The Chi-Lites were an American soul group from Chicago, formed in 1959. After a string of 1965–68 singles on Blue Rock and Revue, the group released eight albums on Brunswick between 1969 and 1975.
Members: Marshall Thompson (baritone vocals, lead vocals), Robert Lester (tenor vocals, 1959-2010), Eugene Record (lead vocals, 1959-76, 1980-88), Clarence Johnson (vocals, 1959-73, 1974-76), Credal “Red” Jones (bass vocals, 1959-73, 1980-83), Stanley Anderson (bass vocals, 1973-75), Willie Kensey (bass vocals, 1975), Doc Roberson (bass vocals, 1975-76), David “Tony Diamond” Scott (tenor vocals, 1976-78), Danny Johnson (lead vocals, tenor vocals, 1976-78), Aaron Floyd (bass vocals, 1976-77), Anthony Watson (lead vocals, 1979-80, 1988-91), Charles Rogers (bass vocals, 1983-88)
The Chi-Lites had their roots in The Chanteurs, a doo-wop quintet formed in 1958 Chicago by Englewood High alumnus Eugene Record (1940–2005) and four students from nearby Hyde Park High: Robert “Squirrel” Lester, Clarence Johnson, Burt Bowen, and Eddie Reed, winners of the school’s “Senior Varieties” talent show. Before they entered the studio, Bowen cleared way for singer Sollie McElroy, an early member of doo-wopsters The Flamingos.
In 1961, The Chanteurs released their first single, “Wishin’ Well” (b/w “New Rockin’ Baby“), on local small-press La Salle. The group is listed with an extra “u” (Chaunteurs), backed by trumpeter King Kolax & his Band. Both songs are credited to producer Leo Austell, who later managed singer Betty Everett.
The second Chanteurs single, the Spectorian ballad “You’ve Got a Great Love” (b/w the Isley-style raveup “The Grizzly Bear”), appeared on Vee Jay in 1963. The two sides are respectively credited to Record and Johnson. Reed (deceased) and McElroy (departed) were replaced by singers Marshall Thompson and Creadel “Red” Jones, both formerly of The Desideros.
In 1964, the group renamed itself The Hi-Lites and issued two singles on Daran Records: the doo-wop ballad “One By One” (b/w the rhythmic “You Did That to Me”) and the perky Temptations-influenced “I’m So Jealous” (b/w “The Mix Mix Song”). All except “You Did” were written by Record. Upon learning of another group called The Hi-Lites, they modified their name to Chi-Lites, thereby honoring their home city.
The group moved to soul-press Blue Rock for their first two singles as The Chi-Lites: the buzz/vibe ballad “Never No More” (b/w the Motown-flavored “She’s Mine”) and “Ain’t You Glad (Winter’s Over)” (b/w “The Monkey”). The first of those was arranged by Marshall’s cousin, producer Terry Thompson.
They were billed as Marshall & The Chi-Lites for the 1966 Daran single “Pretty Girl” (b/w “Love Bandit”) and the 1967 Drakar release “Price of Love” (b/w “Baby It’s Time“). Marshall arranged the first of those, adding sax, marimba, and booming drums to Record’s “Pretty Girl” and lending a brassy, rhythmic wallop to Jones’ Stax-inspired “Love Bandit.” The Drakar single was arranged by John Richardson, who also handled late ’60s recordings by The Emotions, Warm Excursion, and Paulette Parker (aka Maxayn Lewis).
Johnson left the group for a career in production. His earliest credits include the first two singles by Deniece Chandler (aka Deniece Williams) and female soul trio The Lovelites. During the 1970s, he produced albums for Brighter Side of Darkness, Bobby Hutton, The Imaginations, Heaven and Earth, and Starvue.
The Chi-Lites issued a pair of 1967/68 singles on soul-press Revue: “Love Me” (b/w “Love Is Gone” and “(Um, Um) My Baby Loves Me” (b/w “That’s My Baby for You“). All were collaborations between between Record and writer/producer Carl Davis, except for “Love Me,” a co-write with producer Gerald Sims. Several sides, namely “Love Is” and “(Um, Um),” feature delicate string-and-horn arrangements with sparse beats, mallets, and contrasting vocal registers — hallmarks of what would become the signature Chi-Lites sound.
Through Davis, the group secured a contract with Brunswick Records. Their first release for the label, “Give It Away” (b/w “What Do I Wish For”), broke them into the R&B charts (#10, March 1969). The b-side, with its shivery strings and off-center verses, shows a slight psychedelic influence. Both songs feature on their debut album, Give It Away, released in 1969 on Brunswick (North America) and MCA (UK).
- Give It Away (1969)
- I Like Your Lovin’ (Do You Like Mine?) (1970)
- (For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People (1971)
- A Lonely Man (1972)
- A Letter to Myself (1973)
- Chi-Lites (1973)
- Toby (1974)
- Half a Love (1975)
- Happy Being Lonely (1976)
- The Fantastic Chi-Lites (1977)
- Heavenly Body (1980)
- Love Your Way Through (1981)
- Me and You (1981)
- Bottom’s Up (1983)
- Steppin’ Out (1984)
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