New Birth also known as The New Birth is an American funk and R&B group. It was originally conceived in Detroit, Michigan by former Motown songwriter/producer, Vernon Bullock and co-founded in Louisville, Kentucky by him with former singer and Motown songwriter/producer Harvey Fuqua and musicians, Tony Churchill, James Baker, Austin Lander, Robert “Lurch” Jackson, Leroy Taylor, Charlie Hearndon and Nathaniel “Nebs” Neblett.
The history of the group began with the instrumental outfit, The Nite-Liters, which was originally formed in 1963 in Louisville, Kentucky by Tony Churchill and Harvey Fuqua. In its heyday, besides Churchill on tenor sax and vibes, the band featured Charlie Hearndon on guitar, James Baker on keyboards, Robin Russell on drums, Robert “Lurch” Jackson on trumpet, Austin Lander on baritone sax, Leroy Taylor on bass, and, later, Carl McDaniel on guitar. Earlier members included Johnny Graham, later of Earth, Wind & Fire and Jerry Bell also a member at one time.
Under this name, the group had a few hits before the formation of New Birth proper, including “K-Jee” (#17 R&B, #39 pop,1971). In 1969, Vernon Bullock had thought of creating an ensemble of groups for a touring company and Harvey Fuqua and Tony Churchill soon took an interest. After discovering a male vocal group, The Now Sound, which featured Bobby Downs, Ron Coleman, Gary Young and an individual known as “Slim,” and also a female vocal group, known as Mint Julep, which featured Londee Loren, Tanita Gaines, Janice Carter and Pam Swent, they brought them together with The Nite-Liters plus additional vocalist, Alan Frye, calling the newly formed ensemble, New Birth. The band came together in 1970 with their self-titled debut on RCA. Their second album, Ain’t No Big Thing, But It’s Growing, yielded a minor hit with their cover of Perry Como’s “It’s Impossible”, in 1971.
Later that year, Bullock discovered a group from Detroit, Michigan called Love, Peace & Happiness, which featured former Marvelettes singer Ann Bogan and brothers Leslie and Melvin Wilson. Finding that they had the spark that was missing from the New Birth ensemble, he paired them with the Nite-Liters and original members of New Birth, Londee Loren, Bobby Downs and Alan Frye.
In 1972, the reorganized group (as a 17-piece ensemble) reached the Billboard R&B top 10 (#4 R&B, #35 pop) with their cover of Bobby Womack and The Valentinos’ “I Can Understand It”, which paved the way for the band’s future success. By the time the song hit the stores, however, Ann had left to devote time to her family, leaving Londee Loren as the only female member. When Harvey reportedly could not get the performance he wanted out of Londee on their next hit, “Until It’s Time for You to Go”, it featured, instead of the group members, future Supremes member Susaye Greene as lead vocalist, with Harvey and Carolyn Willis of Honey Cone doing the spoken intro. However, Londee more than met the challenge in live performances and her voice matured on future releases.
In 1974, the group issued their album, It’s Been a Long Time, which featured hits including the title track (#9 R&B) and their cover of the Skylark song “Wildflower”. After the release of their sixth RCA album, Comin’ From All Ends, the group split from RCA, Fuqua and their management company and signed with Buddah.
New Birth’s Buddah debut, Blind Baby, featured the group’s only number-one R&B single, a cover of the Jerry Butler classic, “Dream Merchant”. By this time, the Nite-Liters had so merged with the New Birth. that the instrumental cut that opened the album was solely credited to New Birth. A move to Warner produced several minor hits and the release of the 1977 album, Behold The Mighty Army, the Wilson brothers left following disagreements in the group.
The group including Baker, Churchill and Lander returned on Ariola in 1979 with Jerry Bell as their lead vocalist on Platinum City and in 1982 with the I’m Back album. Leslie Wilson had left the group to replace Jeffrey Osborne in L.T.D. whilst Jerry Bell departed in 1981 to become lead vocalist for Motown’s Dazz Band.
The Wilsons toured with a new ensemble as New Birth in 1994, and released a few albums under the new name in the decade since. Drummer Robin Russell released a solo CD entitled Drum Beats in 2004.
Since the group’s initial split, their songs have been covered by the likes of Jamie Foxx, who sampled their cover of “Wildflower” for his 2005 hit, “Unpredictable”. R&B group Somethin’ for the People sampled their “It’s Been a Long Time” for their 1997 hit “My Love Is the Shhh!” Rap artist Lil’ Wayne sampled “You Don’t Have to Be Alone” from their self-titled album in his song “La La”, And again Jerry Bell’s remake of “Its Been A Long Time.” “You Are What I’m All About” was sampled for Junior Mafia’s “Player’s Anthem” and possibly for Britney Spears’ “Sippin’ On”.
New Birth, particularly lead vocalist Leslie Wilson was a chief influence on Soul artist Reggie Sears and Temptations lead singer Ali “Ollie” Woodson.
James Baker died in 1993, Leroy Taylor died on January 17, 2012 and producer Vernon Bullock died March 18, 2015 at the age of 70 years.