O'Kelly Isley

A longtime member of the Isley Brothers, singer/songwriter O'Kelly Isley performed with his influential family group for close to four decades, a period spanning not only two generations of siblings but also massive cultural shifts that heralded their music's transformation from gritty R&B to Motown soul to blistering funk. Born in Cincinnati, OH, on Christmas Day 1937, as a teen O'Kelly joined siblings Rudolph, Ronald, and Vernon to form the earliest incarnation of the group; after Vernon's 1955 death in a bicycling accident, Ronald was tapped as the remaining trio's lead vocalist. Early singles stiffed, but "Shout" -- their 1959 debut for RCA -- sold a million copies, despite failing to crack the Top 40. Only after the Isleys left RCA for the Wand label did they again have another hit, this time with their seminal 1962 cover of the Top Notes' "Twist and Shout." After recording for their own T-Neck label, they signed to the Motown subsidiary Tamla in 1965, joining forces with the famed Holland-Dozier-Holland writing and production team. The Isleys' first single, the shimmering "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)," was their finest moment yet and barely missed the pop Top Ten; still, the group felt straitjacketed by the Motown assembly line production formula and in 1969, they exited Tamla to resuscitate the T-Bone label. Their next release, the muscular and funky "It's Your Thing," hit number two on the U.S. charts in 1969 and became their most successful record. In 1973, the Isleys scored a massive hit with their rock-funk fusion cover of their own earlier single "Who's That Lady," retitled "That Lady (Part I)." The album 3 + 3 also proved highly successful, as did 1975's The Heat Is On, which spawned the smash "Fight the Power (Part I)." As the decade wore on, the group again altered their sound to fit into the booming disco market; while their success on pop radio ran dry, they frequently topped the R&B charts with singles like 1977's "The Pride," 1978's "Take Me to the Next Phase (Part 1)," 1979's "I Wanna Be With You (Part 1)," and 1980's "Don't Say Goodnight." O'Kelly Isley died of a heart attack on March 31, 1986, although the Isley Brothers continued on in his absence.
Jason Ankeny, Rovi