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Philadelphia’s Delfonics, one of the most renowned, successful, and beloved R&B/Pop recording acts from the 1960’s and 1970’s, are the embodiment of the popular idiom “often imitated but never duplicated.” During their heyday, The Delfonics performed on some of the top stages including the Capitol, Apollo, and Uptown theaters and alongside such renowned acts as Three Dog Night, Sly & the Family Stone, Kool & the Gang, James Brown, Ray Charles, Barry Manilow (to name but a short few). Incredibly, at one point groups including the Jackson Five and Earth, Wind, & Fire opened up for The Delfonics. William ‘Poogie’ Hart, the group’s founder and primary singer/songwriter from its inception, explains that his musical roots actually date back much further…
Back in the mid-1950’s, the musical style now popularly termed “Doo Wop” but more precisely known as “R&B vocal group harmony” was prevalent in the mainstream thanks in large part to immense breakout groups like Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers. At the age of ten or eleven, Philadelphia’s William Hart listened to the multitude of groups singing this style of music on local street corners (like numerous other kids his age waiting for the ice cream truck to arrive, etc.) and was completely mesmerized by the sound! This excitement widened when his father, who worked at the Philadelphia General Electric Company, one day brought home a “box” capable of playing the sweet, warm sound of vinyl 45 RPM records and 33.3 albums … what a terrific concept! Like countless others his age, William Hart was completely hooked.
At around age 13, William Hart realized he was pretty good at singing himself, and began winning talent shows at Haddington Recreation Center in Philly covering the many hit songs of Frankie Lymon. It was also at that tender age that he wrote his very first song while sitting on his steps one sunny afternoon, entitled “Pretty Little Girl In A Yellow Dress.” William was further entranced by the intricate choreography of the singing groups of the time, and he dreamed of one day incorporating similar moves into his own act.
By the early 1960’s, William Hart realized he had quite a talent for songwriting, as he states, “I had the unique ability to make a song all my own.” He was particularly inspired by popular singers like Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield, becoming even more impressed after realizing they in fact wrote much of their own material! Even at this young age, William Hart, aware of his own vast musical talents, dreamed of one day writing his own unique catalog of songs and of the importance of protecting his original compositions.
By age 14, William, whose family had recently relocated from North to West Philly, had made up his mind that music was not only to be his lifelong career but that he wanted use his unique abilities to try to somehow help people who lived in poverty or were otherwise in a position of disadvantage. Describing himself as a “deep thinker” and a socially conscious songwriter, he at this point put together a series of singing groups consisting of neighborhood friends including Ritchie Daniels and Stan Lathan, and went through a variety of names including Little Hart and the Everglows and The Veltones (the latter group actually cut a demo of his “Pretty Little Girl In A Yellow Dress” but to this day William does not know what happened to this recording or if it even still exists!)
The acappella singing of William’s early groups is described by him as follows: “It was all natural. We didn’t have any instruments or voice machines, and you really had to know how to sing – it was absolute talent!” They covered the popular songs of acts like the Impressions, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Gladys Knight and The Pips, as well as Burt Bacharach’s Dionne Warwick material (William had/has a particular affinity for Bacharach’s music). Eventually, William got his younger brother Wilbert from the Montereys (yet another group he had named) and after neighbor Randy Cain joined the mix they decided to name themselves, The Orphonics – soon to be changed to The Delfonics.
Apart from his songwriting and singing, William Hart also mentions that listening to music on the radio was a great passion of his at the time and that some of his favorite local DJ’s included WHAT’s “Soul Sound” Sonny Hopson (aka “The Mighty Burner”) and WDAS’s Jimmy Bishop.
The first Delfonics’ recording was released on 45 RPM on the tiny Moon Shot Records in the summer of 1966 – “He Don’t Really Love You” b/w “Without You.” Arranged by a little-known (at the time) producer/pianist named Thom Bell, the record went on to became a local hit (reaching as far as cities like Baltimore and New York). This was followed the following spring by two more sides arranged/produced by Thom Bell, “You’ve Been Untrue” b/w “I Was There,” released on Cameo-Parkway Records. (William Hart had first met Thom Bell through Stan Watson, whom he had become acquainted with at a barbershop in which he was working at the time. Thom Bell was at this point an A&R representative for Cameo-Parkway, of which Moon Shot was a subsidiary label.)
The third release by The Delfonics, on Watson’s Philly Groove Records, was the one that permanently sealed their place in the music history books – “La-La – Means I Love You” b/w “Can’t Get Over Losing You,” once again arranged by Thom Bell. Original 45 RPM stock copies were green in color, and first appeared in the last month of 1967 (subsequent pressings in ensuing months were nationally distributed by Amy-Mala-Bell Record Company after the song hit big). William Hart explains that his hit A-Side composition was an idea that came to him fairly quickly after he heard his young child consistently utter the phrase “la la” – which he interpreted as the boy actually intending to say “I love you.” William realized from the start that this song, which was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios (called Sound Plus Studios at the time) along with the Philadelphia Orchestra, was something very special, and that it presented a sound quite unique for its time.
Riding the success of their initial smash, The Delfonics followed up with hit after hit song including “I’m Sorry,” “Break Your Promise,” “Alfie,” “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love),” “Somebody Loves You,” and of course, the Grammy-winning “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).”
In the early 1970’s, group member Randy Cain’s position in The Delfonics was taken over by Major Harris, who was later instrumental in the forming of the group Blue Magic, and would score a tremendous hit single of his own with the now-classic “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.”
The success and prominence of The Delfonics has continued to this very day. The Delfonics were famously featured in a 2013 episode on TV One’s Unsung series. That year also saw the release of the popular album “Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics” on Wax Poetics Records. William ‘Poogie’ Hart and The Delfonics were featured actors/performers in Harlem’s Paradise in episode nine (“DWYCK”) of the Netflix original series Luke Cage; premiering on Netflix on September 30, 2016.
William ‘Poogie’ Hart and The Delfonics continue to maintain an active performing schedule into 2017 and beyond, including appearances at world-renowned, prestigious venues including The St. George Theatre, NYCB Theatre at Westbury, and The Beacon Theatre, alongside acts including Russell Thompkins Jr. and The New Stylistics, The Chi-Lites, The Isley Brothers, The Manhattans, and many others.
Throughout the years, The Delfonics have been covered and sampled by such a multitude of artists, the list can at times seem like a “who’s who” in R&B/Pop music. That list includes:
In 1969, Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5 recorded “Can You Remember” for their album “Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5”:
In 1970, Michael Jackson and The Jackson 5 recorded “Ready or Not (Here I Come)” for their “Third Album”:
In 1970, The Ruffin Brothers (Jimmy and David) recorded “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” for their album “I Am My Brother’s Keeper”:
In 1972, Aretha Franklin covered “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” on her album “Young, Gifted And Black”:
In 1973, Jackie Jackson (from The Jackson 5) recorded “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” for his self-titled album:
In 1986, New Kids On The Block covered “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” on their self-titled debut album:
In 1992, the popular R&B group Silk recorded “I Gave To You” for their “Lose Control” album:
In 1994, the English group Swing Out Sister recorded “La-La – Means I Love You” for their album “The Living Return”:
In 1994, The Manhattan Transfer (with Laura Nyro) covered “La-La – Means I Love You” for their album Tonin’:
In 1996, The Fugees covered “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love)” by The Delfonics on “Ready or Not” off their album “The Score”:
In 1996, William Hart provided backing vocals for “After the Smoke is Clear” by Ghostface Killah (also feat. Raekwon and RZA) from his debut album “Ironman”:
In 1996, Prince covered “La-La – Means I Love You” on his album “Emancipation”:
In 1997, Missy Elliot sampled the hook of the Delfonics’ “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)” on her hit song “Sock It 2 Me” (feat. Da Brat) from her debut album “Supa Dupa Fly”:
In 2005, Patti LaBelle recorded “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” for her “Classic Moments” album:
In 2012, “Ready or Not” by Bridgit Mendler, the chorus based on the Delfonics’ “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love),” was released as her debut single and on her debut studio album “Hello My Name Is …” The recording was a major hit:
In 2013, “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love)” by The Delfonics was featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto V on their radio station The Lowdown 91.1 FM:
In 2014, a popular TV commercial for Toronto, Canada’s Pan Am/Parapan Am 2015 Games (entitled “Invade”) which prominently featured the main hook of The Delfonics’ “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love),” began airing: