R.I.P. The Ritchie Family singer Gwendolyn Oliver Wesley

Official Gwendolyn Oliver Wesley obituary photo

(December 16, 2020) Today we say a sad goodbye to singer extraordinaire Gwendolyn Oliver Wesley of the legendary dance group The Ritchie Family, who died on November 27 at age 71. The wife of equally notable James Brown bandmate Fred Wesley, Gwendolyn was an important part of a group whose legend has grown in the years since they topped the charts.

Perhaps best known for the crossover hit, “The Best Disco In Town,” The Ritchie Family was one of the top dance acts of the late 70s and early 80s. Created by legendary disco producer Jacques Morali and Philly arranger Richie Rome (whose name was the inspiration for the group moniker, and who died earlier this month), the act originally consisted of Oliver Wesley, along with Cassandra Ann Wooten, and Cheryl Mason Jacks.

(December 16, 2020) Today we say a sad goodbye to singer extraordinaire Gwendolyn Oliver Wesley of the legendary dance group The Ritchie Family, who died on November 27 at age 71. The wife of equally notable James Brown bandmate Fred Wesley, Gwendolyn was an important part of a group whose legend has grown in the years since they topped the charts.

Perhaps best known for the crossover hit, “The Best Disco In Town,” The Ritchie Family was one of the top dance acts of the late 70s and early 80s. Created by legendary disco producer Jacques Morali and Philly arranger Richie Rome (whose name was the inspiration for the group moniker, and who died earlier this month), the act originally consisted of Oliver Wesley, along with Cassandra Ann Wooten, and Cheryl Mason Jacks.

The trio shot to the top of the dance charts with their 1975 debut song, “Brazil.” It began a string of dance hits, many of which crossed over to the R&B charts. “The Best Disco In Town” was the biggest, an attractive medley of current hits that was dynamite on radio and at dances. As with many other disco hits, the songs were of ponderous length and were largely built for the clubs, but they found a welcome audience on radio, too.

Oliver-Wesley left the group in 1978. Group members were not typically spotlighted as individuals, and thus there was a rotating string of performers, including Jacqui Smith-Lee, Theodosia "Dodie" Draher and Ednah Holt, Vera Brown, and Linda James. The group split in the early 80s after eight albums when Morali became ill.

Last decade, Wooten and Mason-Dorman obtained the rights to The Ritchie Family name, and now perform new member Renee Guilory-Wearing.

Iconic Philadelphia producer Phil Hurtt, who worked with the group in the 70s, said of Oliver Wesley, "Gwen possessed a world class smile with a attitude and talent to match. Simply put she was a sweetheart and we loved her, she is sorely missed but her legacy lives on."

Oliver Wesley was a key part of the most famous version of The Ritchie Family, and we’ll be listening to the great jams that she sang for decades to come. Rest in peace.

By Chris Rizik

 
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