Gerald Levert’s Friends, Fans Stricken by R&B Star’s Death, Express ‘Outpouring of Love’
Date: Sunday, November 12, 2006
By: Patrice Gaines, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com
It is ironic that that Gerald Levert, the beloved crooner who died at the age of 40 Friday, had heart disease, according to an autopsy. It is Levert’s generous heart that people who knew him well and fans who admired him comment on nearly as often as they mention his passionate, sensual rendition of love songs.
“If you listened to his music, you knew the type of heart he had -- a loving and caring heart,” a fan identified as Linda in Louisiana said when she called WHUR-FM radio station in Washington, D.C. on Friday evening.
Nathan, calling from Levert’s hometown of Cleveland, remembered seeing the singer in the neighborhood when he was growing up. “He was a sweet-hearted brother," Nathan attested. "He gave my mom $100 one day. I don’t attend funerals, but I will be there for this one.”
The crooner grew up in the shadow of his father Eddie Levert, a member of the legendary O’Jays, but carved out his own career belting out love songs that sold by the millions. His nickname was “Teddy Bear” or “G-Bear,” and he tossed out small brown teddy bears to screaming women at sold-out concerts.
A cousin found the singer unresponsive in bed in his home outside Cleveland sometime Friday morning. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital at 1:50 p.m. Early reports listed the cause of death as a heart attack. Preliminary results of an autopsy Saturday revealed mild to moderate heart disease. It may take up to eight weeks to complete toxicology and microscopic studies before a final ruling can be made, the coroner’s office told The Cleveland Plain Dealer
The paper quoted Walter Williams, co-founder of the O’Jays as saying Eddie Levert is "devastated.
"He's a wreck, and rightfully so,” Williams said. he called Gerald Levert "a go-getter. He didn't just come out and sing songs. He went after an audience."
In addition to his father, Gerald Levert's survivors include his mother, Martha; brothers, Sean and Eddie Jr.; a sister, Kandice; and three children, a relative told the paper.
Gerald Levert often performed with the O'Jays. They were supposed to share a bill on Thanksgiving in Marysville, Ind..
The Levert family released a statement saying, “We are overwhelmed by the generous outpouring of love, condolences and support from the many friends, fans and admirers of Gerald?s life and legacy. As everybody knows, Gerald was a man who loved and breathed music. To his family and friends he was a man of strong character, who had an infectious personality and a zest for life. For his fans, his greatest love was touching the hearts and souls of all people through his music. At this very difficult time, we thank you for your prayers and hope you will understand our need for privacy.”
Gerald Levert grew up spending his summers traveling with the O’Jays. His bio on the Richard De La Font Agency website says that while traveling with the group, Gerald met performers such as legend Marvin Gaye, one of his major musical influences.
“During those times, I knew that singing and performing was what I wanted to do. My dad tried to talk me out of it, but it was no use. My mind was made up,” he recalls in the bio.
News of the artist’s death spread fast Friday, and by evening, radio deejays around the country had turned their “Quiet Storm” formats into musical memorials. Women called stations crying as they professed their love for the performer, who managed to have a magical, almost-intimate connection with each member of his audience. Men of all ages called, voices cracking, to show their appreciation.
Celebrities and fans across the country expressed shock and grief.
"This is tragic news. He was truly one of the great young R&B singers, writers and producers around,” radio legend Tom Joyner said in a released statement. “What a lot of people didn’t realize is that he was constantly working. He worked with dozens of artists -- Barry White, Teena Marie, Chante Moore and so many more … Gerald always brought down the house when he performed with us on our Sky Shows or on our Fantastic Voyage. Everybody loved his show, and the toy teddy bears he'd throw out to the audience was something that will remain one of his trademarks. I’ve got some great memories with he and his Dad. I know this is hard on me, but I know it’s really tough for Eddie and his entire family.”
Comedian Adele Givens spoke with deejay Doug Banks on WHUR-FM, saying, “That was a brother that didn’t mind having a good time. I would have married him. Gerald was going to marry me. I don’t care what anybody else says. He had that unique ability to make us all think we were Number One.
“Angels is doing crunches and getting those weaves fixed,” she said. "They are getting ready for a concert in heaven."
Singer Patti LaBelle, who has recorded with Gerald Levert, said he was like a son to her. "He was such a great entertainer," she told the Associated Press. "It's not for real to me that he is gone. Nobody was prepared for this."
LaBelle said she hopes to sing at his funeral.
Fellow R&B singer Will Downing told the Associated Press that when he and Gerald Levert performed together, "we would get on stage and battle for the hearts of women. Every night, that was our thing. It's very sad. He was an amazing talent, obviously. Gerald was a hard worker. He would go out there and do his thing, and be in places where the folks were. He would touch the people, and that's really what it's all about."
Gerald Levert’s label, Atlantic Records, released a statement calling the performer “one of the greatest voices of our time, who sang with unmatched soulfulness and power, as well as a tremendously gifted composer and an accomplished producer.”
Cleveland’s R&B station WZAK-FM played Gerald Levert's hits nonstop, and the radio website featured a photo of Levert and one of he and his father together in the radio studio.
“Northeast Ohio has lost one of its own,” a voice said to visitors, who also heard Gerald and Eddie Levert singing “The Wind Beneath My Wings” and an excerpt of an interview with Gerald in which he says, “I might not have the number-one record. But they are going to remember every time I come (to perform), I treat it like it’s the last time.”
WZAK’s grieving listeners signed a message board at the website.
“My heart is broken in one million pieces,” wrote fan Twyla Hood.
“I met you years ago through a mutual friend just before Levert took the national air waves by storm. I remember in that back house/studio your passion and determination to make it big like your father,” wrote C.D. Newton.
Callers to Washington’s WHUR-FM also expressed their grief.
“I have people calling me as if I was married to Levert,” said Amy from Fayetteville, N.C. “I had him on the computer screen at my job. I have a picture of Gerald Levert next to my license. When I go to the bank, they say they can’t see my license. But I told them I don’t move Gerald for anybody. I’m going to miss him,” she said, crying. “Bless you.”
“I operate a van service. One day, Gerald was in the hotel lobby. He just sat in that lobby for three hours. His room wasn’t ready,” said Preston in Baltimore. “My lady is totally crazy about him. I walked up and said, ‘Mr. Levert, my lady is on the phone. She doesn’t believe you are here. He got on the phone and talked to her. He had a body guard, but he didn’t stop anybody from coming up to him. He said, ‘Sure, I’ll talk to your lady.’”
“I was blessed enough to know him over the years. He never put on the air of a star,” said radio host Doug Banks.
Gerald Levert said in his bio at the De La Font Agency website that being’ Eddie Levert’s son didn’t mean a singing career came easy for him. “He gave us guidance and advice, but that was it,” he said of his father.
Eventually Gerald and his younger brother Sean, along with childhood friend Marc Gordon, formed the group LeVert. The group signed a deal with Atlantic Records in 1986 and made a series of hits that included "(Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop) Goes My Mind," "Casanova" and "Baby I'm Ready." In 1991, with the blessings of group members, Gerald Levert released his first solo album, “Private Line,” which went gold and included the popular duet with his father “Baby Hold On To Me.” His major-label albums "Love & Consequences," "Groove On" and "Private Line" sold 1 million copies each, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
In 1997, Gerald became part of another group, joining for a while with R&B singers Johnny Gill and Keith Sweat to create LSG. The self-titled album sold more than two million copies, and included the sensual "My Body."
In 1988, Gerald launched Trevel Productions, a Cleveland songwriting and music production firm whose clients included Anita Baker and Teddy Pendergrass, as well as the local acts Men at Large and the Rude Boys.
He collaborated with his father on the 1995 album "Father & Son." They toured together, too, performing last month in South Africa, according to the Plain Dealer.
One of Gerald Levert's final recording projects was "My Angel," a ballad on pianist Jim Brickman's new CD, "Escape," recorded this summer. Visitors to Brickman’s website can hear Gerald crooning, "My love goes with you, wherever you are. And there may be distance, but we're never apart."
Brickman and Gerald performed the song together last month at the House of Blues in Cleveland, Brickman told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
“I always wanted to work with him,” said the pianist, a native of Cleveland, speaking from Los Angeles. “I don’t think many people realized that soft ballad side of Gerald and how beautiful he sang those kinds of songs. For years, we tried to find something appropriate to do together, that would suit both of us and where we were in our lives.
“It was absolute joy to have him in the studio," Brickman said. "He was always very, very spirited, happy-go-lucky and always eager to please. A lot of times when you get a singer in the studio, they are not as giving as he was. He was nothing but sweet and kind.”
Brickman recorded and videotaped last month’s appearance with Gerald Levert at the House of Blues.
“It was absolutely breath-taking. He had a great, great time that night. It was magical, very heartfelt, very sweet," said Brickman. "I thought he was a really, really wonderful guy.”