When we think of real music, the kind that naturally makes our head nod and stays on our mind for hours, we think of the supreme iconic group known as, The Whispers. The R&B group is synonymous with greatness. Created back in 1963 out of Watts, California, they have literally built a reputation on being a star-studded group of stellar performers for over five decades and they are still going strong. They are truly timeless and have the kind of influence that shows that they have the unyielding love and respect of their fans near and far. It is no surprise that their music touches people from all over the world.
The fierce foundation that The Whispers solidified so many years ago, came down to the tight and loving bonds they formed together. Although some of the original members have passed on, the positive vibes that the group emanates are as strong as ever. To shed some history on these remarkable men, twin brothers Walter and Wallace Scott joined with their friends Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutson, and Gordy Harmon to form a power-packed performance ready group. Eight years after forming, Gordy Harmon decided to leave the group and was replaced by the awesome, Leaveil Degree. The amazing Marcus Hutson left the group in 1992 due to health complications and passed away eight years later. Nicholas passed away in 2016 and although his loving energy continues to inspire the group in all they do, he is terribly missed.
With so many wonderful hit songs over the years, The Whispers have continued to be at the forefront of memorable music. Their biggest hit single to date “And The Beat Goes On,” was pure magic. It was from their most successful selling album, “The Whispers” that went double platinum. Other hit singles like, “Lady,” “A Song For Donny,” and “Rock Steady,” continue to be favorites at their concerts all over the world. Everything they do is electrifying and their songs have magnificence written all over them.
Their most recent single, “How Long,” is certainly beautiful, but more than that…it asks a powerful and relevant question about the troubled times we have been living in. Walter, Wallace and Leaveil have all seen and experienced many things in their lifetimes. Racial tensions were heightened when they were growing up and they still are now. When is the change going to come? How long must Black people in America experience hatred and discrimination? These are the questions that their timely song addresses.
I had the opportunity to have a powerful conversation with the legendary group. They gave an incredible amount of wisdom and insight into their history, the power of human nature and how the world around us influences the way we think about ourselves and each other.
Let me start with this question, which is really for each of you. When did you know, mind, body and spirit, that you loved to sing, loved to perform? When did it hit you?
Walter: With me and Scotty being twins, we knew at an early age. My father loved music, loved jazz. Very early, he pushed Scotty and I into being celebrities. My dad would brag on us until he made people walk out of the room (laugh). He would tell everybody how great we were. So, I would say around the age of four.
Leaveil: I probably knew as young as grammar school. Originally my father wanted me to be a saxophone player. He loved jazz and blues. I always leaned more toward the singing aspect. So, I sang all the way through my schooling whenever they had a Glee club. What solidified my desire to sing was when I went to a concert and saw a group called, The Delfonics perform. So, once I saw them, I told myself, if I ever get a chance to do this for the rest of my life, this is all I want to do.
Scotty: Walter stole my thunder (laugh) but yes, my dad liked jazz and bebop. That was the direction he initially wanted us to go in. He was the one who started it and once he did, we never looked back.
I want to get right into the brand-new music you recently released. “How Long” is a powerfully relevant song and it asks an equally powerful question. Tell us about the inspiration to write the song, the images in the video and why you believe it’s striking a chord and touching the hearts of people around the world.
Walter: “How Long” is kind of like a song that was out before you were born, called, “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong.” It’s interesting thinking about this, but back in the sixties, we had the Watts Riots, and that’s where we’re from, Watts, California. The same kind of thing that happened in the sixties is happening today. You asked the question, “How Long?” Now, forty years later and the question you asked is still poignant. How long are we going to have to continue to put up with the mistreatment? When we first heard the lyrics to the song, which is written by David “Magic” Mendez…in which he wrote back in 1983 dealing with the Russian Missile Crisis, we knew it was important. He redid the song and now he asks the question about how long this is going to have to happen with Black people being stopped by the police and being treated badly. When we heard this song, we stopped everything we were doing. We were in the process of coming out with a new song because we haven’t had a song in about fourteen years. We were in the process of doing what we thought was our standard style, which is writing a good mid-tempo song, saluting the ladies and the females in our society because that’s what we’ve always been about. But like everyone else, we were watching T.V. and we happened to see this guy leaning on this man by this police officer. We stopped everything. We had to release the song, “How Long.” It deals with what we need to be talking about today.
Leaveil, what do you think is going to have to happen to bring about change?
The first thing that has to be implemented to bring about change is to get this lunatic out of office. Our world and our planet has not been in this much turmoil ever. I’m seventy-two years old and I’ve seen a lot of presidents come and go, but I have never seen this much turmoil and unrest amongst our people. So much craziness is going on. So, first, we have to get rid of Trump and then we can get somewhere. Once we get rid of him, we have to have someone like Joe Biden to unify us. Bringing it back to what it’s used to be. The prejudice has always been there, but Donald Trump has brought this out even more. But now for the first time, the moles have come out of hiding. We have to put them back in the hole. Our world is not built off of this kind of destruction. After that happens, we need to put a handle on the police. Before the cell phone, you could only verbally tell them what happened, now that’s changed somewhat. But even with cell phones, the police still deny what happened. Hopefully once the police are policed themselves, we might be able to get back to some normalcy.
Scotty: First of all, what you said at the top of the question about us not having a lot of unity, hit the nail right on the head Desirae. It would help us as a people if we were more unified. Some of us get it and some of us don’t. It starts by treating people the way you want to be treated. Leaveil is saying that things will get back to normal, but normal for us is the same normal that occurred twenty – thirty years ago and things are still happening. My daddy used to say, “Are you gonna believe your lying eyes or are you gonna believe me?” We all saw George Floyd get his life snuffed out in front of us. So, the song “How Long” deals with how long we have to deal with this crap. You said it best when you said let’s start by sticking together. We have to go and vote. The only way we can get him out is to vote. You can’t get him out after the election is over. (laugh) That’s like fixing a roof while it’s raining, you fix the roof before the rain comes. That’s what we have to do as black people.
Walter: I just want to congratulate you Desirae as a young person for pushing people to vote. I saw something the other day with Lebron James—about needing the people in the hood to understand the process more. We can talk about Trump all day and nothing will help until we get to the root of it all. Some young people don’t think things affect their life. He said that people need to learn how this country operates. Young people need to understand why they should vote. If you vote, certain laws get passed. I want young people to know they matter, their vote matters.
I want to shoutout Mrs. Triché for her Roz’s Happy Hour show and having you all on a few weeks ago. She also put me in touch with Mrs. Ballard to orchestrate this interview. Much gratitude to both ladies. On the show you brought up Japan, I used to live there for seven amazing years and loved it. I remember one of you mentioning the time you were there and how even though some of them could not speak English, they still could sing the words to your songs. Do you think cultures outside of the United States understand the depth of the message in your new song “How Long”?
Walter: I hope that they do. But what I remember so beautifully about Japan is that when we came back to the United States, I felt so humbled. Japan is a country that makes me realize how greedy the United States is. The Japanese appreciate what they have. I remember how clean they are, how they keep their streets, their vehicles, even their cabs…they have white crocheted sheets in their cabs. To top it off the hotel that we stayed in was great. The people that came in to clean our room would bow. I felt so humbled. I told them not to bow to me no more, I’m just like you. (laugh) They come with a humility that we just don’t see in this country. They would sit there during our show, quiet as a mouse. We wouldn’t hear anything, but when the song finishes the applause would be through the roof. It’s just a different culture. If we could be a little more like them that would be great. And look at what’s happening with this virus, they don’t have nearly as many people with the virus that we have, and we’re supposed to be the smartest county in the world. They are a people who appreciate what they have and know how to take care of it.
Through all your years on tour and performing all over the world, you are bound to have a multitude of stories in your mental database. Is there one particular experience while you’ve been on tour or even on stage that stands out to you the most, maybe something touching or even funny that one of you can share?
Walter: Something that’s crazy would definitely be in this country (laugh). There’s a story that happened to us back in the day in Nashville, Tennessee. We checked into this hotel and we saw these guys with rifles on the roof like they were policing the place. I told the guys in the group that this might not be the right spot for us. We didn’t know at the time, but there had been a young black boy killed there. We went on and decided to stay there anyway. We went and did our show at the club and then we came back to the motel. On the way back, two of our guys met two young ladies, they were both white. Big mistake. Everybody was in their room, we had four or five of us in one particular room taking care of business, we had collected our money and we were talking. Then all of a sudden, we heard this big knock on the door…opened it up and there were these men with all these shotguns and rifles. They explained to us that two of our gentlemen brough two girls back to this motel and if we aren’t out of this motel in the next half hour everybody will be shot. Our manager, Dick Griffey went crazy, he was from Nashville. He went so crazy that two of our guys had to wrestle him down to the ground (laugh) and then they said if we don’t shut him up, everybody dies. We got out of there. One of the guys working at the hotel said they knew somebody who would help us, and that man was Johnny Cash. He allowed us to come there to his home that night. The next morning, we got out of there like a track race was going on. (laugh). This happened back in the late 60’s and in all actuality, not much has changed.
I know you all are used to touring and performing for large crowds, but with Covid-19 factoring into things, it has put a damper on live performances for musicians. What can your fans look forward to from the group in 2021?
Walter: We plan to get out there. We miss our fans. We are not able to mingle and be around people, so we can’t wait. We are doing a digital concert on pay per view on October 31st. It will be on all platforms. Nothing beats being on stage though. We are anxious as all get out to be around the crowd. Our audience makes us who we are.
Leaveil: Well, I hear from a lot of people on Facebook and Instagram and they are like please get back to it. They miss us. There’s something about being up close and personal with the crowd, the energy and all. I think people are freaking tired of being locked up and like Walter said, our fans are a Godsend. They make us who we are today. Without them, there would be no Whispers. They are loyal whether we have a hit record or not. They follow us from city to city and they appreciate us, and we appreciate them. I feel blessed to have them in my life.
Scotty: I want to add to what Leaveil was saying about how loyal our fans are. When we are on the road, we work 7 to 8 months out of the year. I would get home and complain a little bit and my wife would remind me that I should be glad that anyone wants to see me. Doesn’t matter where or when and I agree. The fact that we’ve been singing 54 years and come January 1st it will be 55 years, is a blessing. For us to be here this long and still doing it, there’s only two reasons…the man upstairs and our fans. We just can’t thank them enough.
So, we all know that music has a strong pull on our emotions. I mean, one song can take us down memory lane, some songs can even bring us to tears. How are each of you personally moved by music?
Walter: Music makes the world go around. We’ve been to Japan, Africa, all over Europe and the most amazing thing to me about music is even when you can’t speak the language of the country, you can still sing the song. When I first heard a Japanese person sing “Rock Steady”, it was amazing. Music brings us together. We are the most blessed guys. Back in the day at Jordan Down projects, as teenagers we’d have that broom out there and that was our makeshift microphone. And Desirae, what we dreamed about then, actually came true. Here we are.
Leaveil: I have always had a love for music, but when I became a Whisper, seeing how our music affected other people was when I really got a true understanding of our impact. People would come up to us and tell us how our music helped them get through a tough time and how it gave them a sense of peace. We had an inspirational album that we did, and I was coming out of a show one time. There was this lady who walked up to me and said that one day she was getting ready to have an operation and when she was being driven to the hospital, one of our songs came on the radio and she knew everything would be alright. I was humbled. It is a true blessing to know that your music has affected people in a positive way.
Scotty: I saw early on what music could actually do. Climbing the ladder is almost more fun than getting to the top of the ladder. What I found out climbing the ladder is sometimes it was tough. Back in 1979/80, we did a record called, “And The Beat Goes On.” That was when my life basically changed. Even though we were being paid for what we were doing, I would have paid them. (laugh) I remember when I was really young and I would think to myself, when I make a little money, I want to hurry up and get it before they wake up! (laugh) That was me being young and not knowing, but in 1980 when “And The Beat Goes On” hit, it changed our life. From 1980 to 1987, everything The Whispers touched was either gold or platinum. That’s when I realized how powerful and strong music could be. I can’t tell you how many times people would come up to me and tell me how our music has touched them.
Desirae L. Benson is a journalist, content editor, publicist and entertainment media host, residing on the west coast. She hosts her own show featuring four different segments with celebrities, musicians, and people of prominence. To find out more, visit her page on Facebook and Instagram, by using @DesiraeBBB or the hashtags: #DesiraeBBB • #DesiraeLBensonPR #MovedByTheMusic •#AdayInTheLifeOfDesirae• For media inquiries, Email:DesiraeBBB@gmail.com
Featured Image by Tyler Scotty