One of the most likeable and vocally cohesive singing groups of the late 60s and early 70s, the Friends of Distinction, formed by Cleaves, Harry Elston, Floyd Butler, and Barbara Love in 1968, made some of the most memorable pop/soul music of their time. Often compared to the Fifth Dimension, the Friends featured tightly harmonizing men and women dressed in late 60s "hip" clothing. And like the Fifth Dimension, the Friends of Distinction had some hits that have stood the test of time.
Their first single, "Grazin' In the Grass," was a Elston-sung vocal remake of a Hugh Masekela instrumental cut, and hit the top 5 on both Pop and Soul charts in 1969. The group's follow-up, "Going In Circles," was a brilliant ballad that also charted high. The Friends were quite prolific from 1969-71, releasing 5 albums (a sixth appeared in 1973). They also released a number of great singles, including "Check It Out" (later remade by Tavares) and a terrific cover of Neil Sedaka's "Time Waits for No One." Cleaves was the lead on several songs, including the terrific "I Really Hope You Do."
Cleaves left the Friends to join a fledgling Chicago band called Earth Wind & Fire, and recorded with the group for two albums, Last Days and Time and Head to the Sky. Cleaves was gone from EWF by the time of the group's breakout album, That's The Way of the World, but her work during her brief period in the band had many highlights.
Cleaves later moved to Detroit and went on to record with Parliament before fading from the public eye in the 80s.
Jessica Cleaves was an extremely talented, rich-voiced singer who will be remembered not only for the great company she kept, but for her contribution everywhere she went in music. She will be missed.
By Chris Rizik