Soul man Gerald Levert had an auspicious childhood as the son of R&B legend Eddie Levert, the lead singer of the O'Jays, and the choice gene pool seemed to kick in at an early age. It ultimately led to him becoming one of the most popular R&B singers in the world as well as a prodigious songwriter. Sadly, at the peak of his career in 2006, Levert's memorable life was cut short by a fatal heart attack.
While still a teenager, Levert joined with brother Sean and friend Marc Gordon to form the soul group LeVert and, after one independent release, signed with Atlantic Records in 1985. Gerald's voice was a near dead-ringer for his father's distinctive, growling baritone, and his engaging lead took the group to the top of the Soul charts with "Pop Goes My Mind" and followed the next year with the top five Pop and Soul Atlantic single, "Casanova," an infectious midtempo tune written for the group by Midnight Star's Calloway brothers that elevated LeVert to the top of the late 80s Soul music pyramid.
Gerald was developing as a songwriter and vocalist, and fronted LeVert through a string of top Soul hits over the next few years, including #1s "My Forever Love," "Just Coolin'" and "Baby I'm Ready." However, his development also moved him into a first-among-equals status that invariably led to a solo singing career. He branched out in 1991 with his solo debut, Private Line, and topped the Soul charts with the title track. Even better was his duet with his father Eddie on "Baby Hold On To Me," a phenomenal ballad that was one of 1992's most memorable songs and which led to their 1994 album of duets, Father and Son.
Over the remainder of the decade Gerald continued to score big on the Soul charts, while only infrequently crossing over (most notably on the bland David Foster ballad "I'd Give Anything"). However, as the turn of the century hit, Gerald's audience grew older and less tuned into hit radio, and he developed into more of an album artist. He remained incredibly prolific through the next half decade, releasing a new album annually and landing in the Soul and Pop 10 with each disc. He also provided quality songs and/or vocal help to a slew of other performers, including Patti LaBelle and Yolanda Adams, and was part of a popular but artistically disappointing 2-album stint with singers Johnny Gill and Keith Sweat in the macho, sexed-up group LSG.
In 2005, Gerald Levert compiled a number of his strongest duets with other artists as well as songs with LSG and a few new recordings on the CD Voices. For LeVert fans, Voices served as a nice compilation of some of LeVert's notable work outside of his solo albums, including great cuts with the Rude Boys ("Written All Over Your Face"), LSG ("My Side of the Bed") and Kelly Price ("All I Want Is You"). And for the uninitiated, it was a fine introduction to Gerald Levert as a songwriter and vocalist.
While Gerald Levert's catalog is of varying quality, he certainly demonstrated himself as a capable songwriter and a consistently strong vocalist. He also showed impressive longevity during a particularly fickled period in popular music and remained at the top of his game for two decades.
Sadly, on November 10, 2006, Gerald died of a heart attack while sleeping. His final recordings were released in February 2007 under the title In My Songs. In February 2008, Levert won a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Performance for In My Songs. His legacy has grown since his early death, as dozens of popular new artists cite him as an influence and a generation of R&B fans continue to celebrate his marvelous career.
by Chris Rizik