Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr: Fifty Years Later, the Music Plays On
Coming to the Ridgefield Play House
By Andrea Comer – Inquiring News-CT
Connecticut – Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. will tell you that theirs wasn’t love at first sight. They shared a love of music, a passion for entertainment, and a strong friendship. Yet their love, like their music, has stood the test of time.
The seven-time Grammy Award winning duo will take the stage in Ridgefield on April 16th for a long overdue visit to Connecticut. The last time the pair performed in the state was at Wallingford’s Oakdale Theater in 1999. Married nearly 50 years, McCoo and Davis have countless hits between them – both as a duo and as members of 5th Dimension, an R&B group that dominated the airwaves with “soul food” music at a time of great tumult in the country.
“We love to sing, and we wanted to sing ever since we were kids,” McCoo said. “We didn’t know each other until the group formed, but both of us were passionate about music, so the joy of making music was something we shared.”
“There was so much going on during that time, there was a movement going on,” said Davis. “We wanted to take people’s minds off of that. We felt like music was supposed take people away from their problems, it’s an escape route. That’s what we tried to do with our music.”
With such hits as “Up, Up and Away,” “One Less Bell,” and “Stone Soul Picnic” with the 5th Dimension, as well as “You Don’t Have to Be a Star” as a duet, McCoo’s and Davis’ blended melodies have spanned decades and remained true to their desire to entertain.
“Today’s music is about everything, all the way to taking on the powers that be and singing about the wrongs that exist in our lives. We’re living in a much heavier period, life is a harsher reality now. A lot of people are struggling, and people will always sing about their experiences,” McCoo said. “Music is an expression of life. That’s what they’re singing and rapping about now,” Davis added.
McCoo and Davis are still singing about love, because that’s what they believe in, they say. They’re longevity – musically and romantically – is rare these days, a fact both acknowledged. “They want it, but they don’t know how to get it,” Davis said of longevity. “Yes. We attribute so much of the success of our marriage and working together as friendship,” McCoo said. “It’s about caring about each other. When we first started to know each other, we found that so much of our approach to life was similar – what we thought about handling life. That’s not to say we agreed on everything. We disagreed on many things. In fact, when we first got married, people thought we wouldn’t stay together because we were constantly arguing.” “But you can’t make people see things the way you see them,” Davis interjected.
That fact presented itself powerfully when the couple decided to part ways with the other members of the 5th Dimension, with whom they’d earned four Grammy awards for “Up, Up and Away.” The group’s final album, “The group’s final album, “Earthbound,” while widely appreciated by fans, did not garner the attention it could have, McCoo said, because of the split. “There was a lot going on at that time. The group was not getting along at its best. We made a decision not to listen because it brought back painful memories. When it was re-released, we listened, and we realized it had never gotten the recognition. There was a lot of regret. It was one of those things where you say what a waste, because it never got a chance.”
The couple readily admits that wasn’t the only difficult time, but they say their faith got them through. McCoo and Davis became born-again Christians decades ago, and says it has taught them a great deal about their belief and each other. So what would they say to couples, whether on a professional journey or not?
“Everyone can’t be a Magic Johnson,” Davis said. “Or a Beyoncé,” McCoo added. “Learn to accept each other the way they are. Support them even when they fail,” Davis said. “Sharing your life together means giving your partner the space to do the things they want to do,” McCoo said.
Attendees at their Ridgefield performance will see evidence of that. Of course they will perform their hits, but Davis will pay homage to his St. Louis roots with gospel and blues performances, and McCoo will share her love of jazz with the audience. They’ll also perform “California Soul,” albeit with a twist.
Asked to pick a song that best decides their journey, the couple responded almost immediately. “ How Do You Keep the Music Playing.’ Or ‘The Way We Were.”