Van Allen Clinton McCoy (January 6, 1940 – July 6, 1979) professionally known as
was an American musician, record producer, arranger, songwriter, singer and orchestra conductor. He is known best for his 1975 internationally successful song
. He has approximately 700 song copyrights to his credit, and is also noted for producing songs for such recording artists as Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Stylistics, Aretha Franklin, Brenda & the Tabulations, David Ruffin, Peaches & Herb and Stacy Lattisaw.
Van McCoy was born in Washington, D.C., the second child of Norman S. McCoy, Sr. and Lillian Ray. He learned to play piano at a young age and sang with the Metropolitan Baptist Church choir as a youngster.
By the age of 12, he had begun writing his own songs, in addition to performing in local amateur shows alongside his older brother, Norman Jr. The two brothers formed a doo-wop combo named the Starlighters with two friends while in Roosevelt High School. In 1956 they recorded a single entitled, “The Birdland”, a novelty dance record. It gained some interest, resulting in a tour with drummer Vi Burnsides. In 1959 the Starlighters produced three singles for End Records that included “I Cried”. Marriage and other commitments eventually caused the group to disband during the mid-1950s. Van also sang with a group called the Marylanders.
During 1961, McCoy met Kendra Spotswood (a.k.a. Sandi Sheldon) who lived near his family. For the next five years, they sang and recorded music together professionally. Their relationship ended when McCoy delayed their wedding plans, because of a work contract he had signed with Columbia Records.
McCoy entered Howard University to study psychology during September 1958, but dropped out after two years to relocate to Philadelphia, where he formed his own recording company, Rockin’ Records, releasing his first single, “Hey Mr. DJ”, during 1959. This single gained the attention of Scepter Records owner Florence Greenberg, who hired McCoy as a staff writer and A&R representative for the label. As a writer there, McCoy composed his first success, “Stop the Music”, for the popular female vocal group, the Shirelles during 1962. He was co-owner of Vando Records with Philly D.J, Jocko Henderson. He owned Share label and co-owned the Maxx label during the mid-1960s, supervising such artists as Gladys Knight & The Pips, Chris Bartley and The Ad Libs.
He really came into his own after first working for top producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller as a writer and then signing with the major April-Blackwood music publishing concern, connected with Columbia Records. McCoy went on to write a string of hits as the 1960s progressed. He penned “Giving Up” for Gladys Knight & the Pips (later a hit for Donny Hathaway), “The Sweetest Thing This Side of Heaven” for Chris Bartley, “When You’re Young and in Love” for Ruby & the Romantics, “Right on the Tip of My Tongue” for Brenda & the Tabulations, “Baby I’m Yours” for Barbara Lewis, “Getting Mighty Crowded” for Betty Everett, “Abracadabra” for Erma Franklin, “You’re Gonna Make Me Love You” for Sandi Sheldon and “I Get the Sweetest Feeling” for Jackie Wilson. He also put together the hit-making duo of Peaches & Herb, arranging and co-producing their first hit, “Let’s Fall in Love”, for the Columbia subsidiary, Date in 1966. The same year, McCoy recorded a solo LP for Columbia titled Night Time Is a Lonely Time, and, a year later, started his own short-lived label, Vando, as well as his own production company VMP (
Van wrote or produced most consistently for The Presidents (“5-10-15-20 (25 Years of Love)”), The Choice Four (“The Finger Pointers”, “Come Down to Earth”), Faith, Hope & Charity (“To Each His Own” and “So Much Love”) and David Ruffin (“Walk Away from Love”). His song “Giving Up” was a 1969 hit for The Ad Libs. In the early 1970s, McCoy began a long, acclaimed collaboration with songwriter/ producer, Charles Kipps, and arranged several hits for the soul group The Stylistics as well as releasing his own solo LP on the Buddha label, Soul Improvisations, in 1972. The album included a minor hit, “Let Me Down Easy”, but it was not a success following poor promotion. He formed his own orchestra, Soul City Symphony and, with singers Faith, Hope and Charity, produced several albums and gave many performances.