By Bobbie Katz
It was back on the 60s that Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr., as members of The 5th Dimension, floated “Up, Up and Away” into the realm of a lustrous career. Now bringing their new show, “Up, Up & Away! a musical fable” to the Orleans this coming weekend, February 13 and 14, it will be readily apparent that their beautiful balloon has never burst -- either in terms of music or in their evading the “Wedding Bell Blues.”
Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo
The show, the brainchild of Nic Mendoza, who fell in love with McCoo’s and Davis’ music as a child listening to his mom’s records, is the tale of two aspiring stars who met, fell in love and endured a lifetime of challenges together. Starring Grammy Award-winners McCoo and Davis and the new musical group, The Next Dimension, which McCoo and Davis put together, the story is told through pop classics including “Up, Up and Away,” “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In,” “Worst That Could Happen,” “You Don’t Have to be a Star (To be in My Show),” “MacArthur Park,” “Help!,” “Blackbird,” “Midnight Hour,” “One Less Bell (to Answer)” and “The Man That Got Away.” It also pays tribute to fellow music legends, including the original The 5th Dimension and The Beatles.
“This show brings back a lot of memories for us,” says Davis Jr. “We had happy times. Most of the 10 years we spent with The 5th Dimension were happy years.”
“We worked through any painful memories,” adds McCoo. “In 1991, we did a reunion tour with The 5th Dimension and that helped us to work through a lot of issues. We and the other members of the group had a lot to do with each other’s lives. We knew that the conflicts should have been resolved.”
It all began back in 1965 when Davis Jr., home from the service, contacted his old buddy from his hometown of St. Louis, LaMonte McLemore, who had moved to Los Angeles. Davis’ intent was to move to L.A. to audition for Motown Records for which, once there, he was put on a small waiting list. In the meantime, even though his dream was for a solo career, Davis Jr. began talking with McLemore about starting a group together – as a hobby. They decided to call Ron Townson, whom they also knew from St. Louis and who was also living in L.A., to be part of it.
As for McCoo, a Los Angeles native, she had sung with McLemo re in a jazz group called The Vocals that, at one time, had been managed by Ray Charles for a couple of years and had toured with Charles as his opening act for three months. However, when the group got back after the tour, it disbanded and McCoo went back to UCLA to finish her degree. She then got a call from McLemore asking her if she wanted to join another group. Although she didn’t, when he said that it was just going to be a hobby, she acquiesced.
McLemore, who was also a photographer, knew Florence LaRue, having photographed her when she had won The Miss Grand Talent Award and the Miss Bronze California Pageant (two pageants that McCoo had also won and for which he had photographed her). Realizing that another female was needed to round out the group, he brought LaRue onboard.
“The group formed within two to three months and once we started, we hit within two years,” McCoo recalls about the beginning of The 5th Dimension. “We began on Soul City Records, Johnny Rivers’ record label, which was part of Liberty Records. Johnny had heard the song ‘Go Where You Want to Go’ on a Mamas and Papas album and told us that it would be a hit for our group. We recorded it and it became our first Top 20 hit. Then came ‘Up, Up and Away.’”
In 1975, after a myriad of hits and a decade with The 5th Dimension, McCoo and Davis left the group to go solo. They explain that “the stage had gotten smaller” because all the group members wanted to do more, which was natural.
“We wanted to do more, too,” McCoo explains, “It was time to go out and see what we could do. And we were young enough to say, ‘Let’s do it.’ You just go for it – you don’t know what life is going to bring.”
“We were nervous,” Davis adds. “We had had all that success but we didn’t know what was going to happen. “
They needn’t have worried. On television, the couple found success with their show, “The Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. Show,” the first variety series starring an African-American musical couple. In their solo careers, both ended up doing theater. McCoo performed in “Showboar” and Davis Jr. performed in “Dreamgirls” and “Blues in the Night.” McCoo hosted the popular television music series “Solid Gold” for five years and did a recording project called “Solid Gold.” She also toured as the opening act for the likes of Joan Rivers, Lou Rawls, and Bill Cosby. Davis Jr. accomplished his lifelong dream when he recorded a religious album titled, “Let Me Have a Dream” with gospel great, the Rev. James Cleveland. All told, the couple has won seven Grammy Awards and earned 15 gold and three platinum records.
But perhaps their greatest success has been in their maintaining a solid 46-year marriage. McCoo and Davis Jr. developed a close friendship while performing with The 5th Dimension but a year and a half later found themselves looking at each other differently. Davis Jr. laughs when he recalls that he was reticent to make a move because he was afraid that it would blow their friendship.
“I finally did it because Marilyn kept messing with me,” he laughs.
“That’s YOUR fable,” she retorts jokingly.
In reality, Davis Jr. finally took his chance and, of course, the rest is history. In 2004, the couple wrote a book celebrating their years of marriage and shared their secrets of staying happy and committed to each other in Hollywood. Then, for their 40th anniversary, to celebrate their relationship and the fact that marriage can work, they recorded and released a CD titled, “The Many Faces of Love.” According to the couple, what has kept their union strong are two things: their faith and their friendship.
“We have a very strong faith that we share and that has carried us through conflicts,” McCoo acknowledges. “And we didn’t make a habit of being apart. If we were, we talked every night on the phone and if we were performing separately, we were always at each other’s shows if possible. There was only one time that we didn’t talk for two weeks and see each other for a month because I was rehearing a musical play in Florida and Billy was on a celebrity tennis tour in Southeast Asia. But we are always careful to nurture our relationship.
“We continue to enjoy performing but we don’t want it to dominate our lives,” she adds, “We want to stay home – we work hard on that. We have a praise ministry and sing praise songs – there are two churches we take our program to – and I’m on the board of the L.A. mission.”
“We’re involved in a lot of charity things,” Davis Jr. sums up. “We call it ‘giving back.’”
That beautiful balloon still has plenty of air left in it.
This article appears courtesy of Vegas Insider Daily.com.