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The 5th Dimension      

Soul Vocal Harmony Group

The three men Billy Davis, Jr., Ron Townson and Lamonte McLemore grew up together in St. Louis, Missouri, each going in separate directions in their teens; all ended up in Los Angeles with hopes of making the big time. Billy, in several gospel and soul groups, studied at Washington Tech. He opened his own nightclub, eventually ending up in Los Angeles, hoping to sign with Motowns West Coast recording company. Lamonte went into professional baseball as well as photography only to discover his love for singing while in the Navy. Ron sang opera from an early age. He graduated from Lincoln University, and left for Los Angeles with aspirations in singing. Lamonte McLemore met beauty contestant winner Marilyn McCoo while photographing her during the Miss Bronze Talent Award. Marilyn was born in New Jersey and grew up in Los Angeles. She always had a desire to go into the entertainment business, but her parents wanted her to finish school. She graduated from UCLA and accepted Lamontes offer to join the group he was forming. With Billy experienced in gospel and rhythm and blues, Ron opera and Lamonte jazz, Marilyn jazz and pop, they needed another female member to complete their well-rounded vocal sound.

While photographing Florence LaRue, the winner of the Miss Bronze Talent Award the year after Marilyn won, McLemore decided to ask her to join the group he was forming. At first she didnt accept the offer because she had graduated from Cal State University in Los Angeles and had just started teaching. Both she and Marilyn joined the group initially as a hobby, with McCoo wanting a solo singing career and LaRue still dreaming of a career in acting.

In 1965, the quintet, with their varied vocal backgrounds, named their group The Versatiles. They put together a demo tape and sent Lamonte to Detroit to see Berry Gordy at Motown Records. Gordy listened to the demo tape and was impressed with their sound but didnt hear chart hits with the songs. He asked McLemore to return with more songs for him to hear. Lamonte returned home and the group continued to sing at local L.A. clubs. Their future manager, Marc Gordon, would soon help change their lives. He was a director of West Coast Operations at Motown Records. Gordon was in the process of leaving Motown when he heard The Versatiles and offered to manage them. They recorded Youre Good Enough For Me / Bye Bye Baby, both co-written by Marc Gordon on the Bronco label. It wasnt until ordon introduced the group to Johnny Rivers, who was starting Soul City Records, that something exciting was about to happen in music.

With the popularity of Webbs composition, Up Up and Away, the group eagerly agreed to team up with him on their second LP, The Magic Garden, later retitled, The Worst That Could Happen. Jimmy Webb wrote all but one song on that album. Webb was going through a tough period in his personal life and his girlfriend at the time, Susan, was the inspiration for these songs. It was almost like a storybook as one song was beautifully connected to the next. Although none of these songs topped the charts, it is considered to be one of the finest of all their albums. Paper Cup (1967) and Carpet Man (1968) both entered the Top 40. They were lucky to have been connected with so many talented songwriters. Their third album was written in part by the late Laura Nyro. Billy said their first meeting with Nyro was at a hotel where they were all staying. Her room was right above theirs and they could hear her singing. The group called her up and they got together.

It was actually Bones Howe, their producer, who heard a hit with Lauras song Stoned Soul Picnic. Howe said, After The Magic Garden we were looking for a piece of material that would reflect what the group was. I came across a song on a demo tape that David Geffen had taken to RCA, a song written by Laura Nyro called Stoned Soul Picnic. I told David that I wanted to cut it with the group, but he said we couldnt because Nyro was going to cut it on her album. But if they didnt release it as a single, he said its fair game. So the album came out, and the company chose Elis Coming as the single. I had a test pressing of the album and rushed it to the group and said, This is gonna be your first million-selling single. They loved the song, and we went in and did the record in three days. And of course, it was their first million-selling single. It was in May 1968 when Stoned Soul Picnic was released and entered the Top 10, arriving at #3 on Billboard and remaining on the Top 40 for 12 weeks. Howe said, They are an incomparable combination of talent, energy, and personal warmth. Its a genuine pleasure to work with them.

Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In remained in the #1 spot on Billboard for 6 straight weeks and remained on the Top 40 for 16 weeks. Both the single and album Age Of Aquarius went Gold and received two Grammy Awards for Record Of The Year and Best Contemporary Vocal By A Group. They were also nominated for Album Of The Year. The song was also nominated for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist. The song eventually sold over three million copies, making it the biggest selling single that year. The original song was over 7 minutes long and it was Bill Drake of a Los Angeles radio station who suggested the song needed to be shortened to about 3 minutes; so Howe released 2 versions, one just over 3 minutes and one under 3 minutes.

In 1991, The Original 5th Dimension received a Star on Hollywoods Walk Of Fame which is located at the famed Roosevelt Hotel across from Manns Chinese Theater.

In the early 90s, The 5th Dimension needed a male member and that was when Greg Walker was asked to join the pop quintet. Greg was once the lead singer of the famed group, Santana, and also had a solo career and released a solo CD in 1991 titled, Love You So Good. He was featured lead on Santana albums, Amigos, Inner Secrets, Moonflower, Beyond Appearances, Cal Jam 2, Blues For Salvador and Viva Santana. He toured with Joan Baez and has also done lead vocals for musicians and recording artists such as Herbie Hancock, Kenny G, Jeff Lorber, Rodney Franklin, and Keiko Matsui. Greg earned a Bachelors Degree in Liberal Arts.The 5th Dimension released a CD in 1995 In The House, on Dick Clarks label, Click Records. It features Say (U Love Me) which LaRue co-wrote. It also includes two popular songs from the past, Puppet Man and Stoned Soul Picnic done in the newer 5th style. The members of the group are also doing solo projects but will always perform regularly with the group. The 5th Dimension (pictured below left to right) are Lamonte McLemore, Florence LaRue, Greg Walker, Phyllis Battle and Ron Townson. Willie Williams joined The 5th Dimension in 1998 replacing Ron Townson. The Original 5th Dimension did occasional reunion concerts through the 90s but decided toward the end of the decade to call it quits. The 5th Dimension, however, continue to perform with symphonies, on luxury cruises and all over the world to satisfy their many fans. Their career seems to always be Up Up and Away!

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FLORENCE LARUE & THE 5TH DIMENSION TAKE STONEHAM ...

Stoneham Theatre is taking audiences up, up, and away with Florence LaRue & The 5th Dimension this weekend for four perfomances only, January 10-12, 2.

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