Weldon A. McDougal III, singer, musical producer, dies at 74

October 29, 2010

Posted:  10/29/2010 3:13 AM

morrisj@phillynews.com 215-854-5573

WELDON MCDOUGAL was a teenager when he and other boys who had formed a soul singing group decided to try out their music in an aunt’s back yard.

It was a Sunday afternoon and the aunt and a group of church ladies were having tea. The boys sang “Work With Me,” a song on the R&B charts that some stations had refused to air because of its raunchy lyrics.

“We couldn’t have picked a worse number if we tried,” McDougal told Bob Bosco, local writer and music historian, in an interview. “Everyone gave us polite applause, but my aunt was looking for a place to hide.

“Hey, what did we know? We were just kids and never thought this through.”

Weldon A. McDougal III went on from that embarrassment to become an important influence in the soul-music scene, locally and nationally, as a performer, producer, promoter and consultant.

He died Oct. 21 of pancreatic cancer. He was 74 and lived in Lansdowne.

Weldon also was credited with introducing the world to the Jackson 5 back in the days when Michael Jackson was just a cute kid with a big Afro.

Weldon was working as an advance man for Motown Records when he met the Jackson 5 in a nightclub in Chicago where they won a talent contest.

His job for Motown was to move along the careers of Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops and others. But he took the Jacksons under his wing. He persuaded Berry Gordy Jr., founder of Motown, to record the boys – and the rest is musical history.

Weldon began singing at West Philadelphia High School, where he and other teens formed a group called the Larks. His career was interrupted by a stint in the Marines. Because of his singing talent, he was assigned to the USO.

After his discharge, he and the other singers caught the ear of local record owner Jerry Ross, who later had his own Sheryl label.

One of their earlier numbers, “It’s Unbelievable,” made the charts, and can still be heard on certain FM music stations. It was promoted by local DJs Jocko Henderson, Kae Williams and Jerry Blavat.

The Larks sang at local venues, including the Uptown Theater, where they performed with better-known groups like the Blue Notes, the Cruisers, the Cherokees, Herb Johnson, and Carl and the Commanders.

For a time, Weldon became Dick Clark’s gatekeeper when “American Bandstand” was broadcast from 46th and Market streets.

“You didn’t stand a chance of admittance if you, God forbid, didn’t have a tie and a jacket, or if your skirt was too short,” Bosco wrote.

Meanwhile, the Larks were doing well. Their song “There Is a Girl” earned them a week at Harlem’s famed Apollo, where they opened for Shep & the Limelites, Moms Mabley, the Flamingos and other better-known performers.

“We got $300 for a week shuffling through five shows a day,” Weldon told Bosco. “And they charged us for food so we had to live careful or come home broke.”

The Larks continued to make records and perform. Nothing caught on until they made “Fabulous Cars and Diamond Rings” for Guyden Records in 1964. It made all the local charts and some national ones.

“Nothing at the time sounded quite like it,” Bosco wrote.

Weldon, with partners Johnny Styles and Luther Randolph, formed Harthon Records, recording sides by the Volcanoes and Twillites, from Chester, and the Tiffany and Cooperettes girls’ groups.

He discovered Barbara Mason, Philadelphia-born soul singer whose hits included “Yes, I’m Ready.” Weldon produced her songs and occasionally sang behind her.

He is survived by a son, Weldon A. McDougal IV; three brothers, Bruce, Butch and Melvin, and two grandchildren.

Services: Private memorial service Nov. 9 at the Cleft Club.


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