This year, the world famous R&B group, The Manhattans will mark their 55th in the business. For lead singer Gerald Alston, it’s his 47th year as the group’s lead singer.
Alston, is closest to being the only member of the original melodious Manhattans who is still alive. But his voice is just as sweet as the day he started and he has remained humble through the years.
To mark this mammoth milestone, The Manhattans featuring Gerald Alston will embark on a celebratory tour as well as record a commemorative single which will also pay tribute to the memories of former lead singer, Blue Lovett and other deceased members.
For Alston it will be a walk down his Jamaican memory lane when headlines the Original Startime show on Saturday July 8, at the National Arena.
In a recent telephone interview from his New Jersey home, Alston spoke candidly about his career, his children and his plans for the future.
Alston had his early beginnings in the church. His family’s denominational roots are in the Methodist church and he is still a member in Jersey City where he now resides. The telephone call from a popular gospel group – the Soul Stirrers who lists Sam Cooke and Johnny Taylor as former members – came the very day after he had already accepted the offer to join The Manhattans.
“I have sung gospel tunes with The Manhattans and I have a gospel CD titled ‘True Gospel’, featuring Regina Bell and my son among others,” said the Henderson, North Carolina native who was surrounded by gospel music in his youth. His dad died in April but the music genes were passed down through the elder Alston who also sang, an uncle and his aunt Shirley Alston, lead singer of the ‘60s female group The Shirelles.
“Music has allowed me to tour the world, from African countries to countries in Asia as well as many islands in the Caribbean,” Alston said.
It has been an amazing journey and Alston’s dulcet tones have become synonymous with the signature sound of the popular group.
Many of the world’s well known singers have collaborated to sing duets and like them Alston has done some, but says he would have loved to team up for duets with Aretha Franklyn or Gladys Knight. It’s still not too late.
“I came close in 2005 when the American Music Masters honoured Sam Cooke and I was right next to Aretha when we sang in tribute to him,” said Alston.
With the passage of time, technology is now adding to the other creative advances in today’s music industry. But Alston remains unimpressed by a lot of it, and thankful that some great songs are slowly returning.
The Manhattans (l to r) Troy May, David Harvey and Gerald Alston
“That’s why 55 years on young people still love our music. We sang about life – we also sang about making love, but not as graphic as they do today. Many of the old songs might not have been chart toppers, but people are still singing them today because of their meaningful lyrics and sweet melodies,” Alston reflected.
Among Alston’s current list of female singers, he likes the sound and work of Jasmine Sutherland and Chrisette Michele whom he says, “can really sing.”
John Legend and Johnny Gill are two of his favourite male singers – the latter he says, “still brings it.” His favourite vocal group is New Edition because they, “took the same path we took, their music is good, they are versatile and their life is a lot like ours.”
With all it’s challenges and for all the time spent on the road, Alston has no regrets, having not pursued another career path.
“I have enjoyed my musical career but if I were not singing, I would have been a cardiologist. In another sense, the songs I sing deal with matters of the heart,” Alston said.
Part of their 55th anniversary project will be a CD – should the right material come along, but The Manhattans will definitely be doing a commemorative video single in tribute to Blue Lovett and the other deceased singers.
Many musical stars have fallen by the wayside as a result of drugs, bad investments or simply believing all the hype which surrounds their celebrity. Not Gerald Alston.
Asked what has kept him grounded, he says without missing a beat – “My wife, my family and the guys in the group have kept me focused.”
He adds, “We all wanted to make it and doing drugs and alcohol would not place us in a position to function effectively. To this day, all my neighbours know me;
I go to the same supermarket they do, I don’t have an attitude, I am myself, wash my car and live normally. They see me as Gerald because I don’t see myself as a star,” Alston said.
It’s not all music for Alston, he is a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and every year he takes a group of students on a week-long bus tour to colleges in the USA. This year from April 19 to 21, some 29 students went to North Carolina to look at college options.
“We make it less expensive for the parents by providing food, hotel and transportation for them to explore historically black colleges, make their applications and get the opportunity to attend. It has been very successful so far,” he said of the programme that helps scores of black students get into colleges annually.
Married for 35 years, his wife was a member of the Teddy Bear Dancers who performed for the late Teddy Pendergrass. Alston credits the longevity of their marriage to the fact that having been in show business, she understands the music industry and how to deal with it. Plus two of their three sons also sing.
When he finally drops his microphone, Alston wants to tour the world for vacations with his wife, with no pressures for performing at nights.
“I want to return to the place in Europe where according to history, Mary lived after Jesus was crucified. We visited it once and it was a most enlightening and emotional experience for us, my wife cried,” he said.
For the July 8 show, Jamaican fans can expect to hear many of their favourites from The Manhattans from the ‘70s to the ‘80s and beyond. No stranger to our shores, Alston says, “I love the positive energy from my Jamaican fans, you give me your all and it is wonderful.
Among the numbers, he is sure to include is his late dad’s favourite – “There’s No Me Without You.”
Fans can expect to also hear some of Alston’s greatest solo hits including Slow Motion, Take Me Where You Want To, plus the greatest hits he led with the Manhattans such as Kiss and Say Goodbye, Shining Star, I Kinda Miss You, I Just Want To Be The One In Your Life, We Never Dance To A Love Song, Hurt, Here Comes The Hurt, Don’t Take Your Love From Me, Forever By Your Side, and It Feels So Good To Be Loved So Bad and others if time permits.
The Jamaica Tourist Board is endorsing this Startime concert, and pulling out all the stops, with an extensive promotional campaign designed especially for the US cities of New York, Atlanta, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami – inviting Jamaicans and Caribbean nationals living in these cities, and American lovers of The Manhattans to plan their vacation or a weekend trip around this must-see concert in historic Kingston city, and have the Startime of your life !!!
The Manhattans for Startime concert is also supported by The Jamaica Observer, Kool 97FM, Audi, Christar Villas Hotel, General Paintings Ltd., Colbeck Ginger Wine, Sangster’s Rum Cream, Pure National Ice, Singer, Irie FM, Independence Park Ltd. (operators of the National Stadium, National Arens, National Indoor Sports Arena, and the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium), Chung’s Catering Service, True Tone, Shields & Shields, Mello FM, Devon Bourne’s Rubis, Ellco Jamaica Ltd., A & E Ambulance Service, Interlinc Communications, Touchstoneticketing.com, Kingston Hireage, Securipro, and Knutsford Express who will provide shuttle service for Startime and Manhattans fans from all across Jamaica.