New Birth (originally The Nite-Liters) is an American funk and R&B band formed in Detroit, Michigan by former Motown songwriters and producers Vernon Bullock and Harvey Fuqua and music industry veteran Tony Churchill. The group is most notable for the hits "I Can Understand It", "It's Been a Long Time", "Wildflower" and "Dream Merchant," and featured brothers Melvin and Leslie Wilson.
The history of New Birth starts with the instrumental outfit The Nite-Liters, which had originally been formed in 1963 in Louisville, Kentucky by Tony Churchill and Harvey Fuqua and featured, in its heydey, besides Churchill on tenor sax and vibes, Charlie Hearndon on guitar, James Baker on keyboards, Robin Russell on drums, Robert "Lurch" Jackson on trumpet, Austin Lander on baritone sax, Leroy Taylor on bass, and, later, Carl McDaniel on guitar. (Earlier members included Johnny Graham, later of Earth, Wind & Fire). Under this name the group had a few hits before the formation of New Birth proper. In 1969, Vernon Bullock had thought of creating an ensemble of groups for a touring company, and Harvey Fuqua and Tony Churchill soon took an interest. After discovering a male vocal group, The Mint Juleps, which featured Bobby Downs, Ron Coleman, Gary Young and an individual known as "Slim," and a female vocal group, known as The New Sound, which featured Londee Loren, Tanita Gaines, Janice Carter and Pam Swent, they brought them together with The Nite-Liters and additional vocalist, Alan Frye, and called the newly formed ensemble New Birth. The band came together in 1970 with their self-titled debut on RCA. Their second album, Ain't No Big Thing, But It's Growing, yielded a minor hit with their cover of Perry Como's "It's Impossible" in 1971.
Later that year, Bullock discovered a group from Detroit, Michigan called Love, Peace & Happiness which featured former Marvelettes singer Ann Bogan and brothers Leslie and Melvin Wilson. Finding that they had the spark that was missing from the New Birth ensemble, he paired them with the Nite-Liters and original members of New Birth, Londee Loren, Bobby Downs and Alan Frye. In 1972, the reorganized group (as a seventeen-piece ensemble) hit the R&B top ten with their cover of Bobby Womack and The Valentinos' "I Can Understand It," which paved the way for the band's future success. By the time the song hit the stores, however, Ann left to devote time to her family, leaving Londee Loren as the sole female member. Due to a brief dispute with their management company, their next hit, "Until It's Time For You To Go" featured, instead of the group members, future member of The Supremes, Susaye Greene as lead vocalist.
In 1974, the group issued their hit album, It's Been a Long Time, which spawned the hits including the title track and their cover of the psychedelic single "Wild Flower," which became a top ten hit in the UK singles chart. After the release of their sixth RCA album, Comin' From All Ends, the group split from RCA, Fuqua and their management company and signed with Buddah.
New Birth's Buddah debut, Blind Baby, featured the group's only number-one R&B single, a cover of the Jerry Butler classic, "Dream Merchant". After the release of the 1977 album, Behold The Mighty Army, the Wilson brothers split from the group following in-fighting and growing tensions in the group.
The group returned in 1979 James Baker, Tony Chruchill and Austin Lander, with Jerry Bell as there new lead vocalist. They released Platinum City and followed in 1982 with the I'm Back' album. Leslie Wilson had left the group to replace Jeffrey Osborne in LTD and Jerry Bell left the group in 1981 to become the lead vocalest for Motown's Dazz Band.
The Wilsons began touring with a new ensemble as New Birth in 1994, and have released a few albums under the new name. Drummer Robin Russell released a solo CD entitled Drum Beats in 2004.
Since the group's initial split, their songs have been covered from the likes of Jamie Foxx, who sampled their cover of "Wildflower" for his 2005 hit, "Unpredictable". R&B group Something for the People sampled their "It's Been a Long Time" for their 1996 hit, "My Love is the Shhh". Rap artist Lil' Wayne sampled "You Don't Have to Be Alone" in his song "La La La."