R.I.P. Nicholas Caldwell of The Whispers: 1944-2016

(January 6, 2016) This is just a kick in the gut for all of us who love soul music and great men. Nicholas Caldwell, co-founding member of one of our all-time favorite groups, The Whispers, has died at age 71 after a long battle with heart disease.

Caldwell was not only a mainstay in the group for its half century of hitmaking, he also wrote and produced many songs for The Whispers and for other artists, including Phil Perry. He fought a courageous battle against the dreaded disease, and, once it became public last July, fans of the group became prayer warriors, supporting the artist and his fight in a truly heartwarming way.

(January 6, 2016) This is just a kick in the gut for all of us who love soul music and great men. Nicholas Caldwell, co-founding member of one of our all-time favorite groups, The Whispers, has died at age 71 after a long battle with heart disease.

Caldwell was not only a mainstay in the group for its half century of hitmaking, he also wrote and produced many songs for The Whispers and for other artists, including Phil Perry. He fought a courageous battle against the dreaded disease, and, once it became public last July, fans of the group became prayer warriors, supporting the artist and his fight in a truly heartwarming way.

Caldwell often considered himself a changed man for his development as a husband and a man of faith over the past two decades. He recounted his wilder younger days in an episode of TV One’s Unsung, and, with his wife beside him, talked of his conversion into a man who could be admired as much for how he lived his life as for his music.

Formed in LA in the early 60s, the Whispers have certainly taken a "slow and steady" career course in which they have quietly become one of the most successful modern soul groups.  Consisting of twin brothers Walter and Wallace (Scotty) Scott, Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutson and Leaveil Degree (who replaced departing member Gordy Harmon in 1973), the Whispers first recorded for local LA label Dore Records, hitting the pop and R&B charts with "Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong" in 1970.  They continued to be a mid level charting act throughout the '70s on the Don Cornelius/Dick Griffey "Soul Train" label but gained momentum toward the end of the decade when Griffey, who was their manager, created his own SOLAR label and worked with the group on their SOLAR debut album Headlights, which scored a moderate hit with "Olivia."

After so many years, the Whispers seemed destined to remain a a middling act that would never achieve real large scale international attention.  Then in 1980, Griffey teamed them with upcoming writer/producer Leon Sylvers, and the result was "And the Beat Goes On," one of the most infectious songs of the disco era and the single that thrust the Whispers to the top tier of soul artists.  "And the Beat Goes On" was included on the excellent Whispers album along with two other instant classics, the Caldwell-penned ballad "Lady" and "A Song For Donny," a touching tribute to Donny Hathaway sung to the tune of Hathaway's "This Christmas"  (with lyrics by Whispers labelmate Carrie Lucas).

The 80s brought a string of monster soul chart success for the Whispers, with additional hits "It's A Love Thing," "Keep On Lovin Me" and "Tonight," though crossover success was more limited.  The group appeared to lose steam in the second half of the decade, but a hot dance tune written by then-unknown Deele member Babyface brought the Whispers back, as the excellent "Rock Steady" shot to the top of Pop, Soul and Dance charts.  The group left Solar for Capitol in 1990 and continued to record soul hits through the mid-90s, garnering success with "Innocent," "My Heart Your Heart" and "Is It Good To You."  Sadly, they lost group member Marcus Hutson in 2000.

After leaving Capitol, the group recorded a solid, but underappreciated 1997 album of Babyface covers, Songbook Vol. 1: The Songs of Babyface, for Interscope Records.  It was nearly a decade before the issuance of their next album, the self-released For Your Ears Only, a surprise hit that topped the CDBaby independent CD charts for several weeks. In 2009, the Whispers issued their first Gospel album, Thankful, collaborating with Unified Tribe's Magic Mendez as well as Fred Hammond, among others.  The first song, "For Thou Art With Me," hit radio in Summer 2009. The disc was a moderate hit, and the group followed later with a live album.

The Whispers continue to perform both alone and in multi-artist shows around the world, and fifty years after joining together they remained a model for consistency and unity in song. Caldwell's death adds a sad chapter to an amazing group story.

Nicholas Caldwell was truly a one of a kind artist who played a significant role in R&B music – and later, Gospel music – over the past five decades. He will be terribly missed.

By Chris Rizik

Update on January 7: We received the following note from the Whispers Fan Club -- "Nick's wife Alberta Caldwell has requested that this update be posted on social media. As most of you know, Nick was on a LVAD deviceand was doing very well; he was preparing to go back on the road with the Whispers beginning in Detroit on February 11th. For some unknown reason, the device malfunctioned, and when his wife found him, it was too late to revive him. Arrangements are currently under way for a public viewing and a private ceremony to be held in the Bay Area where Nick's mother is buried. I will keep everyone updated as the information comes in."

 

 

 
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