R&B singer Eddie Levert

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R&B singer and O’Jays frontman explains how, in death, his late son Gerald has taught him about what it means to be a father.

Eddie Levert is co-founder of the R&B group and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, The O'Jays. He sang lead on such hits as "Love Train" and "For the Love of Money" and co-wrote songs for the successful trio, as well as other artists. Levert also collaborated with his late son, Gerald—a Grammy-winning R&B star in his own right—on several projects, including the book, I Got Your Back, which offers a glimpse into their rare father-son bond, and several recordings, two of which are featured on the recent release, "The Best of Gerald Levert."


Tavis: Always pleased to welcome Eddie Levert to this program. The legendary singer is, of course, the lead singer for the O’Jays and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His latest project pays tribute, though, to his late, great son Gerald Levert. The disk is called, “The Best of Gerald Levert” and here is some of the video from one of my favorite songs, “Baby, Hold On to Me.”
Tavis: I recall talking, Eddie, once, for this show, as a matter of fact, to Coretta Scott King – the late, great Coretta Scott King – and I was asking Mrs. King how she was able to navigate every day having lost her husband, but everywhere she went she was always reminded of her husband.
In his case, street signs everywhere you go, streets named after him, airports named after him, schools named after him, people walking up to you to tell you they knew him and marched with him and admired him. So I asked her, I said, “How do you ever get beyond the fact – does it make the grieving easier, more difficult, that people always put Martin literally, figuratively, in your face?”
So I asked you that question. Gerald is such a great soul singer and everybody knows you’re his daddy. People must say this to you all the time.
Eddie Levert: All the time. All the time. Tavis, it’s something that you never get over, and people – I wouldn’t say that by them bringing it up and saying, well, “My condolences about your son,” even now. They’ll come up and say, “Really sorry what happened to your sons or your son,” and Tavis, I think my relationship with God has been the leveler, the thing that keeps it level to the point where it doesn’t affect me.
Yeah, I get emotional about it, but it does not have that effect on me that I want to run somewhere and say, “I don’t want to hear any more.” But I think that God has a bigger plan than we know about and that wherever they go, it has to be better than where we are at. That’s what I feel, and I think wherever they’re at, it’s a wonderful place.
Tavis: You talked about how you’ve come to realize that God is – I love the way you phrased that – that God is the great leveler, because he is.
Beckmann: Yes.
Tavis: I agree with you on that. But that’s what you learned about God in this process. You learned about him, that he’s a great leveler. What have you learned, what are you learning, about Eddie? When you lose not just one son, Gerald, but Sean as well?
Levert: I learned that I really, truly do believe in that God is my savior and my hope and my look for the future, and I truly do believe that whatever happens was his choosing, not that he wishes death on anyone, but he let it happen for whatever reason, and I think it also made me a much stronger person as an individual, because it made me also see the things that I needed to do with my grandchildren or my younger kids, and the things that I need to spend more time at, that I needed to be more of a family man, more of a guy that can get in touch with my grandkids, help them to be better people.
Tavis: See, I’m laughing on the inside – not in a ha-ha sort of way – but to your point about how everything happens for a reason and God does things in his own divine way and will. It’s fascinating for me to hear you say that your son, in death, has taught you how to be a better father and grandfather in life.
Levert: Yes, absolutely.
Tavis: That’s an amazing thing.
Levert: Absolutely. Because look, now, when the man Gerald used to talk and speak all the time about show business, about what our next move should be as far as business is concerned, those are the things that I miss the most, is being able to talk to him, because see, even now his phone number and all of that is still in my phone.
I wish that I could go and dial it and he would pick up, but I know that that’s not going to happen. But I know that it’s there, so this keeps me in touch with him, that I know that he was a part of my everyday being.
I’ve been very fortunate, Tavis. This kid, I wish he would sort of leave me alone. (Laughter) He is not – we still talk, but in a different way now. He’s still there, he’s ever-prevalent. It’s like this particular album, we did so many things together, writing songs and all of that, and on there I get things in the mail, checks in the mail from some things that I even forgot that we’ve done.
But he’s constantly still with me. Both of them are constantly with me because I have to deal with his son, who is exactly like him. (Laughter)
Tavis: I’ll pray for you.
Levert: Exactly, exactly like him; and the same thing with Sean. I deal with their children and their children are so much like them, to the point of when they laugh or when they talk I find myself almost talking to them like it’s Gerald or it’s Sean. It’s an amazing thing to me.
Tavis: There are many things about you that I have admired and wish I could emulate. All of us want to get on stage and just rock it in front of thousands of people (laughter) and make women go crazy and throw their underwear on the stage. When you’re just on the stage, I’ve always wanted to be Eddie Levert. But beyond now, I just learned something about Eddie; I’ve known him for years.
I’ve learned now that there’s something that you have that I want more than being on stage. I want to get to the point in my life where I start getting checks for stuff I forgot I did. (Laughter) That’s a problem I would love to have.
Levert: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Tavis: Getting checks for stuff I forgot that I ever did.
Levert: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Tavis: I want that problem, Eddie Levert.
Levert: Yeah, yeah, well, I look on the list and I’m talking about, “When did I write this?” But see, I think when I’d go over Gerald’s house and he would be writing, and he’d ask me, “Dad, what do you think about this?” and I’d say, “Okay, man, I think this line would probably work in there.”
He says, “Okay, I’m going to put you down for 10 percent.” But I didn’t do anything; I just did what a father does. I tossed out something, and that’s what he usually would do.
Tavis: When you hear – I know what I think when I hear his music. When you hear his stuff now, when you ride in the car and it just comes on the radio, or whenever and however you hear his music, when you hear Gerald now, what do you hear? Is it better than you remember it? Is it as good as you remember it? Is it different? What do you hear now?
Levert: It’s better than I remember it, because to the place where Gerald, he did not really know who he really was, because he did not know that he was one of the greatest soul singers in the history of R&B music. I think the world has just now started realizing that, now that he’s gone, that they don’t hear it as much.
When you hear him now you really realize how really good he was, how really great he was, how his message was something of love and endearment and honesty and a real soul singer.
Tavis: Our mutual friend, Dr. Cornel West, who’s in these liner notes, Dr. West refers to Gerald, and I think he’s right about this – I know he’s right about this – he refers to Gerald as the greatest soul singer of his generation – the greatest soul singer of his generation. As a father, to have produced progeny that is referred to in that way, it makes you feel like what?
Levert: Well, it makes me feel like, well, look, don’t forget where he came from. (Laughter)
Tavis: He didn’t just drop out the sky, did he?
Levert: Right, he didn’t just start doing that. There was a lot of days where he would be doing that messing around the house, where I’d be saying to him, “Come on, boy, you need to pick up, get a little bit more steam in that, put a little bit more creativity,” and then when we’d get around the house and start singing and writing songs and he would do certain things and we would tape it.
I still remember one incident where we had taped a song that we were working on and we played it back, and somebody did a great run and I thought it was me, and I screamed, “Hey, man, that was a great run I just did.” He said, “Man, that wasn’t you.” (Laughter)
Tavis: That was G.
Levert: “That was me.” I heard it back, played it back, and I went, “Well, hm, okay, whatever.” (Laughter)
Tavis: What’s amazing about this story is that when Gerald first came out he could not get away, as you’ll recall, from all the people saying, “He sounds just like his dad.”
Levert: Yeah, absolutely.
Tavis: He got it honest; he got it from his daddy. Was he ever troubled by that, and how do you ever get beyond being compared to sounding like his daddy?
Levert: He found himself in there somewhere, as he went on. By the time he got to the song – what is it – after we did, “Baby, Hold O to Me.” Ain’t it funny – that’s when he started coming into his own and creating his own sound. He had a problem with it for a while, but we both had to learn to live with it because I got to the place where everywhere I went –
Tavis: You were Gerald’s daddy.
Levert: Yeah, right, right, I would stop being Eddie Levert. I was Gerald’s dad. Then all of a sudden it got to the place where people would compare me. They’ll come up and say, “Well, now, who’s better, Gerald or Eddie?” Then most of the people of the day, because he was making records today, “Well, I think Gerald’s better.”
Then I’d really get livid about that. (Laughter) “Hold it, man. You mean after all I did?”
Tavis: (Unintelligible) the O’Jays, man. (Laughter)
Levert: I’m the mighty mighty.
Tavis: I’m the mighty, mighty O’Jays, yeah.
Levert: Still today they still have that big argument about who’s the better one, who’s the best.
Tavis: Well, I ain’t going to ask you.
Levert: But it’s all right. It’s all right. (Laughter) I let him be the best.
Tavis: And that’s what a father should say.
Levert: That’s right.
Tavis: My son, you’re my son, yeah, yeah.
Levert: That’s right.
Tavis: Or as my dad tells me, “Son, I taught you everything you know. I didn’t teach you everything I know.”
Levert: That’s right.
Tavis: Yeah.
Levert: That’s right. That’s right. See, this is what he used to always say, now, if I could just get a string of hits like “Love Train,” “Backstabbers,” “For the Love of Money, Dad, you’ll be out of business.” (Laughter) I told him, “Ain’t going to happen. Ain’t going to happen.”
Tavis: Well, it didn’t happen, but what he put out, though, is awfully good.
Levert: Absolutely.
Tavis: He made a good run at it, a really good run at it.
Levert: Didn’t he? Didn’t he?
Tavis: It is a blessing when in this business you have done enough. A whole lot of folk can’t put out a greatest hits record.
Levert: That’s right.
Tavis: They got one hit.
Levert: Absolutely. One, one, one. (Laughter)
Tavis: One hit – one-hit wonders.
Levert: And that won’t make an album, boy.
Tavis: No, it will not. But Gerald did enough stuff that there are 16 wonderful tracks on this new project. It’s called “The Best of Gerald Levert,” his daddy saw to making it come out. Eddie, thanks for doing this. I appreciate it. Good to have you here.
Levert: Oh, I appreciate you having me.
Tavis: Thank you, my pleasure. We’ll leave you tonight with a moment that we, of course, will never forget around here – Eddie and Gerald Levert perform together on this stage. It was back in – remember this? Back in 2004.
Levert: That’s right, absolutely.
Tavis: Gerald Levert may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. Enjoy it.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm