It’s Worth 3:32
B1 Let It Be Me 3:24
B2 No No No 4:03
B3 Gotta Be a Change 2:39
B4 Shaker Life 6:51
Producers Leroy Hutson and Curtis Mayfield (both of the Impressions) worked with the group, whose ages ranged from 12 to 21. The Voices Of East Harlem were a community choir that grew from an inner city action project in 1969. Their music mixed devotional Gospel fervor with commercial R&B and Soul, and included lead vocalists Gerri Griffin and Monica Burress. Coming to the attention of Elektra boss Jac Holzman via their producer Jerry Brandt, they were signed in 1970 for their debut Right On Be Free, which showcased a diverse song selection from Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth“, to Richie Haven’s “Run Shaker Life“, all performed in their distinctive high-energy style.
The Voices of East Harlem – 1973 – The Voices of East Harlem
A masterpiece of sweet group soul! This was the first secular record cut by The Voices Of East Harlem – a group who’d had an earlier gospel-tinged album on Elektra, but who are soaring out here in a brilliant mix of righteous mainstream soul styles – courtesy of the Curtom power team of Rich Tufo, Leroy Hutson, and Curtis Mayfield! The album’s an unusual non-Curtom effort by the Hutson and Curtom – who collaborated in producing the record with Tufo, who himself did most of the arrangements with Hutson – in a mode that’s wonderfully in the same spirit as Leroy’s seminal work for Curtom in the mid 70s. There’s a depth here that makes the album one of our favorite-ever soul records from the 70s – brilliant not just for the overall sound, but also for the pointed lyrics and really personal feel of the songs. Lead vocals shift between the different tunes – but are mostly handled by Gerri Griffin and Monica Burress, with warm support by the rest of the group.
A1 Cashing In 2:20
A2 Just Believe In Me 2:17
A3 Little People 3:30
A4 Giving Love 4:44
B1 Wanted, Dead, Or Alive 3:23
B2 Loving You The Way I Do 3:05
B3 I Like Having You Around 2:21
B4 Could This Be Love 3:29
B5 New Vibrations 3:22
The Voices of East Harlem. Their sound was a gospel take on modern R&B and soul. While traditional gospel praises the power of an intangible God, The Voices of East Harlem were a testament to the power of the people. While their music makes you want to get up dance, it also makes you want to get up and do something for your fellow citizens and for yourself. Their raw energy and positive message reminds us that little is more powerful than the human spirit, and with focus and determination, anything is possible.
The Voices of East Harlem were a vocal ensemble made-up of up to 20 members ranging in the ages of 12 to 21, and were originally a community choir that grew from an inner city action project in 1969. Their first album Right On Be Free was released on Elektra in 1970, and has the most pronounced gospel influence when compared to their later recordings. Right On Be Free keeps the energy pumping, and the righteous message flowing, throughout the record, and includes the songs “Simple Song of Freedom”, “Right on be free”,“Let it be Me” and a soulful and funky version of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”. Their next release, Brothers & Sisters, was also released on Elektra in 1972 and is the hardest to find out of all of their album releases.
Their self-titled album, The Voices of East Harlem, was released in 1973 on Just Sunshine Records, contains songs produced by Curtis Mayfield and Leroy Hutson, and is an extremely solid and heartfelt soul record from beginning to end. This album also contains my favorite song of theirs, “Giving Love”, as well as some of their most well known tracks, “Cashing In” and “Wanted Dead or Alive”. Their last full-length album, Can You Feel It, was also released on Just Sunshine Records in 1974, contains arrangement and production from Leroy Hutson, and is another extremely solid and uplifting record.
While the sound of The Voices of East Harlem ranges from gospel to r&b, soul and funk, they consistently united their voices with skill, positive energy, and a genuineness that is rare. But you don’t have to take my word for it because below I have featured some videos of The Voices of East Harlem performing live at the Sing Sing maximum security prison in 1972. So without further adieu, watch, listen, get inspired and enjoy!
Their other 2 albums by Mr.Moo
1972 Brothers & Sisters
1974 Can you Feel it