R&B singing group The Whispers

Twin brothers Wallace & Walter Scott reflect on their modern soul group’s 50 years in the music-making business.

Considered the leading romantic singers of their generation, The Whispers have been making timeless music for 50 years. They formed in the early 60s and, after perfecting their tight harmonies on the street corners of L.A.'s Watts section and in nightclubs in the San Francisco Bay area, had a string of hits in the 70s and 80s, including the R&B chart toppers "And the Beat Goes on" (which also hit the top 20 pop chart) and "Rock Steady" and even a gospel album. In this new millennium, twins Walter and Wallace Scott, Nicholas Caldwell and Leaveil Degree are still selling out music venues, as well as making time for work with various charities.


Tavis: Celebrating 50 years of music is no small feat, delivered by way of street corners in Watts, where tight harmonies were honed to perfection by twin brothers Walter and Wallace Scott, although don’t nobody call him Wallace.

If you’re a Whispers fan like I have been for many, many years now, it’s Walter and Scotty. (Laughter)

Wallace Scott: Scotty.

Tavis: They are the founding members of the acclaimed R&B group The Whispers. They began singing together back in 1963, recording chart-toppers “And the Beat Goes On,” “Rock Steady,” and so many others.

Inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2011 and recipients of the Rhythm and Blues foundation Pioneers Award back in 2008, The Whispers still tour and record. Let’s take a look at them performing their hit, “Rock Steady.”


Tavis: We were laughing before you walked on the set, because when they put up Walter and Wallace on the screen, I nearly said, “Who is Wallace Scott?” (Laughter) It’s like anybody calls you Wallace?

Wallace Scott: No, sir. No, sir.

Tavis: That’s funny. I can only imagine the tricks y’all played years ago.

Walter Scott: Oh, we had big fun.

Tavis: I know you did.

Walter Scott: Oh yeah, we had big fun. We (unintelligible) some classes.

Tavis: This is family television, so I ain’t going to put you out there like that.

Walter Scott: Exactly.

Wallace Scott: No, no, no.

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)

Walter Scott: Yeah.

Tavis: I can only imagine. Does it seem like 50 years?

Walter Scott: You know, it doesn’t, Tavis.

Tavis: Yeah.

Walter Scott: I think the only thing I’m amazed at, I think back, if somebody would have said 50 years ago you’d be singing 50 years later, I would have laughed at him.

I said, “That’s not going to happen,” but here it is, and it seems like it was yesterday. We’ve been singing a long, long time.

Tavis: What do you recall, Scotty, about these humble beginnings on these street corners down in Watts?

Wallace Scott: Well, that was the best part of it, Tavis. When I really think back on it, I look back on it, those were the fun parts. There wasn’t no pressure. We were just dreaming. We’d get on the street corners, we’d have – the mop was the mic.

Tavis: Yeah, the mop was the mic.

Wallace Scott: The mop was the mic. (Laughter) It was fun. But nobody – we wanted to, we thought we might could do something, but we were just doing it – it would draw the girls, we’d get attentions from the young ladies and they’d come up, listen to the harmonies.

But if anybody would have told us that we would have even ended up with a record deal, we’d have thought, well, there’s something wrong with them.

Tavis: How did R&B end up as your lane? Of all the things that you guys could have done, why R&B?

Walter Scott: When we came to Los Angeles from Nevada, we had come from an atmosphere where – my father worked in Hawthorne, Nevada, for the Navy, and Scotty and I never heard too much Black music.

We heard groups like The High-Lows and The Four Freshmen, and it wasn’t until –

Tavis: Wait, wait, wait – The High-Lows and The Four Freshmen.

Walter Scott: And The Four Freshmen, mm-hmm.

Tavis: You went way back on that.

Walter Scott: That’s what we heard on the radio in Hawthorne, Nevada. So here we come to Los Angeles in the ninth grade, and we are bombarded with Motown. We’re hearing The Temptations, all these different people. So we did what everybody did. We formed a young vocal group and started singing rhythm and blues.

But what we brought to rhythm and blues was a High-Low / Four Freshmen kind of a mentality. That’s all we knew.

Wallace Scott: Yes.

Walter Scott: We had no bass singer. Barbershop harmony. That’s what we sing.

Tavis: Did anybody else in your family sing, or you two just broke out and started singing?

Walter Scott: No, my mother was singing.

Tavis: Your mother was singing too.

Walter Scott: Uh-huh, yeah. But my mother was a singer, but she’s just like Scotty. She was shy. She didn’t like to get in front of the microphone. But she had a great singing voice, yeah.

Tavis: So how did y’all get Scotty out of his shyness?

Walter Scott: Believe it or not, it took Scotty to come down with an illness, and it happened just in time. I had just got back from Vietnam. Scotty got sick. They removed one of his ribs.

Lo and behold, I’m thrust without him to do what he used to do, and I wasn’t that good at that, because I had been in Vietnam. But you had to swim or drown, and I ended up making it.

So when I got back, Scotty was a new guy. He wasn’t afraid anymore. The microphone didn’t scare him. He saw what I did while he was away, and for some reason when he got back, he was a bona fide lead singer.

Tavis: True story, Scotty?

Wallace Scott: True story, and I always had the voice, which wasn’t a problem, but I didn’t want people looking at me.

Tavis: Right.

Wallace Scott: I wanted to look at the girls, but I didn’t want nobody looking at me. (Laughter)

Tavis: At you, yeah.

Wallace Scott: If you know what I mean.

Tavis: It don’t quite work that way.

Wallace Scott: Yeah, it don’t work that way. (Laughter)

Tavis: Right.

Wallace Scott: So I could hit all the notes, I had the chops, and I’d always – and Nick, the one with the beard, he was the big guy. I would always kind of stand behind him and peep as we would sing.

Tavis: Nick’s a big guy. That’s easy to do.

Wallace Scott: It’s real easy to do.

Tavis: Yeah.

Wallace Scott: But those, what got us over wasn’t so much as me, it was the harmonies that we were doing, because like Walt said, we were really pressed, especially The High-Lows. They weren’t doing one-three-four rhythm and blues, those three changes that you sing. They were doing four and five-part harmony, and that just, l blew us away.

So we were doing that, and I was so into that I didn’t even have to worry about trying to impress somebody, nor at that time about how I should look what I sing, what do you do.

All I was interested in was the harmonies and the notes, and I could do that fairly easy. Later on, it became a thing to where when we saw the groups like The O’Jays performing, we realized it wasn’t about just singing. You got to learn how to perform, also.

Tavis: See, I’m glad you said that. Stage presence is so important, and there’s so many – I won’t call names, although I could. There are a whole bunch of folk now who have all the pyrotechnics and the electronics and the this and the that and all that, but but for that distracting you, they really don’t have a stage presence.

Walter Scott: That’s right.

Tavis: You guys have always had that.

Walter Scott: Well, we came from the generation, when we first saw groups like The O’Jays, The Temptations, who had that mike that spread and all of them sang on one, The Whispers used to sing as if we were a little choir. We’d all form one little spot and we’d sing beautiful, but had no show.

Once we saw those groups, we realized if we’re going to try to make it at this, you better get you a show. That’s when we started to concentrate on having a show.

Wallace Scott: And I need to emphasize those groups may lead The O’Jays, because when we first saw The O’Jays it was five of them, and they should have been called The Five Stallions, because that’s the way they impressed us.

Eddie and Walt like us, they could sing, but they were performing then, way back then.

Tavis: Right, yeah.

Walter Scott: Yeah.

Wallace Scott: They made us understand – even Nick is one to say, “Hey, man, this is nice, this harmony stuff, but it’s boring.”

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughter)

Wallace Scott: That’s what he said.

Tavis: Yeah, we need some movement, yeah.

Wallace Scott: We need, like you said, excitement. Do something other than just (laughter) stand there and sing. About two years of looking at The Temps and The O’Jays, and I keep saying The O’Jays because nobody really knows it, but they blew everybody out the water.

Tavis: No, they’re –

Wallace Scott: Including The Temps.

Tavis: They’re amazing.

Wallace Scott: I hate to say that –

Tavis: The Mighty, Mighty O’Jays.

Walter Scott: Absolutely, no question.

Wallace Scott: The Mighty, Mighty O’Jays. After watching them, we said, “Hey, wait a minute – that’s what time it really is.”

Tavis: Walt, you weren’t the first person who, especially from your era, who at the height of their success or as their career was getting off the ground had to stop and go serve. The most famous person would probably be Elvis, who had to stop and go serve.

Walter Scott: Yeah, yeah.

Tavis: How did you process going to Vietnam, being gone for a couple of years, and coming back to entertainment.

Walter Scott: It was very traumatic, because number one, I’d never been away from my brother. We’re twins now. We’ve been seeing each other for every day, and I really didn’t know how to act without knowing that I was not going to see him.

So for two years, I left, went to do my basic training, and went off to Vietnam and spent 14 months there, and it was just a lifetime experience. I learned things about human beings.

Now this was in the ’60s, and I guess what I tell the guys all the time, I learned in Vietnam we were fighting two wars. We were fighting the Viet Cong, and we were fighting among ourselves.

The prejudice that I found that existed, it was in Vietnam, between GIs who never thought that Black people took showers. Here we come, guys from Detroit, Chicago, mixed in with guys from West Virginia, and they had different views of each other.

Well, that blew me away. I came back and I told The Whispers, I said, “This was the most exciting thing that I’d ever,” I never knew this existed. It brought a bunch of people together that didn’t know enough about each other, but we were over there trying to fight an enemy called the Viet Cong. The most incredible thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Tavis: I asked earlier how R&B ended up being your lane, but speak to me about how romance – Scotty is quite kind and generous when he gives The O’Jays a lot of love, and they deserve it. But the lane that y’all own, The Whispers own the lane of romance, which these days, ain’t nobody trying to run in. (Laughter)

It is so explicit, it’s in your face, it’s more than you want to know, it leaves nothing to the imagination. How did y’all just own this romance lane?

Walter Scott: Let me tell you who we have to credit that with.

Nicholas Caldwell. Big guy that you – you know Nick.

Tavis: With the big beard.

Wallace Scott: Yeah.

Walter Scott: He wrote “Lady,” the first song. But when we first started, we always talked about the importance of complimenting our ladies. Our mothers, our sisters. That meant a lot to The Whispers. So Nick wrote with that in mind, and when you hear songs like “Say Yes,” “Are You Going My Way,” “Lady,” these were all songs really dealing with romance.

I hate to say it – unlike today, we deal in romance. We deal in love. We deal in the importance of relationships that last over 20 years. Nick was doing that when we first started.

So I think that’s how we kind of cornered the market on romanticism with the ladies. It means ever so much, and we’ve been singing it the whole time we’ve been together. That’s what we’re about.

Tavis: I could do this for hours. The time goes so quickly. (Laughter) Let me ask very quickly – how much longer – it’s been five decades now.

Walter Scott: Yes.

Tavis: Y’all are still killing it. (Laughter) How much longer you going to do this, Scotty?

Wallace Scott: Well, I said last week I was going to quick. (Laughter)

Tavis: How many times has Scotty said that over the years?

Wallace Scott: I say that (unintelligible).

Tavis: How many times you said that?

Wallace Scott: Well then (unintelligible) saying, “Yeah, right, we know you are.” But you know what, it’s a blessing. We understand that – like he said earlier, if anybody had told us that we would be here this long, we just simply wouldn’t have believed it.

So we’re going to do what God allows us to do, and mainly our fans. Our fans have said, “No, no, you just keep coming with it.” As long as they do that, we’ll be here week after next, and after that. Come on and on.

Tavis: Yeah.

Walter Scott: But let me add this, though, Tavis. It’s really important. We go out every year. You kind of know when it’s not there anymore, because the feel that we – we see vocal groups that it does happen like that.

Tavis: Sure, sure.

Walter Scott: It’s up to you to be honest enough with yourself to know when it’s time to call it. Fortunately, God has blessed us to where we can still do a very effective show. Now you’ve gone to shows where you come home, you say, “I love them, but it ain’t quite there no more.”

Now, it’s up to that group to admit to themselves that that’s where it is. I think when we get to that point, we won’t have any problem being honest enough to admit that we’ve had a great career, but it’s time to say it was nice while it lasted.

Tavis: Y’all got (unintelligible) point. Y’all got a long way to go. (Laughter) If you don’t figure that out, we fans will tell you.

Wallace Scott: (Unintelligible)

Tavis: If you look out and you don’t see us – you’ll know.

Walter Scott: (Unintelligible) exactly right, exactly.

Tavis: If you don’t figure it out yourself, we will help you figure that out.

Walter Scott: Yeah, exactly right, exactly.

Tavis: But y’all got a long way to go. I am always honored to be in your company.

Wallace Scott: Thank you.

Tavis: Anytime, anywhere.

Walter Scott: Thank you so much.

Tavis: Congratulations on 50 years.

Walter Scott: Thank you.

Tavis: You’re welcome back here anytime.

Walter Scott: Tavis, thank you so much for having us, brother.

Tavis: I love you both, man. Love you both.

Wallace Scott: Thank you, man.

Tavis: Walter and Wallace, as they mama called them. (Laughter) We call them Walter and Scotty.

Walter Scott: Exactly, there it is.

Tavis: The Scott brothers – the founders of The Whispers. That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

“Wade Hunt:” There’s a saying that Dr. King had, and he said, “There’s always a right time to do the right thing.” I just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. We know that we’re only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. And Walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the U.S. As we work together, we can stamp hunger out.

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Last modified: August 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm