The Chi-Lites: Uptown Soul That Mattered

Meet the vocal group that influenced nearly every aspect of R&B

Cornerstones of the Chicago doo-wop scene, stewards of the lush "Uptown Soul" of the '60s, '70s crossover artists, and also a self-contained unit who were politically and socially aware, the Chi-Lites managed to embody almost all of R&B history in their 40-year career. Yet most folks think of them as two-hit wonders thanks to the ballads "Oh Girl" and "Have You Seen Her."

Formed:1963 (Chicago, IL)

Styles: Chicago soul, Uptown soul70s R&BFunk, Disco, Doo-wop

The Chi-Lites Best-Known Songs

  • "Oh Girl"
  • "Have You Seen Her"
  • "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People"
  • "Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)" 
  • "A Letter to Myself"
  • "Stoned Out of My Mind"
  • "Homely Girl" 
  • "The Coldest Days of My Life"

Where You Might Have Heard Them 

"(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People" was featured in an episode of HBO's "The Wire," while Tony Soprano tears up while singing along to "Oh Girl" in a Season 4 episode of "The Sopranos " It's a horn section on one of their R&B hits that's gotten the most traction, however: the opening riff of "Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)" was sampled for Beyonce and Jay-Z's massive hit "Crazy In Love"

Claims to Fame

  • One of the biggest and longest-lasting '70s R&B bands
  • Recorded for nearly 40 years, and made the charts on and off for 30 of them
  • Their sense of style was a major inspiration for hip-hop artists
  • A Chicago soul band who could pass for Philly or Memphis soul
  • Lead singer Eugene Record was a rare instance of a songwriter/producer in a vocal group
  • Balanced fierce social activism with sweet romantic ballads

The Classic Chi-Lites Lineup

Eugene Record (born Eugene Booker Record, December 23, 1940, Chicago IL; died July 22, 2005, Chicago, IL): vocals (first tenor)
Robert "Squirrel" Lester (born August 16, 1942, McComb, MS; died January 21, 2010, Chicago, IL): vocals (second tenor)
Marshall Thompson (born Marshall Donald Thompson, August 24, 1942, Chicago, IL): vocals (baritone)
Red Jones (born Creadel Jones, September 26, 1940, St.

Louis, MO; died August 25, 1994, Glendale, CA): vocals (bass)

History

Early years

Like any number of '70s soul groups, the Chi-Lites started out as a doo-wop group -- actually two, the Chanteurs, who recorded in a Drifters-style vein, and the Desideros, who had more of a New Orleans soul sound. Though both were quite popular on the Chicago scene, often facing each other in stage battles, neither was very stable or able to make much noise outside the city. The strongest elements of each joined in 1963 to form Marshall and the Hi-Lites. Two years later, having failed on the Daran, Dakar, Revue and Blue Rock labels, the group, now dubbed the Chi-Lites as a tribute to their home town, signed with Brunswick, which had just been bought out by Nat Tarnopol, manager of their old friend Jackie Wilson.

Success

By that time, lead singer Eugene Record had been in the business long enough to learn the ins and outs of both writing and production, and he set out to find the perfect hit single for his group. Working with singer Barbara Acklin of "Love Makes a Woman" fame, he came up with the ballad "Have You Seen Her," which had lots in common with the popular "Philly Soul" sound, and it was a smash, followed the next year by Record's own "Oh Girl." Though they never made the pop charts in a big way again, these two successes virtually guaranteed them a place on the R&B charts, where they ruled for the next few years by alternating between love ballads and uptempo, socially aware numbers, also penned by Record.

Later years

Brunswick ran into trouble with the IRS by mid-decade, however, which exacerbated some tensions already within the group: Jones had already gone, and Record was soon to follow, urged on by Warner Bros., who wanted to make him a solo star. The group replaced them both, but when no hits were forthcoming, they regrouped in 1980, now recording for an indie called Chi-Sound, and still managed to have some chart success; Jones soon retired, however, and Record eventually became a born-again Christian, starting a new career in gospel. Jones reportedly died homeless in California, while Record lost a battle with liver cancer in 2005. Thompson, the only remaining living member, now leads a revamped version of the group.