Legendary 5th Dimension member Lamonte McLemore recovering from mild stroke

(October 1, 2019) SoulTrackers have been praying and thinking about Lamonte McLemore, a key founder of the legendary group The Fifth Dimension, who suffered a stroke this week, but we have good news from his family. Here is the statement that was issued today:

(October 1, 2019) SoulTrackers have been praying and thinking about Lamonte McLemore, a key founder of the legendary group The Fifth Dimension, who suffered a stroke this week, but we have good news from his family. Here is the statement that was issued today:

Official Update on LaMonte McLemore: Hi, this is LaMonte’s biographer Robert-Allan Arno, writing on behalf of his family. We wanted to let friends & fans know that on Sunday night, LaMonte had suffered a mild stroke. He is receiving the best of care and is already showing remarkable progress. Remember, whatever LaMonte has envisioned in his life & set his mind to, he has championed. His recovery will be no different. For now, we simply ask you to be our special prayer warriors to give “Mac” that extra boost! The original 5th Dimension family, Florence LaRue and the team of Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. are joining right along, too...so let’s all “Let the Sunshine In” for LaMonte! P.S. We’ll have news on where to send cards, flowers etc. sometime soon...but for now, your prayers will be just perfect. THANKS EVERYONE!! —“Team Mac”

McLemore, 80,  is a true Renaissance Man, who has made a name for himself in sports, music and photography. The St. Louis native’s first love was sports, and he scratched that itch for several years, ultimately becoming a minor league player for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But he was also a great singer, and in the early 60s he teamed with future Friends of Distinction members Harry Elston and Floyd Butler for form the vocal group the Hi-Fis. But it was his meeting with another group of talented young singers in California that really became his claim to fame, as a founding member of the Fifth Dimension, a truly pioneering group that opened doors for many acts that have come since.

In 1967, at a time of racial tension in America, the attractive quintet introduced a breezy, harmony-laden pop/soul sound that appeared to transcend all issues of race, capturing America with their dreamy uplifting version of Jimmy Webb's "Up Up and Away."  And the song was the beginning of an impressive string of light, airy hits that virtually defined California soul.

Formed in 1965 by McLemore along with Ron Townsend, Billy Davis, Jr. and beauty pageant winners Florence LaRue and Marilyn McCoo, the group was originally formed as the Versatiles.  After being put off by Motown head Berry Gordy, the quintet was signed by singer Johnny Rivers to his fledgling Soul City label and was renamed the 5th Dimension.

Following a couple of minor hits, the act hit pay dirt with its cover of "Up Up and Away," landing in the Pop and Soul Top 10 and earning a slew of Grammy Awards for the song and the group.  Producer Bones Howe teamed them with hot young writers Webb, Laura Nero and Burt Bacharach and Hal David for a number of terrific hits over the next several years that would highlight the 5th Dimension's exquisite harmonies, while the group's frequent television appearances captured America with their mod, upbeat style and physical attractiveness.  

In 1968 Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic" became the group's second top 10 smash, only to be surpassed by their joyous wedding proposal "Wedding Bell Blues," on which McCoo appeared to be singing directly to longtime boyfriend Davis (the duo soon married in 1969).  A definitive career moment for the 5th Dimension was the decision to create a medley of two songs from the musical Hair.  "Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In" became the biggest selling song of 1969 and arguably made the 5th Dimension the top pop/soul group in the world. 

As the 70s arrived, the group's sound changed somewhat, focusing less on harmonies than on individual leads, and their music took on an increasingly pop-oriented sound.  Consequently, their Soul music following slipped, even as they maintained a leading position on the pop and adult contemporary charts.  The next few years brought the wonderful Marilyn McCoo performance on "One Less Bell to Answer" and a number of midrange hits such as "Save the Country," "Last Night (I Didn't Get to Sleep at All)" and a cover of "Never My Love," but it also brought generally lower pop success and a nearly complete loss of Soul charting.

With the group's fortunes lagging, McCoo and Davis left in 1975.The original version of the group reunited in 1990 for a successful Atlantic City show and then toured sporadically (and successfully) at various times over the next few years.  In 1995, a reconstituted version of the group, which included LaRue, McLemore, Townson, former Santana vocalist Greg Walker (he sang on that group's fine version of "Stormy") and Phyllis Battle, released the group's final album, In The House, on Dick Clark's Click label.  Townson left the act due to illness in 1999 and died in 2001 and McLemore retired from the group in 2006. 

But McLemore’s other lifelong passion -- photography -- has served him well over the past three decades, as his work has been hailed from coast to coast. And he even performs music now and then, as he did two years ago with the dance single, “I Wish I Could Fall In Love.”

We send our prayers and wishes to Lamonte McLemore for a full recovery! 

by Chris Rizik

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