Marilyn McCoo Biography
Began Singing as a Child, Found Fame with The h Dimension (5t)
In a career spanning forty years, Marilyn McCoo has become one of the most successful female recording artists in American music. With super group The 5th Dimension, her husband Billy Davis Jr., and as a soloist, McCoo has earned seven gold albums, five gold singles, six Grammy awards, and a star on the Holly-wood Walk of Fame. Her own fame was cemented as a singer when she helped the hippie generation "Let the Sunshine In" and showed the world that "You Don't Have to Be a Star" to find lasting love.
Began Singing as a Child
Marilyn McCoo was born on September 30, 1943, in Jersey City, New Jersey. At the age of seven she moved with her family to Los Angeles. Her parents, Mary and Waymon McCoo, were both doctors who provided McCoo, her two sisters, and one brother with a solid middle-class upbringing. McCoo sang before she took her first step. Dance, piano, and voice classes followed and by the time she was a teenager McCoo was set on a career in entertainment. At 15 she entered Art Linkletter's Talent Scouts, a local Los Angeles talent show. Tall, with striking good looks, McCoo soon began modeling. Meanwhile, she graduated high school and enrolled in UCLA, where she earned a degree in business administration.
In 1962, McCoo entered the Miss Bronze California contest. After sweeping the talent competition she went on to earn the crown. At the event she met Lamonte McLemore, a photographer for Jet and a part-time vocalist. McLemore's photos of McCoo were featured in the magazine's column "Beauty of the Week." He also invited her to join his singing group, The Hi-Fi's. She accepted and began performing with them in Los Angeles clubs. Soul legend Ray Charles caught one of their gigs and invited The Hi-Fi's to join him on tour. Charles also produced the group's single "Lonesome Mood."
The Hi-Fi's disbanded in 1965 and that same year McCoo, McLemore, Florence LaRue, Ron Townson, and Billy Davis Jr. joined forces as The Versatiles. At first the group sang for fun. "We started out as friends, singing as a hobby," McCoo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In between gigs, McCoo worked for a department store and later as a job developer in Watts for a group called Economic Youth Opportunities. Davis, however, had brought to the group a connection with the recording industry, and a record deal was soon in the works.
Found Fame with The h Dimension (5t)
The Versatiles briefly signed with Bronco Records where future R&B icon Barry White was working as a music director. When that deal collapsed, they joined the Soul City label and changed their name to The 5th Dimension. With a crew of veteran session musicians, the five singers recorded their first hit in 1966, "Go Where You Wanna Go." They followed that release with the full-length album Up, Up, and Away. Catchy pop with an R&B attitude, the title track highlighted the group's vocal acrobatics and lodged itself at number seven on the charts. Another standout track was "Learn How to Fly," driven by McCoo's clear vocals.
Up, Up, and Away snagged The 5th Dimension four Grammy awards in 1967, including Best Pop Performance by a Group and Record of the Year. McCoo and company became stars. A follow-up album, The Magic Garden, also released in 1967, was tepidly received, but did nothing to hurt the band's popularity. 1968's Stoned Soul Garden, widely considered the group's best work, featured two chart-topping singles—the title track and "Sweet Blindness."
In 1969 The 5th Dimension hit the upper stratosphere of stardom with The Age of Aquarius. The album's first single, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," became a mega-hit, occupying the number one spot on the charts for six weeks and becoming the un-official anthem of the 1960s. It earned the group two more Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year. A second song, "Wedding Bell Blues," also went to number one. In this gospel-tinged ballad, McCoo took center stage, infusing the lyrics with tender yearning when she crooned, "C'mon and marry me, Bi-ill." Fittingly, 5th Dimension co-singer Billy Davis Jr. did just that.
Partnered with Davis in Marriage and Music
McCoo and Davis had developed a strong friendship from the moment The 5th Dimension formed. "When we met, there was no immediate physical attraction because we weren't each other's physical type," McCoo told Jet. "So, Billy and I became friends." After four years of constant togetherness—performing, touring, rehearsing—the duo realized they were in love. "Our relationship was built on being around each other all the time," McCoo told Jet. They were married on July 26, 1969, setting off a 30-plus year partnership.
In 1970 The 5th Dimension released yet another chart-topping album, Portrait. It is home to one of McCoo's strongest performances, "One Less Bell to Answer," a steamy, torch song dripping in soul. The group released nearly a dozen more albums over the next five years, though they never again reached the success they had in 1969. McCoo recorded several powerful solos including "Loves Lines, Angles, and Rhymes" from the album of the same name, "(Last Night) I Didn't Get To Sleep at All" from Greatest Hits on Earth, and "If I Could Reach You" from Individually and Collectively. All three songs made it to the Billboard Top Ten.
By 1975 McCoo and Davis had decided to leave the group. "In the back of our minds, we still had that desire to see where our careers could go as individuals," McCoo told NPR radio host Tavis Smiley. "The 5th Dimension had a wonderful sound … and every sound has its run. And we had had our run. Well, Billy and I weren't ready to accept that, so we were saying, 'Let's do something different. Let's do something new." Recording as a duo, they released 1976's I Hope We Get To Love In Time featuring the single, "You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)." The song went straight to number one and earned the duo a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Group.
Broke into Broadway and Books
McCoo moved into television in 1977, co-hosting The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Show on CBS. The prime-time variety show featured comedy sketches by Jay Leno and Tim Reid and, of course, lots of singing. In the 1980s McCoo hosted Solid Gold, a music show that featured a count down of that week's top ten songs interpreted by the famous, spandex-clad Solid Gold dancers. McCoo also made guest appearances on The Love Boat and Night Court, and had a recurring spot on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. Onstage, McCoo began appearing in musicals—The Man of La Mancha, Anything Goes, and A … My Name is Alice—with the dream of appearing on Broadway. "I had hoped those shows would lead to a Broadway opportunity; but in any case, I felt that if I was serious about my dream, I needed experience," she told The Philadelphia Tribune. Her dream came true in 1996 when she landed the role of Julie in a Broadway production of Showboat.
As her acting career unfolded, her singing career steadily rolled along. She and Davis released The Two of Us and Marilyn and Billy. On her own, McCoo released Solid Gold in 1983 and The Me Nobody Knows in 1991. The latter was a contemporary gospel album that reflected McCoo's spiritual beliefs. Incorporating jazz, soul, and Caribbean beats, the album made the Christian music charts and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Gospel recording. She and Davis also maintained a busy schedule of touring and performing, particularly on the Gospel circuit. In 1990 they joined the original members of The 5th Dimension for a national reunion tour.
In 1999 McCoo and Davis took two musical productions on the road: The Duke Ellington Songbook Tour and It Takes Two. Of the latter, Davis told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "It's a love, unity, and togetherness kind of show. Songs were picked for two people, and it just kind of fell into place for us because of who we are and what we represent." McCoo and Davis further shared what they represented with the 2004 publication of Up, Up and Away: How We Found Love, Faith and Lasting Marriage in the Entertainment World. The book came with a CD of love songs including "I Believe in You and Me" and "Because You Love Me." Not only a testament to lasting marriage, the book was a testament to a lasting career. It came out as McCoo was entering her fourth decade as an entertainer. Like her marriage, her career showed no signs of stopping.
(With the 5th Dimension) Up, Up, and Away, Soul City, 1967.
(With the 5th Dimension) Stoned Soul Picnic, Soul City, 1967.
(With the 5th Dimension) The Age of Aquarius, Soul City, 1969.
(With the 5th Dimension) Portrait, Bell, 1970.
(With the 5th Dimension) Love's Lines, Angles, and Rhymes, Bell, 1971.
(With the 5th Dimension) Individually and Collectively, Bell, 1972.
(With the 5th Dimension) Greatest Hits on Earth, Arista, 1972.
(With Billy Davis Jr.), I Hope We Get to Love in Time, ABC Records, 1976.
(With Billy Davis Jr.), The Two of Us, ABC Records, 1977.
(With Billy Davis Jr.), Marilyn and Billy, Columbia, 1978.
Solid Gold, RCA, 1984.
The Me Nobody Knows, Warner Brothers, 1991.
(With Billy Davis Jr.), Spirituals: Songs of the Soul, Discovery House Music, 2004.
With Billy Davis Jr. and Mike Yorkey, Up, Up and Away: How We Found Love, Faith and Lasting Marriage in the Entertainment World, Northfield Press, 2004.
Showboat, Broadway, 1996.
The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. Show, CBS, 1977.
Solid Gold, 1980s.
Jet, August 15, 1994; October 16, 1995; August 9, 1999; October 18, 2004.
St Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 1996; November 11, 1999.
Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., www.mccoodavis.com/marilyn.htm (June 10, 2005).
The Original 5th Dimension, http://members.aol.com/laruemccoo/ (August 16, 2005).
"Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. Discuss the Music Business and Their Book," interview on The Tavis Smiley Show, National Public Radio, March 1, 2004.
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