Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Ebonies and Midwest Records (Springfield)

Roy Williams, Arlene Williams, Marvin Jackson


Ebonies' Record Climbs on Local Charts 
by Bill Jones ( Illinois State Journal, April 20, 1971 )

The three stand in front of the microphone singing - maybe a little soul, maybe some popular music, a ballad or standards - they're very versatile.  The two guys and one girl are wearing shiny black outfits that look like leather, but actually are a lightweight synthetic.  Arlene's is a jumpsuit.  Marvin and Roy wear belted shirts and pants.  Both guys have red scarves at their necks.

They're the Ebonies, a Springfield group which has been together for nearly three years.  They had a record, "Ebony Soul Step," a couple years ago which hit number 17 on the local charts.  They currently have a record, "You've Got What I Want," which made it to number 12 on local charts.  And they have another recording in the works, a two-part song entitled, "Who Do You Think," a soul song with a rock sound and a religious message.

The Ebonies are Roy Williams, lead singer (second tenor) and choreographer; Arlene Williams (Mrs. Roy Williams), contralto, co-choreographer and song writer; and Marvin Jackson, lead singer (first tenor), musical arranger and song writer.

The three were born and raised in Springfield and are "proud of it."  All sang in such events as school talent shows while in school here.  Marvin and Roy had been together a few years earlier in the Capitol Teens.  Then Roy was in the Dupree's.  Arlene, meanwhile, had been with the Four Sharps and a Natural.  But three years ago the three broke the tradition of all-male or all-female groups and formed their own ensemble with two guys and a girl.

They perform regularly in Springfield as well as occasionally in St. Louis, Indiana and Chicago.  The Ebonies have performed in various places, including night clubs, high school auditoriums and even at weddings.  Their back up group at these gigs is either the Junior Jive Kings or Cold Sweat, a group out of Alton.  Terry Payne, Cold Sweat guitarist, assists the Ebonies in arranging material.  Both groups are also heard on the recordings.

In addition to the two singles already released, the group has about six "in the can" to be released as singles or put together on a "Best of..." album.  The group runs its recording company, Midwest Records, and a music publishing company, Lincoln Land Publishing.  Both are fully-licensed to be in operation.  Midwest recorded the group on a 4-track system.  The companies are financed by the trio, who put earnings from their gigs as well as from their daytime jobs into the recording firm.  Presently the Ebonies are the exclusive talent on the label, but Roy hopes that someday the company could develop into another "Motown" and have several artists recording under the label.

Roy's and Arlene's day jobs are a far cry from their work with the Ebonies.  Arlene works for the Illinois Department of Registration and Education.  Roy works in the central accounting division of the Illinois Department of Finance.  Marvin has been a state worker, too.  He was employed by the Secretary of State's office prior to the shuffle of employees after the death of Paul Powell.

The Ebonies have found that it takes a lot of time, effort and money to put together a good performance - both in person and on record.  But the price tag isn't too high for this talented group of musicians, who look to the future and see bigger and better things ahead.
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The Ebonies and Midwest Records discography

  • The Ebonies (w/ Mellow Fellows.. Orchestra) - "Ebony Soul Step" / "He Didn't Want To Lose (His Good Thing)", both songs written by R. Williams, 1968

  • The Ebonies - "You Got What I Want" (R. Williams) / "I'm Not Asking For Much" (M. Jackson), 1971

  • Marvin Jackson - "So Nice (Coming Home to You)" (B. Crutcher & M. Thomas) featuring John Crisp on Hammond organ / Jerry Cook - "Sing A Happy Song" (J. Cook), both songs with vocal background by US For the PEOPLE, 1973/74

The first single was likely recorded at Golden Voice Recording Co. in South Pekin, Illinois.  The second single, as indicated in the article, was recorded using a "4-track sytem."  The Marvin Jackson / Jerry Cook single was recorded at the Country Politan Studios (Illini Records) in Springfield.  
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Marvin Jackson 
from a 1995 article by Matthew Dietrich in The State Journal-Register

As a child, Marvin "Sarge" Jackson always knew he was meant for the the stage.  It wasn't until 1956 when, at 13, he knew how he would get there.  That was the year Jackson first heard and saw Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers perform "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."

Like most of his friends who grew up in the John Hays Homes in the 1950s, Jackson spent much of his spare time singing beneath streetlights in the complex's courtyards.  "We'd go from one court to another, singing different songs," Jackson says.  "People would raise their windows and listen and tell you what you needed to do.  That taught us a lot about getting everything just perfect."

But when he saw Lymon and the Teenagers, he saw where doo-wop music was going, and he wanted to go along.  "The other groups, like the Platters, sang really well, but Frankie Lymon had the moves to go with it," Jackson recalls.  "He was the first rock doo-wop."

Jackson put together his own group, The Capital Teens, and tried to capture the energy and precision of the Teenagers.  The Capital Teens refined their act at clubs in Springfield's black entertainment district, at sock hops and on locally produced television shows like "The Pegwill Pete Show" (a sort of local "Howdy Dowdy") and "Teenage Rage."

In segregated Springfield, however, an all-black group could not play in "the levee," the white entertainment district, so Jackson put together an all-white band to back him.  The group, Sarge and the Thunderbirds, attracted attention from Nashville-based Decca Records and headed south to record a series of demos.  The experience did not lead to a hit record, but it taught Jackson some bitter lessons about racial tension.

"In Nashville, I had to stay in a black hotel, and we could only rehearse at night because I couldn't be seen with the white guys," Jackson says.  "But we could play at black and white nightclubs.  I was accepted as an entertainer, but not as a human being."

Nashville's racial atmosphere led to the breakup of that band.  Jackson headed west, eventually landing in the San Francisco area.  There he met an up-and-coming singer named Sylvester Stewart, soon to be better known as Sly Stone.

"I had demos and posters from Nashville, and a drummer friend who knew Sly saw them and thought they looked good," Jackson says.  Stone started booking Jackson's new band and, more importantly, taught him the rules of copyright and music publishing.

When Jackson returned to Springfield a few years later and formed the Ebonies, he also started his own record company, Midwest Records, and publishing unit, Lincoln Land Music.

After a serious car accident driving home from a gig in Quincy during an ice storm in the mid-'70s, Jackson quit traveling and pursued radio work.  Still, music has remained in Jackson's blood, and he is planning a re-release of his songs "So Nice Coming Home To You" and "I've Been Here All the Time" on childhood friend Robert Adams' Brick City Records label.

Music may change, Jackson says, but his early days beneath the streetlights taught him about its purest elements.  "We didn't need prerecorded music and technology," Jackson says, "Our voices were our electricity."
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December 19, 1969

May 18, 1970
June 10, 1969

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