Often overlooked in discussions of hot funk groups of the 80s, Midnight Star formed a unique sound and a series of infectious singles that propelled it to the top of the R&B charts for the better part of a decade.
Formed in the mid-70s at Kentucky State University, Midnight Star was modeled after the large, self-contained bands that then dominated soul and funk music. Consisting of songwriters/horn players Vincent and Reggie Calloway, vocalist Belinda Lipscomb, vocalist/guitarist Melvin Gentry, vocalist/keyboardist Bo Watson, bassist Kenneth Gant, guitarist Jeffrey Cooper, saxophonist William Simmons and drummer Bobby Lovelace, the group came to the attention of SOLAR head Dick Griffey, who signed and paired them with ultra-hot producer Leon Sylvers. However, unlike other SOLAR releases of the early 80s, Midnight Star's first few albums failed to have significant chart power. It was only after the group took control of its music in 1983 that success arrived.
Putting aside previous Earth, Wind & Fire-style leanings, Midnight Star saw the emergence of the more eclectic, synthesized funk of younger artists like Prince, and, with the Calloway brothers producing, reinvented itself through the release of 1983's No Parking on the Dance Floor. The result, a computerized, infectious brand of dance/funk, took Midnight Star to the top of the R&B charts with the album's first release, "Freak-a-Zoid" as well as the follow-up singles "Wet My Whistle" and the title track. The group also proved it could still pump out a soulful ballad with "Slow Jam," an album cut that became a Quiet Storm staple.
The success of No Parking created anticipation for the following year's Planetary Invasion, which followed the template of its predecessor and yielded major hits with the heavily synthesized "Operator" and "Curious." Midnight Star also landed a crossover smash in 1986 with "Midas Touch," the lead single from the group's album Headlines. However, the group, which had lived together in the Calloway house in Cincinnati for a half decade, began to have internal squabbles as their popularity grew. Ultimately, the firing of the Calloway brothers' mother as group manager caused a split, with Vincent and Reggie leaving the group.
After scoring with the song "Casanova" for LeVert, the Calloway Brothers left Midnight Star, thereafter working as songwriter/producers-for-hire (with hits such as "Love Overboard" for Gladys Knight and the Pips and "Joy" for Teddy Pendergrass) and forming their own duo, Calloway. They landed one big hit, "I Wanna Be Rich," before going silent. The loss of the group's principal songwriters hurt Midnight Star, but the remaining members rebounded for one more top 5 R&B hit with "Don't Rock the Boat" before calling it quits with their final SOLAR release, Work It Out.
Though Midnight Star went on "hiatus" in the early 90s, group members remained active. Gentry and Watson continued writing and producing for artists such as Toni Braxton and Gentry became musical director for tours by Braxton and Babyface. Lipscomb took her attractive alto voice to the theatrical stage, working a number of Gospel musicals during the decade. Then in 2000, after nearly a decade apart, Midnight Star reunited (without the Calloways). They went back into the studio in 2002 to record 15th Avenue, and began touring again, mostly in multi-artist soul and funk shows.
The current lineup includes Lipscomb, Gentry, Watson, Gant, Lovelace and occasionally Simmons. The group plays regularly around the US and Europe and still sounds great.
By Chris Rizik