60s Music

Major Lance — One of the Major Figures of 1960s Chicago Soul

Introduction to Major Lance

Major Lance
Photo of singer Major Lance. (Source: Wikipedia)

Major Lance was an American R&B singer who was famed for 1963 single “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um.” His first singles with Okeh and Mercury didn’t make a dent in the charts again, but its follow-up “The Monkey Time,” did. It also marked the beginning of Lance’s partnership with Curtis Mayfield, Johnny Pate and Carl Davis. His third charting single, “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um,” became Lance’s first and only #1 hit on the R&B charts (or on any charts, for that matter). Lance was also highly regarded in the place of Britain’s Northern soul l; he toured in the UK in the 60s; during the 1970s he recorded a critically-acclaimed live album there calledMajor Lance’s Greatest Hits Recorded Live At The Torch. Lance passed away in 1994 from a heart failure, aged 55.

Early life and career

Major Lance is not a stage moniker or a nickname, but his actual name. The R&B and soul singer was born in Winterville, Mississippi on April 4, 1939. Actually, there is some dispute over his birth year, because other sources cite that he was born in 1941 or 1942, the latter which Lance himself claimed. He came from a brood of twelve children. As he grew older Lance and his family moved to Chicago, Illinois. He went to the same high school where later R&B and soul legends Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler also attended. He also had a liking for sports; in fact he had played baseball and boxing, but he developed a stronger passion for music.

Lance then cut a record with Mercury, titled “I Got a Girl” (written and produced by his childhood friend Mayfield) which failed to chart. He went out of showbusiness for a while until he signed with Okeh Records in 1962. The label was actually experiencing a revival of its business.

Fruitful stint at Okeh Records

His first single with Okeh was “Delilah,” which failed to chart but he cemented his professional relationship with childhood friend Mayfield, who wrote most of Lance’s singles. He also established a professional partnership with OKeh president Carl Davis and Johnny Pate. Together they developed an extraordinary Latin-tinged sound that typified the Chicago soul sound that was distinct from the other records coming out during that time.

 

Biggest hits including “The Monkey Time” and “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um”

Lance’s second single “The Monkey Time,” finally made it big on both R&B and pop charts, at #2 and #8 respectively, in 1963. This single finally established Lance as a singer; in addition to that, he brought reclaimed fortunes for Okeh Records. He followed it up with “Hey Little Girl (#13 pop, #10 R&B, 1963) and his biggest hit ever, “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um,” which topped the R&B chart and went to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1964.

 

Over the next year and a half, the team of Lance, Mayfield, Davis and Pate continued to churn out hits for Lance, notably: “The Matador” (#20 pop, #4 R&B) and “Rhythm” (#24 pop, #3 R&B). In 1965 Pate left Okeh for ABC Records while Mayfield departed as well to focus on his own group. Lance and Davis continued to collaborate but as moments passed Lance’s hits had become lesser and lesser until Davis left as well.

Post-Okeh Records career

Lance worked with a variety of producers until he left Okeh Records in 1969. He moved to Dakar Records, where he charted with a minor hit “Follow the Leader.” He stayed at Dakar for only a short time, then moved to Mayfield’s Curtom label, where he scored a couple of Top 40 R&B hits “Follow the Leader,” and “Stay Away from Me (I Love You Too Much).” He left Curtom in 1971, and he jumped labels from Volt and Columbia.

Later career and final years

Lance’s old records became popular in the UK’s Northern Soul circuit, so he relocated to England to capitalize his success there. It was also in England where he issued an album Major Lance’s Greatest Hits Recorded Live At The Torch, which became critically-acclaimed.

After two years in the United Kingdom, Lance moved back to the US, settling in Atlanta, Georgia. He signed with Playboy label and released a disco rendition of his old hit “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um” which became a minor R&B hit (#59) in 1974. But in 1978 his career experienced a downturn when he was arrested and convicted for cocaine possession. For the next four years Lance spent his time behind bars.

Following his release Lance tried to rebuild his music career playing on the beach music circuit, where he had found out that his recordings had become popular there. Unfortunately, in 1987 a heart attack hampered his all-out comeback. In 1994, he made his last public appearance at the Chicago Blues Festival. He later died in his sleep, on September 3, 1994 in Decatur, Georgia. He was only 55 years old. Although he died relatively young, Lance left behind an unforgettable legacy that consisted of the classic Midwestern soul.

 

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