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Major Harris: 5 Little-Known Facts About the 'Philly Soul' Great

If you grew up in the 1960s, when you think of R&B, you probably think of classic Motown - the earnest, energetic sound of Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and the Temptations, among others - or else the harder, funkier Stax/Volt Records sound from Memphis, exemplified by the Staple Singers and Isaac Hayes. But if you were a teenager a decade later in the mid-1970s, you probably got down at high school dances to what people called the Philadelphia Sound or Philly Soul - a musical genre that paired lush strings with the hard-edged honk of a horn section, topped with buttery vocals.

If any song exemplified the Philly Soul sound, it was "Love Won't Let Me Leave." The paean to youthful randiness was a crossover hit on both the soul and pop charts in 1975 for singer Major Harris, who died on Oct. 9 at age 65 in Richmond, Va. Here are five intriguing facts about the singer and his greatest hit:

  1. The Philly Soul great wasn't actually from Philly. Harris grew up in Richmond, the son of a guitarist and a church choir director. As a teenager, he was tall enough to pass for an adult, which enabled him to sneak into nightclubs and learn from watching veteran R&B acts. Harris later sang with a Richmond group, the Jarmels, before heading north to do a stint in New York's the Teenagers - the group that originally spawned Frankie Lymon of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" fame. In the early 1970s, he joined the Delfonics, a Philadelphia group, before embarking as a solo artist in 1974.
  2. "Love Won't Let Me Wait" was recorded in the dark. According to the All Music Guide to Soul, the recording session at Philadelphia's famous Sigma Sound studio was conducted without illumination, except for "a small light at Harris' lyric stand." His backup singers, including the late Barbara Ingram - she's the one who moans suggestively on the recording - and the studio's house band MFSB performed in darkness, which may have helped give the song its sensual, bedroom ambiance.
  3. The song was written by a man and a woman. "Love Won't Let Me Wait" is credited to Bobby Eli, who also produced and played lead guitar, and Vinnie Barrett. The latter is the stage name of Gwendolyn Woolfolk, a Washington, D.C., native who also co-wrote hits for the Spinners and other groups with Eli.
  4. Musical talent ran in Harris' family. His brother was Joe Jefferson, a songwriter who wrote the Spinners' "One of a Kind Love Affair" and other hits.
  5. Other artists did great versions of the song. Johnny Mathis recorded it in 1984, but Luther Vandross' 1988 version may be more famous than the original.

Here's a video clip of Harris singing "Love Won't Let Me Leave" on "Soul Train" in 1975.

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