They are the crème de la crème of R&B, one of the greatest singing groups of all time with their smooth pitch-perfect ballads and rhythmic, upbeat dance grooves. For over five decades, The Whispers have produced a mind-boggling string of hits–(Olivia) Lost and Turned Out, I’m Gonna Make You My Wife, It’s a Love Thing, All the Way (Let’s Go), Living Together (In Sin), Just Gets Better with Time, Lady, In the Raw, In the Mood, Keep On Loving Me, And the Beat Goes On, Say Yes, Rock Steady; the list seems endless. They have had 33 Top 40 hits, and 20 Billboard charted albums.
The Whispers began their legendary career in 1964 when they first got together at Jordan High School in Watts, California. The original members consisted of identical twins Walter and Wallace “Scotty” Scott, Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutson, and Gordy Harmon. They perfected their flawless harmonies on the street corners of Watts and at nightclubs in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay area. In 1973, Gordy Harmon left the group due to an injured larynx and was replaced by Leaveil Degree, who had previously sung with the R&B group Friends of Distinction.
The Whispers are also one of the leading smooth soul balladeer singing groups of their generation, accumulating one gold album after another. The performers were the first artists signed to Soul Train Records (founded by the TV show’s creator and host Don Cornelius and entrepreneur Dick Griffey), and then later, the label evolved into Solar Records. The Whispers have been sampled over 130 times, and their music featured in over 600 musical compilations.
The performer’s first platinum album The Whispers (1979) featured the memorable and heart-tugging A Song for Donny. The recording is a tribute to singer Donny Hathaway, who strongly influenced the balladeers’ vocal stylings. The album also featured the head-bobbing classic and the group’s most successful single, And the Beat Goes On produced by Leon Sylvers III. The Just Gets Better with Time album that also went platinum included the hot dance tune, Rock Steady.
The year was 1987 when Rock Steady, a collaboration with Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, shot to the top of the pop, soul, and dance charts. Many of us will never forget The Rock, a dance craze where we swayed our hips from side-to-side while jamming to the epic groove.
Despite achieving incredible and successful career longevity, The Whispers were not without their fair share of heartbreaks. Marcus left the group in 1989 due to prostate cancer, then passed away in 2000. Nicholas, who wrote many of the group’s songs, including the classic Lady, died of congestive heart failure in 2016. The remaining bandmates have vowed never to replace the deceased members.
The present-day iconic trio of Walter, Scotty, and Leaveil continue to tour; however, COVID-19 has temporarily put the brakes on their schedule. However, they look forward to picking up the pace in 2021.
With so many chart-toppers, it is hard to believe The Whispers have never won a Grammy Award. They have been nominated twice for And the Beat Goes On and Rock Steady but received nothing to place on their mantels.
In July, The Whispers released their new song How Long. The timely cut reflects what is going on in today’s climate of systemic racial bias and the groundswell surrounding it. How Long’s lyrics breaks it down:
It’s time for change
How long will we argue?
How long will we fight?
When will we have the unity
To change the wrong to right?
The Whispers are a formidable R&B force that has amassed a longtime loyal and global fan base throughout the decades. The group also has a new crop of younger devotees who love and appreciate the pure and non-genre bending sounds of R&B at its finest. As Walter so aptly puts it, “We don’t have as many fans as Beyoncé, but I guarantee you, the fans we do have are every bit as loyal.”
All of The Whispers are married family men. Both twins reside in Los Angeles. Walter has two sons and three grandkids. Scotty has two daughters, and one of them, Tyler Scott, was instrumental in producing the trio’s latest video How Long. Leaveil has two children and resides in Las Vegas.
50BOLD had the pleasure and honor to chat with Walter about the group’s musical journey that has taken them from the projects in Watts, to superstar status with a worldwide fan base.
50BOLD: Walter, you and Scotty have been singing together for over 50 years, who is older? And who got drafted?
Walter: I’m the oldest by 2 minutes. I got drafted. You know, twins cannot be drafted; only one can go into service. I was the unlucky one! I went to Vietnam. Scotty got out of going. My mother always said it was best I got drafted because I could deal with the military; Scotty couldn’t have done it.
50BOLD: As a sidebar since you mentioned Vietnam, did you see Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods on Netflix?
Walter: Yes, I did see the film and related to it very much. I was in Vietnam in 1966. I got there in December of ‘65 and came back in January of ’67. I’m very familiar with Vietnam, but my experience was kind of different. What I remember most about Vietnam is that we were fighting each other while trying to fight the Viet Cong.
50BOLD: Interesting, can you explain what you mean?
Walter: I was in the central highlands of Vietnam; the enlisted men came from all over the country. We ran into people from the Appalachians who really thought Black people didn’t bathe!
50BOLD: Was culture shock experienced by everyone?
Walter: Yes, I’m from Los Angeles, so you can imagine! There were guys from Chicago, St. Louis, and we’d run into guys from West Virginia. We came across people who had a false impression of Blacks. And you know what? These people weren’t even biased; they were ignorant. They genuinely didn’t know anything about us or about how we lived.
50BOLD: I am amazed by what you’ve stated!
Walter: Isn’t it amazing? Getting to know us as Black people was an education for those white folks. My experience with the white troops was similar to what we are trying to do now. We are trying to tell white people, ‘We aren’t really like that. This is how we really are.’ Once those white guys were exposed to the real us, we all became pretty close.
50BOLD: Are you serious? I think you have a movie idea! Walter, you’ve had so many hits, do you ever get tired of singing the same songs over and over again? And is there a Whispers song you dislike?
Walter: You know what, we never get tired of performing. When you are in front of an audience, everything seems genuine, so real. The fans really do show us how they feel about our music. When we sing songs like And the Beat Goes On or Rock Steady, then suddenly, you hear a roar of approval from the crowd, there’s nothing like it.
50BOLD: Do you have a favorite song?
Walter: My favorite Whispers recording is A Song for Donny. Donny Hathaway greatly inspired my brother and me. We got to see him perform years ago before he committed suicide. We’d never heard a voice like Donny’s. He really didn’t need a microphone. The emotion that came through his voice was incredible, and we never forgot it.
Scotty will always tell you his favorite Whispers recording is And the Beat Goes On because it was our biggest hit.
50BOLD: Walter, you have traveled all over the world. Do you have a favorite place?
Walter: Yeah, Japan is amazing. The Japanese culture is so different from ours. When we first performed in Japan, the audience was so quiet. We’d be singing and saying to ourselves, ‘Do they like us or what?’ But as soon as we finished performing, we’d hear an uproar that was just incredible.
50BOLD: So, the Japanese kept their appreciation for your music until the end?
Walter: The Japanese people are not openly emotional. We’ve been to Japan several times. But there’s no place like New York, of course. We’ve performed in New York City many, many times, and the energy that comes from that place is like nothing we’ve ever experienced. New York is also one of my favorite places.
50BOLD: The Whispers have collaborated with producers Babyface and Leon Sylvers III. You’ve also worked with artists like Gerald Albright and Phil Perry; are there any other producers/artists you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Walter: I would love to collaborate with John Legend. And there are a few rappers I’d like to work with. We have attempted to work with a few, and what we run into is that they want to produce us. They want us to be like them, and this does not work.
50BOLD: Walter, do you have any regrets regarding your long musical career?
Walter: Yeah, I have one regret. I wish I would have gotten a little more education. We began singing very early at age 19. And even though I attended college, I didn’t receive a degree. I tell young people all the time, the older you get, the more you realize that education is everything. The more you know, the more you can be included, and the more you can make a conclusive decision.
50BOLD: I’m old school, so I just love the back-in-the-day singing groups with their fancy choreography. Did Nick come up with the choreography for The Whispers?
Walter: Yes, Nick came up with the choreography for the group. We lost Nick four years ago. The Whispers, The Temptations, The Dramatics, The Chi-Lites, when we performed during that time we were so well-dressed, well-rehearsed, and our choreography was so well put together. And this is what we still do; we are definitely old school.
50BOLD: Who does the choreography for the group now?
Walter: We haven’t recorded a lot of new stuff. So, what you see as far as choreography is what we have been doing for the last 35 years, nothing has changed. Nick is no longer with us but his influence is always present.
50BOLD: Marcus left the group in 1992 because he was battling prostate cancer and then passed in 2000. Nick passed in 2016 of congestive heart failure. How fractured did you feel after these departures? Did you question whether to pack it all in or not after the deaths?
Walter: No, but dealing with the deaths was very tough, very emotional. We concluded that Marcus would have wanted us to go on. We thought about replacing Marcus but decided not to do so. We needed to go on with just the rest of the group members.
When Nick died, we asked ourselves whether he would have wanted us to fold or continue doing what we love. Nick would have wanted us to keep singing. So, Nick and Marcus were not replaced. My brother, Leaveil, and I are still performing.
50BOLD: There seems to be a lot of beef between performers currently, especially within hip-hop. Back-in-the-day, did you ever have beef with any other popular R&B groups?
Walter: There was no beef and only friendly competition among the groups. The rappers today are a bit more intense. When we were opening for The Temptations or doing a concert with The Dramatics, we wanted our performance to speak for itself. And believe me, we all noticed each other. After the show was over, we’d all leave together. Yeah, we definitely competed, and actually, still do, to be honest with you.
50BOLD: Walter, so many yesteryear performers got caught up with drugs, drinking, and other vices, but you’ve stated in other interviews that your group did not indulge. You attribute your group’s longevity to rest. True?
Walter: I firmly believe this is why we are still here. Never drank, never smoked, never did drugs, and if you see us perform today, vocally, we can still hit our keys the same way we did back in the 60s. Drugs and drinking are common in our industry.
Today, we still tour with groups; some of them are using. Drugs and drinking can have such adverse effects, and it’s a pitiful sight to see. Here’s the thing, if you can’t perform at a proficient level, then admit you’ve had a great run and get out. If I get to the point where I can no longer perform, you don’t have to worry about seeing me again.
Walter: (laughs) You know what I am saying?
50BOLD: I get it, and yes! The current pandemic has certainly impacted The Whispers and really, all performers. Before COVID-19, how often did you perform?
Walter: Oh, we performed about eight months out of the year before the pandemic.
50BOLD: Oh, wow! So, as far as your next performance, is it up in the air?
Walter: To be honest with you, I don’t think we will perform again this year at all. The pandemic, however, is what brought about the idea for our new song, How Long.
50BOLD: Yes, How Long has a message.
Walter: We thought we wanted to create something new. But you know our style, The Whispers, we sing message-oriented songs. All that is going on right now allowed us to create How Long and just at the right time. We are very excited about the new song. It asks the question: How long?
50BOLD: Yes, I listened to the cut and really liked it. The song was actually created in 1983 but was tweaked a bit.
Walter: Yes, How Long was written in 1983 by our bass player Magic Mendez. He was getting ready to shoot a video and release it himself. He sent it to us and asked what we thought about him recording the song? When we heard the song, we said, “Man, we have to do this song.” This is what we are all about. Magic, who lives in Atlanta, agreed that we should record the song. Magic and his producer/partner were brave to get on a plane during this pandemic and come to Los Angeles. We recorded the cut in my brother’s garage. When I sang my part, I took my mask off. When I got through singing, I put the mask back on.
50BOLD: Oh my God, the times we are living in now!
Walter: Yes! We think the song means so much. We like what the song is saying. It is all about strong lyrics that deal with the times of now.
50BOLD: How long did it take you to record the song?
Walter: We started recording the song in late May; it took us a couple of months. Normally, when we record, it takes a long time, but this recording was completed quickly.
50BOLD: Wonderful! I know How Long will do well. Walter, out of all the beautiful songs you’ve recorded, which would best describe your life’s soundtrack?
Walter: There’s a song called The Whispers Love You Too that was written by Nick. I remember, he came to us and said, ‘Guys, we need to write a song that lets our audience know how we feel about them.’ The song describes how we feel about our long career and our loyal audience, who has been in our corner.
50BOLD: I have a Godbrother Artie Simpson who is in his late 60s, he has followed you since 1969. He has seen The Whispers perform at least 20 times from California to Virginia, Delaware, Atlantic City, and New York City. He is quite the superfan and definitely a Whispers’ ambassador. My editor in chief has a 21-year-old son, Brent Logan, who is just crazy about The Whispers as well. The love for your group certainly runs the gamut age-wise.
Walter: Yes, we are so blessed, and I am touched to hear this. Our fans are loyal, and there is no question about it.
50BOLD: Walter, can you share a Whispers’ memory that just cracks you up whenever it comes to mind?
Walter: Yep, I do have one. We were performing in Chicago. This was years ago. We were on stage, and we closed our shows by doing splits.
Now keep in mind, Nicholas was a big guy, 6’ 1”. We went into this move where we’re all doing splits. Somehow, Nick’s big feet got caught on part of the curtain, and he brought it down. The audience saw five bodies under a curtain trying to get out, and they thought it was deliberate. (laughs) They laughed like it was a comedy show. We got up from underneath the curtain, dusted ourselves off, and took our bows like we always did. We received the biggest applause ever that night.
50BOLD: Hilarious, what a great story! What kind of music do you listen to when you’re just chilling?
Walter: Believe it or not, I like a lot of jazz. My father was a big jazz fan. My dad came up in the era of Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Ahmad Jamal, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan. When we were younger, we migrated to R&B, but my dad really didn’t like that genre of music. Of course, we wound up making our living in R&B. When I came up, The Temptations were the keystone group.
50BOLD: It seems you’ve experienced so much. What’s left to accomplish in your career since retirement is not in your vocabulary right now?
Walter: No, the only thing that we’ve attempted to do career-wise fell off the cliff because we had no record company. We’ve always wanted to create a production company to work with younger people to create a new kind of Whispers. We’d love to accomplish this task.
50BOLD: A next-gen kind of Whispers, would really work!
Walter: I’d love to put together a group of young guys to teach them our standard of R&B.
50BOLD: What an excellent idea. Is this an idea that is currently on the table?
Walter: It might happen; it’s my thing.
50BOLD: Yes, I would love to see your idea all come together. You’ve worked with your brother Scotty for over 50 years; you also recorded an album together, To My Brother’s Keeper. Granted, you’re siblings, but what has kept your professional relationship going for so many years?
Walter: Oh yes, we are very close. The only time Scotty and I separated was when I got drafted into the Army. We are twins! Twins are not going to remain too far away from one another.
50BOLD: So true! I have twin boys.
Walter: I don’t know if your twins are like this, but Scotty and I can have a conversation and never speak a word. We just know each other so well.
50BOLD: You guys are identical. My sons are fraternal.
Walter: Are they very close?
50BOLD: When they were younger, they had disagreements, but are much closer now as young adults. They are fraternal, so you wouldn’t even know they are twins. They don’t even look like brothers.
Walter: Oh, is that right?
50BOLD: Yes! I know The Whispers received a Grammy nomination for Rock Steady; Babyface produced the track. Yet, after all these years, the group has not received a Grammy Award, does this bother you?
Walter: Not having received a Grammy does bother me a little bit. We were also nominated for, And the Beat Goes On.
50BOLD: When I found out The Whispers had never received a Grammy Award, I couldn’t believe it.
Walter: Yes, we’ve been nominated for a Grammy twice, but never received one. I wish we could have received a Grammy, but I’m not destroyed by the fact that we have not.
50BOLD: Well, it’s never too late, there might be a Grammy down the line for The Whispers.
Walter: Yes, it still might happen, who knows.
50BOLD: Walter, what puts a smile on your face these days?
Walter: We have had a remarkable career. We started out in the Watts projects and never dreamed music would take us all over the world where we’ve met so many different people. I’m still here. I’ve got my health. I have a beautiful family. As a group, we are blessed and feel so incredibly fortunate to still be able to perform even after 54 years!
50BOLD: You recorded a gospel album, Thankful in 2009; what made you go that route?
Walter: We’ve always wanted to record a gospel album, but our record company at the time was about making money. Before we produced Thankful, we tried to record a gospel album for at least ten years because the label kept putting it off.
Solar Records then disbanded, so we never got a chance to work on the project. While in Chicago, we met Pam Blackman, who was working with a small record label. We were able to put out Thankful through Pam’s company. Scotty and I lost our mother in 1999, and we were thankful for her. She would always ask us, ‘When are you going to do a gospel album?’ So, when we finally recorded the gospel album, it just made our day.
50BOLD: What a beautiful story! Now, as far as your next concert, when will it take place?
Walter: I think sometime in 2021. If it happens in January, I will be surprised. I think we will not appear on stage again until probably the middle of next year, and I hope I’m wrong. People, myself included, are just paranoid about being in crowds. I’m going to be honest with you. I’m not eager about going somewhere where the air quality is not right. This pandemic is going to take a while to die down.
50BOLD: I believe you were supposed to do a few shows this fall and in January with Stephanie Mills.
Walter: Yes, the shows were postponed for the same time next year.
50BOLD: No! Really?
Walter: I don’t think anything concert-wise is going to happen for the rest of 2020. If it does, I will be the happiest man on earth!
50BOLD: How would The Whispers like to be remembered?
Walter: I want the group to be remembered as a unit that had consistency. We are thankful for the people who have followed us throughout the years. I want our fans to know how we feel about them. We don’t have as many fans as Beyoncé, but I guarantee you, the ones we do have are every bit as loyal. We’ve been in the entertainment business for a long time. You can’t have longevity in this business without loyal fans. The fact that we have been performing for so long and still have the support of our fans means so much.
50BOLD: What would you like to tell our 50BOLD audience of 50-plus folks?
Walter: Thank you so much for being in our corner! I look forward to hopefully seeing your audience at a few of our upcoming shows. We really appreciate the support they’ve given us throughout the years!