It’s a short week. You’re probably thinking that it’s Wednesday right now, but in fact it’s Thursday, and that means the beginning of year three for Soul Serenade. If your week has been anything like mine, you’re trying to cram five days worth of stuff into four. So I’m going to keep this short, and we can all move on to more pressing concerns.
When I left you last week, we were in Philadelphia. So let’s save some time and stay right there. Philly is such a cool city that it’s always worth an extended stay. And what better way to begin year three here then with Philly’s own Three Degrees. See what I did there?
The Three Degrees got together in Philadelphia in 1963. To say that there have been a lot of personnel changes in the trio is something of an understatement. To date there have been 15 members of the group. Fayette Pinkney was a founding member, and she was still around when the Three Degrees hit the big time, along with Sheila Ferguson and Valerie Holiday, in the early ’70s.
Along with the change in members, the Three Degrees recorded for several record labels, including Swan, Warner Brothers, and Roulette, before their breakthrough. That occurred when they signed with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International in 1973. The group’s very first record for the label was recorded with the studio band MFSB. It was a little something called “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” and if you’ve ever watched Soul Train (if you haven’t, I’m curious about what brought you here today), you’re familiar with it.
It was the third single that was the charm for the Three Degrees. “When Will I See You Again” is a Gamble/Huff song that was released in 1974 and hit #2 on the US chart. The record also topped the UK chart for two weeks, the first time that had been done by an all female group since the Supremes accomplished it ten years earlier. The single sold over two million copies and the Three Degrees were awarded a gold record in December, 1974 (the platinum award did not yet exist, but was presented to the group later).
There were more lineup changes and more record labels, but the Three Degrees never achieved the same kind of chart success again. Founder Fayette Pinkney left the group in 1976, and passed away in 2009. The current iteration of the Three Degrees continues to tour and record today. Whenever the glorious history of Philly Soul is discussed, you can be sure that the Three Degrees will be part of the conversation.