Life often throws up sad coincidences and no sadder than the deaths in the space of a little over a week of two members of veteran soul vocal group, the Manhattans. US news agencies have reported that SONNY BIVINS died in New Jersey on December 3rd, while BLUE LOVETT died on December 10th.
Edward Jesse Bivens was born in Macon, Georgia in 1936 but was brought up in New Jersey where, after military service, he founded a vocal group with school friends George “Smitty” Smith, Kenny “Wally”- Kelley, Richard “Ricky” Taylor and Winfred “Blue” Lovett who was born in 1940. Under the name ‘The Manhattans they won the famed Apollo Talent night in 1964 and were signed to Carnival Records where their biggest successes numbered ‘For the Very First Time’ (in 1964), ‘I Wanna Be (Your Everything)’ (in 1965), ‘Searchin’ For My Baby’ (in 1965) and ‘Follow Your Heart’ (also in 1965).
In late 1970, George Smith left the group after an accident and he was replaced by Gerald Alston, brother of the Shirelles’ Shirley Alston-Reeves. After a short stint on DeLuxe, the Manhattans were signed to Columbia where they enjoyed their biggest successes – most notably with the Bivins written ‘There’s No Me Without You’,’ Don’t Take Your Love’ and ‘Hurt’ (1975).
The group’s signature hit though was a song written by “Blue” Lovett called ‘Kiss And Say Goodbye’. The song reached number 1 on the R&B chart and crossed over to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Four years later they enjoyed another huge pop hit with ‘Shining Star’. Their biggest Columbia successes were helmed by Philly veteran, Bobby Martin and between them Bobby and the Manhattans created an instantly identifiable lush, smooth, harmonic soul sound complete with monologue.
Alston quit the group in 1988 and they signed to Valley Vue Records but the hits were hard to come by. In those leaner times Bivins kept the group name alive and until recently there were two touring version; – one that included Bivins and another that included “Blue” Lovett and a returned Gerald Alston. Ron Tyson’s brother, David, was also a member.
The Bivins group recorded the album ‘The Manhattans Now’ in 1994 and released a single in 2013 – ‘Just For Tonite’. The Lovett/Alston group issued an album called ‘Even Now’ in 2002 which featured a cameo appearance from Billy Preston. In 2008 the album was reissued as ‘Men Cry Too’ named for the popular Al Johnson ballad that was featured on the set.
Bivins and Lovett were both inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame and received the R&B Pioneer Award in 2000 along with fellow member Kenneth Kelley.
Few details of the deaths of Sonny Bivens and Blue Lovett are available. Bivens was aged 78 and his “Going Home” service takes place on Monday December 15, @ the Mount Olive Baptist Church, East Orange, New Jersey. Lovett was aged 74 and it’s known that he had been ill for some time.