Formation and early days
Unlike many emerging sweet-sounding soul vocal groups at that period who hailed from Memphis, Tennessee or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Chi-Lites origins are from Chicago, Illinois.
The Chi-Lites started in 1959 when members of two vocal groups the Chanteurs and the Desideros teamed up to form a new act. The Chanteurs members consisted of Eugene Record, Robert Squirrel Lester and Clarence Johnson and the Desideros side consisted of Marshall Thompson and Creadel “Red” Jones. They originally called the group the Hi-Lites. When Johnson left the group in 1964, they stayed instead as a quartet rather than trying to replace him. Then they changed their name into Marshall and the Chi-Lites” (pronounced as “shy-lites”) to give tribute to their Illinois hometown.
Over the years the group cultivated their sweet four-part harmonies against the lush, string-laden music. Record was the primary songwriter, sometimes collaborating with Barbara Acklin. The group then signed to their first label Brunswick Records.
At their peak in the early 1970s
It would take them about a decade before scoring their first hit with “Give It Away,” which became a Top 10 R&B hit and a minor hit on the Hot 100. This was to be the start of their peak period. In the early 1970s, they achieved much bigger hits with “I Like Your Lovin’ (Do You Like Mine)” (#72 pop, #11 R&B), “Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)” (#72 pop, #8 R&B), “We Are Neighbors” (#70 pop, #17 R&B), and “I Want to Pay You Back (For Loving Me)” (#95 pop, #35 R&B) before scoring their most successful hits “Have You Seen Her” (#3 pop, #1 R&B) and their only number 1 pop hit “Oh Girl” (#1 pop, #1 R&B).
Disintegration of the classic Chi-Lites roster
After the release of other moderately successful singles “Stoned Out of My Mind” (#30 pop, #2 R&B) and “A Letter To Myself” (#33 pop, #3 R&B) in 1973, the classic Chi-Lites lineup began to disintegrate, as Jones left the group. His subsequent replacements were Stanley Anderson, Willie Kensey and then Doc Robertson. The group still continued to churn out a few more hits like “Homely Gil” and “Lonely Girl” (which was a #5 UK hit).
Unfortunately, Brunswick’s continuing financial problems turned more serious that it hindered The Chi-Lites’ record promoting plans. Seeing frustration at the events, Record quit the band to pursue a solo career. Meanwhile, the group, now reduced to a trio, attempted to save their fortunes by signing up to Mercury Records label releasing a lot of singles, but none of them were quite successful.
Reunion, personnel shifts and later career
In 1980, the classic Chi-Lites lineup — Record, Jones, Thompson and Lester — resurfaced. They recorded and released a single on Chi-Sound label, Record’s self-established label. Around that time they scored only one big hit with “Hot on a Thing (Called Love)” which rose to #15 on the R&B singles chart. The following year, they signed to Larc Records, and scored another R&B top ten hit with “Bottom’s Up” in 1983. In 1984 they moved to Private Records and achieved a string of minor R&B hits.
Jones had already left the Chi-Lites, and the group was now reduced to a trio. They continued to tour until Record quit for good in 1990. Later on Jones re-joined the band but left again (he died in 1994). Singers Frank Reed and Anthony Watson were made new members.
Tragedy struck the band in 1997 when the group was involved in a serious vehicular accident while they were riding home from their Pennsylvania gig. It led to Reed and Thompson’s wife Constance being thrown from the car as it made a loud impact. The band members survived but they required extensive surgery and rehabilitation; Constance, however, died from her injuries.
Ex-member Record died in 2005. Fred Simon joined the Chi-Lites to replace Lester, who died in 2010. Thompson’s recent wife Tara Henderson also joined the group as backing singer.
The current lineup of Thompson (the only remaining original member), Reed, Simon and Henderson is still touring, mostly on the oldies circuit.
The Chi-Lites were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005 and the R&B Music Hall of Fame in 2013.