When I first encountered the legend of the Magnificent Men, it was like something out of a movie. According to the story, this group of white kids from Harrisburg and York, PA were booked to play at the famous Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, a prime stop on what was called the “chitlin’ circuit” back in the day. Since the venue generally booked African-American artists, and given the sound of the band on record and radio, the audience had every expectation that they were there to see a band that was, well, black. When the curtain rose, revealing the band, I imagine a hush fell over the crowd, just as it did in the Buddy Holly Story. The legend goes on to say that the band earned seven encores that night.
The legendary Philadelphia DJ Georgie Woods of WDAS booked the Magnificent Men on the strength of their hit single, “Peace of Mind”. To say that the appearance was a triumph is something of an understatement. It was the band’s first appearance at a “chitlin’ circuit” venue, but certainly not their last. In 1966 they became the first white act to headline at the Apollo Theater in New York City. In 1967 they even got to back James Brown at the esteemed venue as he filled in for an absent headliner. Despite the last minute nature of the arrangement, the Godfather was floored by the band’s dexterity. The next year they became the only outside group to play on a stage with the Motortown Revue at a show in Cleveland.
“Peace of Mind” comes from the the Magnificent Men’s self-titled debut album, which was released in 1965 by Capitol Records. The band is perhaps even more well-known for their album The Magnificent Men Live, which was recorded at the Uptown Theater, and released by Capitol in 1967. That album, one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard, included the band’s “Sweet Soul Medley,” which became a radio staple for a number of years.
The Magnificent Men released their final album, this time on Mercury Records, in 1970. After losing several members, they disbanded for good in 1973. A reunion concert took place in 1983, and a November, 2007 show in Harrisburg was filmed for a documentary called This Magnificent Moment that is nearing completion. For more information on the film, visit The Magificent Men.