The Three Degrees are a female Philly soul and disco vocal musical group formed in 1963 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although always fronted by a three person line-up, there have been a number of personnel changes and a total of twelve women have represented the group so far. The original members were Fayette Pinkney, Shirley Porter, and Linda Turner. They were discovered by Richard Barrett. They are best known for their hit song, "When Will I See You Again".
The Three Degrees were formed around 1963 in Philadelphia, PA. They were discovered by producer and songwriter Richard Barrett. Barrett was responsible for Groups of the 1950s such as the Chantels, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and his own group the Valentines. Barrett recorded the original line-up on their very first song entitled "Gee Baby (I'm Sorry)" for Swan Records. Linda and Shirley both left the group and were replaced by Helen Scott and a variety of other ladies before Janet Harmon joined in the mid-60s. Barrett also began managing and producing Sheila Ferguson who was a high school friend of Helen's Barrett also signed Sheila to Swan Records in 1965. The Three Degrees released a lot of singles like "I'm Gonna Need You" and a remake of "Maybe" with Helen taking the lead vocals. By 1966, with many performances lined up, decided to leave the Group and start a family, not knowing she would return 10 years later. Sheila Ferguson filled in for Helen and would remain in the group for 20 years. Sheila sang backup on all the Three Degrees' Swan recordings as did the Three Degrees for her solo singles making her seem like a fourth degree. By 1967, Janet Harmon left the Group and was eventually replaced by a young beauty queen from Boston named Valerie Holiday. Barrett signed the Group to small deals over the next 3 years with Warner Brothers, Metromedia, and the Neptune Label which was owned by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who would work with group 5 years later. Although these were quality recordings, namely "Contact" and "What I See", they failed to make any real impact due to poor marketing and distribution. Their close harmony singing, together with their stunning looks and sheer professionalism was, however, making them an extremely popular nightclub act, even though that much sought-after hit record was, for the time being, remaining elusive.
In 1973, with their contract with Roulette Records ending, Barrett signed them to Philadelphia International Records under Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, where they were to have their greatest success so far. They also made an appearance on the hit TV show Sanford and Son singing their song "I Didn't Know." The first song they recorded was with the studio Band MFSB (Mother Father Sister Brother) called "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)" which was the theme song for the TV show "Soul Train." Their first PIR album was self titled. Altogether, The Three Degrees recorded 4 albums for the label. The first album spawned 3 top hits. The first single "Dirty Ol' Man" did not make any noise in the U.S but went gold in Holland and Belgium. It was also banned in the UK by the BBC!. The second single was "Year Of Decision" which made it to the top 10 in the UK. The third single "When Will I See You Again" was the one that would make them famous forever. It went number one all over the world and it won the 3rd annual Tokyo Music Festival in Japan. It had them in constant demand performing in front of full houses all over Europe and especially in the United Kingdom, where they were becoming part of the Establishment performing at such hot spots as the Talk of the Town and the Royal Albert Hall.
The Three Degrees also recorded 2 "Live" albums, one from Leicester, UK and the other from Tokyo, Japan, both released in 1975. "The Three Degrees International", their second studio album on Philadelphia International, had a wonderful selection of songs, some which were sung in different languages - French, Spanish and Japanese. In Europe, the album was called "With Love" and it spawned the hit single "Take Good Care Of Yourself" which was a massive hit in the UK. There were 2 songs from that album that were big in Japan: "Midnight Train" and "Nigai Namida", the second which was recorded in Japanese. In 1976, the Ladies inexplicably parted company with Gamble and Huff and moved to CBS Sony/Epic records where they released the concept album, "A Toast Of Love", purely for the Far East market, although a single of the title track as released all over the world.
In 1976, Fayette decided to leave the group and return to school to finish her education. She was replaced by her friend and former colleague, Helen Scott In 1977 they released the album "Standing Up For Love" also for Epic records but the label held no glory for the Group, who were fast learning that another change was necessary to keep up with the changing trends of a very fickle music business.
In 1978, The Three Degrees were signed to Ariola Records in Europe and the USA and began working with producer Giorgio Moroder who was having great success at that time producing hits for Donna Summer. Further success was to follow, and the trio released two albums on Ariola which delivered four UK top 20 hits: "The Runner," "My Simple Heart," "Giving Up Giving In," and "Woman In Love." They performed at Buckingham Palace for Prince Charles's 30th Birthday Party and were guests at his pre-wedding party to Princess Diana (Prince Charles is on record as stating that he is their biggest fan, and still listens to the group's recordings). They also filmed their own television special at the Royal Albert Hall in London called "The Three Degrees at The Royal Albert Hall" in October 1979, also Sheila's birthday.
Between 1982 and 1985 The Three Degrees released 2 albums on their own "3D" label entitled "Album of Love" and "Live in the UK". On that label they released one single written by Sheila entitled "Liar". They returned to the charts in 1985 with "The Heaven I Need" which was produced by Stock/Aitken/Waterman on Supreme Records. A third BBC-TV Special was also recorded in 1982, entitled "Take 3 Degrees" which included performances of their greatest hits and also songs that the group were performing in their latest show, such as "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Celebration".
In 1986, singer and actress Miquel Brown filled in for Scott while Scott was pregnant at that time. Brown helped the Degrees as they had a single called This Is The House to promote around Europe. That same year Sheila Ferguson decided to leave the group. Helen Scott and Valerie Holiday replaced her with Vera Brown in 1986 and then Rhea Harris in 1987. In 1989, Scott and Holiday, along with new recruit Victoria Wallace, recorded an album entitled "Three Degrees And Holding" on Ichiban Records. A single, "A Tender Lie" was also released. Following the album, the group recorded a live CD at London's Dominion Theatre with Billy Paul and Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes during their sell-out "TSOP Tour" in the Spring and Summer of 1989. The group followed this with yet another successful tour of the UK and Japan at the end of the year, but changes were afoot again.
Helen, Valerie, and Cynthia continue to tour the World to this day. Their recent tours and shows had them making their first US TV appearance in over 20 years in 2003 on the PBS special "Rhythm, Love, and Soul" with Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, Mary Wilson and others as well as being a part of the "Best Disco In Town 2004 Tour" with The Pointer Sisters, Chic, The Emotions, and Evelyn "Champagne" King. The group also took part in the 2007 "Best Disco In Town" Tour in the United Kingdom in May 2007. They also appeared on "Good Morning" on UK TV during the Tour, singing an updated version of "When Will I See You Again". They are now able to work in the USA again and in November 2007, were honoured in Philadelphia by BEMA together with original member Fayette Pinkney, creating, for the first time ever, the Four Degrees.
Following that Honour, The Ladies appeared, for their first ever full concert in Philadelphia, at the Clef Club in May 2008, where they received a Commendation from the State of Pennsylvania for "The Longest Running Girl Group". Once again, Miss Fayette Pinkney was in attendance and was on stage with Cynthia and her former singing partners, Helen and Valerie.
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