The O’Jays offer advice on longevity!

Eric Grant (l) and Eddie Levert say optimum health and living right are key to staying on top of the game.

Eric Grant (l) and Eddie Levert say optimum health and living right are key to staying on top of the game.

The year was 1997. Father and son Gerald and Eddie Levert took to the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival’s main stage at Pigeon Point in  designer jeans and light cotton shirts, before a crowd whose appreciation couldn’t have been more obvious.

The duo didn’t really need stage lights. Their wide smiles were bright enough to light up a small island. Eddie Levert got things going with  some of the O’Jays more familiar beloved fare,  his son stepping in to compliment his vocals.

For his own part Gerald’s more recent hits sounded like vintage old school music, even back in the day. But what really brought many in the audience to tears were the father and son duets ‘I’ve Got Your Back’ and the remake of Bette Midler’s ‘Wind Beneath My Wings.’  The pair was also joined on stage by Eddie’s youngest son, Sean Levert.

Afterward I spoke with Gerald and Eddie. They both agreed their time together onstage was absolutely magical. Gerald enthused about great it was to be sharing the stage with a man  he had always loved, respected and admired.

His father spoke of a dream realized after they had recorded the ‘Father and Son’ album.

“We just want to come back next year,” Gerald said. “We love it here, the people are wonderful—and the food is good too!”

He let out that booming laugh for which he is well known and grabbed the stomach that had earned him the nickname “Beddy bear.”

In 2001 I met Gerald Levert at a concert in New York and he was still singing the praises of the Saint Lucia Jazz Festival, the Saint Lucians he had met and, of course, the food.

He laughed: “Tell them to bring me back next year man!” But I knew he wasn’t kidding. In 2004 Gerald Levert did return to his home away from home for the Jazz Festival, this time as a solo performer. Onstage he delivered several of the hits that had made him and Levert stars, among them ‘Baby I’m Ready’ and the club classic ‘Casanova.’ He also serenaded the ladies on his own ‘Baby Hold On To Me.’

But two years later it seemed his fans had nothing to hold on to save for their fond memories of his past stage performances and old hit records.

On 10 November 2006 the popular R&B singer passed away at age 40, reportedly the victim of heart attack. Two years later, on March 30 when he was just 39, his brother Sean Levert, who had been part of the singing group Levert, also died—in prison. He had been doing time for non-payment of child support. Said to be then suffering from high blood pressure, Sean had served just five days of his 22 months sentence.

This year, on Sunday May 12, the Levert patriarch was back in Saint Lucia again, to do what he was best known for at the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival main stage, this time with his group the O’Jays. Formed in 1958, the group proved through their performance that age can truly be nothing but a number.

Now 71, Eddie, with Walter Williams and Eric Grant, moved about onstage with the same style, grace and precision that in the 70s and 80s had made them trendsetters of the soul era.  ‘Backstabbers’, ‘I Love Music’ and ‘For the Love of Money’ never sounded better. Their harmonies were to die for. Then, as Eddie came to lead the group into ‘Love Train,’ he paused to reminisce about the last time he was in Saint Lucia with his sons Gerald and Sean.

Afterward I asked Eddie how it had felt onstage without his sons. “Just watching the people and their reaction brought back those memories,” he said, his head bowed. Then, recalling the good times together in Saint Lucia, Eddie smiled broadly.

Had the deaths in the family changed his attitude to life? I mentioned the unnerving fact that more and more our people were dying from such diseases as diabetes and cancer.

“We as men and as human beings,” he said, “we got to stop being so selfish and worrying only about ourselves. When you have diabetes, when you have a sickness like that, it affects not only you. It also affects the people who love you. And so, if you want to protect them and stay with them, you need to go to your doctor for that regular check-up.” He pointed to group member Eric. “It’s like, you know, this guy here, he stays on me constantly to make sure I stay healthy. Same thing with this guy,” he said pointing to Walter Williams. “You know, we would not be able to do what we do if we did not stay in good health. Men especially need to stop being so selfish. Think about the people that care about you. Go to the doctor and get that check-up. You know what I am saying?”

Eddie Levert also spoke about their longevity in the business, which he attributed to their unique voices and sounds and staying on top of their game. “And like I said, we would not be able to do what we do for so long if we did not stay on top of our health and try to live right!”  It seemed the finest of notes on which to end!


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