As a principal vehicle for former Motown hitmaker Norman Whitfield's engaging compositions, Rose Royce ascended to the top of the Soul Music world from 1977-79 with a string of great hits and a tight, full sound that rivaled many of the best self-contained soul and funk groups of that era.
Formed by trumpeter/vocalist Kenny Copeland, drummer Henry Garner, trumpeter Freddie Dunn and saxman Michael Moore and bass player Duke Jobe in the early 70s, the group first served as a backup band for Edwin Starr, who introduced them to his "War" producer, Whitfield. This led to regular work with many of Whitfield's other Motown acts, including the Undisputed Truth.
In 1977 Whitfield helped the band, which had swelled to ten members (including Kenji Brown, Victor Nix, Terry Santiel, Michael Nash as well as featured vocalist Gwen Dickey), to get a gig as the lead act on the Whitfield-produced MCA soundtrack to the Richard Pryor movie Car Wash. With its hand-clapping, funky intro, Dickey's exciting lead vocals and the band's great performance, the title track became one of the biggest dance songs ever, leaping to #1 on the pop and soul charts and taking Rose Royce with it. Fortunately, the group turned out to be neither a one-hit-wonder nor just a dance band. Rose Royce's follow up from the soundtrack, "I Wanna Get Next To You" (with Copeland singing lead) was a gorgeous ballad as strong as anything Whitfield had provided to the Temptations and the performance was again outstanding.
Car Wash moved Rose Royce to the head of the R&B pack, and the group capitalized on its position with In Full Bloom, the band's formal debut album (on Norman Whitfield's own Whitfield Records), which topped the charts and landed the big hit, "Ooh Boy." In 1978 Rose Royce again proved to be a great love song group, hitting the charts with two now-classic ballads, "Wishing On A Star" and "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" (later remade by Madonna) and the top five album Rose Royce Strikes Again.
Unfortunately, Rose Royce's descent on the charts was as quick as its rise, as internal group strife (particularly between the band's founding members and Dickey) and a dilution of Whitfield's time and songs among the many acts with which he was working, each took its toll. Dickey was soon out of the group, leaving the music business and the U.S., though she was restart her career a few years later in the UK. And while the group continued to record, it never again had a substantial hit album or single, despite a 1982 move to Epic Records and subsequent releases on a series of smaller labels.
Rose Royce experienced a number of personnel changes over the next two decades, but continues to this day with the foundation of Copeland, Garner and Dunn, who self-released the album Live In Hollywood in 2003. A resurgence of their music, through the continuing popularity of "Car Wash" and the cover of some of their ballads by new generation singers, has made Rose Royce a popular touring act again -- mostly in multi-artist shows with acts such as Zapp, Heatwave and Midnight Star -- and has kept the classy funk and soul flowing well into the 21st Century.
By Chris Rizik