The Friends of Distinction – “Grazing in the Grass”


Introduction to the Friends of Distinction

The Friends of Distinction were an R&B vocal group whose original and classic lineup include Harry Eston, Floyd Butler, Jessica Cleaves and Barbara Love (with Charlene Gibson, Love’s temporary replacement). In 1969, The Friends of Distinction released their first single, “Grazing In The Grass”, which was originally consisted of a trumpet lead by Hugh Masekela. Elston added lyrics to the trumpet number. “Grazing In The Grass” became a hit, reaching the Top 10 on both the pop and the R&B charts. In 1970, the group achieved their second Top 10 pop hit, “Love Or Let Me Be Lonely.” Their following singles – “Going In Circles,” “Let Yourself Go,” “Time Waits For No One” and “I Need You” – were less successful. After lack of new ideas as well as personnel changes, the Friends of Distinction split up in 1973, with Elston and Butler parting ways and refused to talk to each other for many years. But they finally reconciled and decided to re-form the band. But unfortunately, Butler suffered a fatal heart attack in 1990. After Butler’s death, Elston reformed the group with new members. Cleaves passed away in 2014.

The formation of the Friends of Distinction

The Friends of Distinction are an R&B/pop vocal group. The group oin 1968 in Los Angeles, California, by Harry Elston and Floyd Butler. They had been with previous bands, such the Hi Fis (which also included future The 5th Dimension members Lamont McLemore and Marilyn Coo).

Following the disbandment of the Hi-Fis, Elston and Butler formed another group. Jessica Cleaves and Barbara Jean Love joined the newly-established group called The Friends of Dinstinction. The group was hitting around Los Angeles with a number of gigs, and during those days they were found by football star Jim Brown (who also discovered the talent of Earth, Wind and Fire). Throgh Brown’s help The Friends of Distinction landed their first recording contract with RCA Records.

The group’s biggest hits with “Grazing in the Grass,” “Going in Circles,” and “Love or Let Me Be Lonely”

The group released its first single, “Grazing in the Grass” which also went on to become their first major hit. It was their cover of a hit instrumental by Hugh Masekala, and written by Elston and Philemon Hou. It reached the top 10 of both pop and R&B singles chart (at #3 and #5, respectively).

“Grazing in the Grass”‘s successor “Going in Circles” went to #3 on the R&B chart and #15 on the pop chart, also in 1969. Both of these tracks came from the group’s debut album Grazin’ (1969), which did quite well on both pop and R&B singles album (at #35 and #10, respectively).

When Love became pregnant, she took on a temporary absence. Another singer Charlene Gibson took Love’s place for the time being, and would also sing the Friends of Distinction’s single “Love or Let Me Be Lonely” from their Real Friends LP (1970). This gave the group their second and last top 10 on the pop chart (at #6). It also went to #9 on the adult contemporary singles chart and #13 on the R&B singles chart, peaking their prolific period.

The group’s disbandment and re-formation

Two more charting singles went their way: “Time Waits for No One” (from their 1970 album Whatever ) and “I Need You” (from their 1971 album Friends & People). But it is clear that they were running out of hits. They ceased touring in the mid-1970s, despite some personnel changes, and they soon disbanded. Cleaves and Love quit, with Love joining other R&B acts such as Earth, Wiind and Fire, and Parliament.

Elston and Butler parted ways, not only physically but also emtionally. They refused to talk to each other for many years. But they finally resolved their differences and planned to re-form the Friends of Distinction. Just as the two men reconciled, Butler collapsed into Elston’s arms, dying of heart attack in 1990. After Butler’s death, Elston reformed the group with new members. Cleaves passed away in May 2014.

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