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The Chi-Lites

The Chi-Lites

One of the most popular smooth soul groups of the early '70s didn't hail from Philadelphia or Memphis, the two cities known for sweet, string-laden soul. Instead, the Chi-Lites were from Chicago, a town better known for its gritty urban blues and driving R&B. Led by vocalist Eugene Record, the Chi-Lites had a lush, creamy sound distinguished by their four-part harmonies and layered productions. During the early '70s, they racked up 11 Top Ten R&B singles, ranging from the romantic ballads "Have You Seen Her" and "Oh Girl" to protest songs like "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People" and "There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God Is Seated at the Conference Table)." All the songs featured Record's warm, pleading tenor and falsetto, and the majority of the group's hits were written by Record, often in collaboration with other songwriters like Barbara Acklin. Although Record exited when the Chi-Lites were at their commercial peak, and was absent for roughly seven years, the group continued to regularly chart into the mid-'80s. Since Record's second departure in 1988, the Chi-Lites have been known primarily as a performing act, and remain led by lone surviving original member Marshall Thompson.

The Chi-Lites had been around for nearly a decade before they finally had a hit in the late '60s. Eugene Record, Robert "Squirrel" Lester, and Clarence Johnson formed the doo wop group the Chanteurs in the late '50s, and they released one single on Renee Records in 1959. Shortly afterward, Creadel "Red" Jones and Marshall Thompson, who had sung with the Desideros, teamed with the trio to form the Hi-Lites. Over the next four years, the Hi-Lites released a number of singles on local labels. In 1964, they changed their name to Marshall & the Chi-Lites, adding the "C" as tribute to their hometown Chicago. By the end of the year, Johnson had left the group and the remaining quartet truncated their name to the Chi-Lites. Over the next four years, the group continued to perform and release independent singles, with Record slowly emerging as the group's lead singer, songwriter, and producer.

In 1968, the Chi-Lites signed with the large Chicago indie label Brunswick Records, and early the following year "Give It Away" became their first national hit single, reaching number ten on the R&B chart. Despite the moderate success of "Let Me Be the Man My Daddy Was," the group wasn't able to deliver another big hit until "Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)" climbed into the R&B Top Ten in early 1971, beginning a string of ten Top Ten hits that ran intermittently over the next four years. The follow-up to "Are You My Woman?," "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People," was their first pop hit, and was the title song on their first of four consecutive Top Ten R&B albums. It also set the stage for a pair of slow, soulful ballads, "Have You Seen Her" and "Oh Girl," which both reached number one on the R&B chart. The latter also topped the pop chart (in the spring of 1972).

Shortly after the release of the 1973 hit "Stoned Out of My Mind," the Chi-Lites splintered with the departures of Creadel Jones and Eugene Record. By the end of the year, Jones' role had been filled by Stanley Anderson, Willie Kinsey, and David "Doc" Roberson. David Scott and Danny Johnson also entered the picture. (The latter would leave in 1977, replaced by Vandy Hampton; Scott and Hampton would exit in 1980). A revamped Chi-Lites scored the Top Ten R&B hits "Homely Girl," "There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God Is Seated at the Conference Table)," and "Toby" before Roberson joined. Brunswick then became involved in serious financial problems. This prevented the label from promoting a bankable group with four consecutive Top Ten R&B albums -- (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People, A Lonely Man, A Letter to Myself, and Chi-Lites -- to go with their pile of hit singles. The Chi-Lites signed with Mercury and cut two albums for the label by before the close of the '70s.

The original lineup of the Chi-Lites, including Eugene Record, re-formed in 1980, and the group moved to 20th Century Fox subsidiary Chi-Sound. Their Chi-Sound singles were more successful than their Mercury sides, with "Hot on a Thing (Called Love)" reaching number 15 in 1982. The following year, they moved to the MCA-distributed LARC Records, where they had their final Top Ten hit with "Bottoms Up." Late that year, Creadel Jones retired and the group continued to tour throughout the remainder of the decade. Record left the group in 1988 and was replaced first by Frank Reed, and then by Anthony Watson. (Reed and Watson would fill Record's role on an alternating basis for over a decade.) Anchored by Marshall Thompson and Robert Lester, the Chi-Lites were a regular attraction on the oldies and soul circuits throughout the '90s, during which they also released a pair of albums. Jones died in 1994.

The Chi-Lites continued to tour in varying configurations over the next decades. Anthony Watson left the group for good in 2002. Frank Reed again took his place, performing with the group -- and taking part in the last Chi-Lites studio album, released in 2006, a year after Eugene Record died -- until his death in 2014. Robert Lester died in 2010. The likes of Tara Thompson, Fred Simon, Mack Miller, Marzette Griffin, and Warren Tipton have since joined lone surviving member Marshall Thompson to keep the Chi-Lites active into the 2020s. In addition to dozens upon dozens of covers and samples of their classics and deep cuts -- most famously, Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" sampled "Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)" -- the Chi-Lites' legacy has continued to be amplified with numerous honors. The Chi-Lites have been inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Andy Kellman

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