Eddie Levert on Fatherhood, Loss R&B singer Eddie Levert, founding member of The O'Jays, talks about his new book, "I Got Your Back." It's a collaboration with his son, singer Gerald Levert, who died soon after they finished the project.
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Eddie Levert on Fatherhood, Loss

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Eddie Levert on Fatherhood, Loss

Eddie Levert on Fatherhood, Loss

Eddie Levert on Fatherhood, Loss

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R&B singer Eddie Levert, founding member of The O'Jays, talks about his new book, "I Got Your Back." It's a collaboration with his son, singer Gerald Levert, who died soon after they finished the project.

Eddie Levert and author Lyah Beth LeFlore in the NPR West studio. Bettina Wiesenthal-Birch/NPR hide caption

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Bettina Wiesenthal-Birch/NPR

TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Eddie Levert founded one of the greatest singing groups in R&B history. But The O'Jays are not the creation he's most proud of. It's his son, Gerald. Following in his father's footsteps, Gerald Levert exemplified a new generation of R&B classiness.

But Gerald died suddenly in November of 2006. His death coming one day after he and his father completed their final collaboration. It's a book about love, fatherhood, family and friendship. They called it "I Got Your Back."

Now, Eddie Levert is out promoting the book without Gerald. Despite a deep sense of loss, he says he happily remembers the good times.

Mr. EDDIE LEVERT (Lead Vocalist, The O'Jays; Author, "I Got Your Back: A Father and Son Keep it Real About Love, Fatherhood, Family, and Friendship"): Some of my greatest moment, some of my most creative moments, some of my most joyous moments were with him on stage.

Some of the freest moments, some of the undescribable moments, the - this is my kid and we're up here and we are singing. And in front of thousands of people, I got a chance to - I could kiss him, rub his head and that hug, that father and son hug, that my child hug, my baby hug. And I could do that in front of thousands of people and then we would laugh about it and he would get all shy and bashful. And I'd love those moments. And those moments were - I'm searching for the rights words - that was like an adventure.

COX: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. I am following you.

Mr. LEVERT: Yeah, being with him was like an adventure.

COX: Let's talk about you, the book. We're going to talk about Gerald. But the first thing I need to know from you is - because I'm looking at your eyes to see if you got any rest after that performance Tuesday night at the BET Awards. Because that performance that you did with Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and with Yolanda Adams, it was very touching. It was a tribute to your late son, Gerald.

As a father - I'm a father, too. I've a son actually - how hard was it for you to do that?

Mr. LEVERT: You know, in actuality it was much easier at rehearsal because it was only just me, the orchestra, Patti, Gladys and Yolanda, and the choir, and a lot of empty chairs out there. Now, when it got for the shooting and I see all of my contemporaries out there and they all stand up and then the fans stand up, it became a very emotional moment for me after. I have to say that I had to pull myself together, and say, well, okay, this - Eddie, this is just another performance.

But he is sorely missed by myself and - I'm pretty sure a lot of his fans and the - and a lot of my peers are very sympathetic and very, you know, they are standing by me and they all come up and say, how are you really doing? How are - and then they'll say, how are you doing? And then they'll say, how are you really doing like I'm lying?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of The O'Jays' "Stairway to Heaven")

Mr. LEVERT: But, you know, it was a - every day is a little bit different. Every day is - some days, you know, I feel like I've - I'm getting better and I'm over it. And then it's like this morning, my grandson, Gerald's son, Lemicah, he called me to tell me about the show. And he was in pieces, you know what I'm saying?

COX: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LEVERT: And so now - I didn't get a chance to speak to him over the phone live but he left me a message. And through his whole message, he was very emotional. He was crying. And as I'm listening to him, telling me how great the show was and how much he loved me and he's just bawling and then I started bawling just listening to it, you know what I'm saying?

COX: Mm-hmm.

Mr. LEVERT: I'm fine until those kind of situations come and then the gravity of what's going on and what has happened, it comes to me and I have to pull myself back together.

COX: Well, you know, the book, it seems to me from having read and that this is an opportunity to keep Gerald with you.

Mr. LEVERT: Yeah. Absolutely. And - you're the first person that seems to grasp that, that I - it's almost like me and him are still doing our thing and we're working, and I'm out here on the road with him and we're promoting our new product, our new idea and along with the book, we got a CD called "Something to Talk About." We're doing - so it's almost like having him next to me but not, you know, not the physical part, just the great vibe, stuff like that.

(Soundbite of The O'Jays' "Stairway to Heaven")

COX: As a father of world's famous, you know, group, The O'Jays, and here comes your son, Gerald, little Gerald, who is like dad, you know, I want to do what you're doing. And I read that you told him, as I would imagine a lot of fathers do. Listen, you know, you don't get your heart broken if you try to go against you, right? Right.

Mr. LEVERT: Be confident because, you know, I've had a lot of heartbreaking. I went into the music business thinking that as soon as we cut that group's record, you were a hit and you were famous and you were getting all of this great money and everything was okay.

Sixteen years later, sixteen years have gone. It's one heartache, drowned into relations, believing, mourning(ph) and praying, you don't wish that on your children.

COX: I know. That's right.

Mr. LEVERT: Do you understand me?

COX: That's right.

Mr. LEVERT: You don't want that for your child to go through that kind of pain and he wanted it, and he wanted it so much until I had to just cave in and say, okay man, I'm going to help you do this. But I also had to tell him now there's no crying in baseball. Don't even try it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEVERT: You want it? Here it is. But the one thing about him, he was a true worker. He worked at trying to be the best he could be. When I opened the door, they couldn't throw him out the door. He was just - I'm going to make this work and I'm going to do the best that I can all the way up to the time that he passed, he was that kind of person. He - almost to his death, you know? You know, he was a workaholic.

(Soundbite of song, "I Love Music")

COX: I can't have you sit here and not talk a little bit about you and the O'Jays.

Mr. LEVERT: Yes.

COX: Also because one of the things - first of all, what was the greatest moment that you and the O'Jays had that you remember?

Mr. LEVERT: One of the most memorable moments was when we had recorded this album "Ship Ahoy" and we came out to play what we created and we were trying to figure out how we could make our show different than most vocal groups and how we could incorporate the "Ship Ahoy" and let them - let the people see our vision for recording that song.

So we got (unintelligible) ship. We got some dancers. We got some soundtracks with clips backing it and all of that, and we put on these tattered clothing in order to look like slaves. And we got smoke. We have the dancers. And we have this - the projector that made the ship looked like it was bigger than life. We wanted to show the trip from Africa to America. That to me was a great moment for the group because we stepped over into another arena as far as R&B groups are concerned.

(Soundbite of song, "I Love Music")

COX: The book is fantastic to read. I enjoyed it. And your concerts are really good, but I got to tell you about one of your concerts that I attended, and I've attended many, ended with what I still consider the all-time best ending that a concert's ever had. That's when money was the number one. You know what I'm going to - see, you're smiling already. At the end of the concert, what did you guys do?

Mr. LEVERT: The money.

COX: You threw the money…

Mr. LEVERT: The money. The money.

COX: …to everybody in the audience. This was great.

Mr. LEVERT: We used to have the money taken up to the top of the ceiling of the arena, put it in there and when we got to "For the Love of Money" they would released all these, you know, all the bills with our picture on it and the pit would just go.

COX: It went crazy.

Mr. LEVERT: They'd go absolutely nuts.

COX: They weren't sure if it was real money or not at first.

Mr. LEVERT: Yeah, right. And when they found out it was not real money. It was sort of disappointing but they loved it.

COX: Yeah (unintelligible) did. You knew they had a good time.

Mr. LEVERT: That's right. That's right.

COX: Eddie Levert, thank you, man, for coming in.

Mr. LEVERT: Oh, thank you.

COX: I really enjoyed talking with you.

Mr. LEVERT: (Unintelligible). Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "For the Love of Money")

COX: Eddie Levert's book, "I Got Your Back" was written in collaboration with Lyah Beth LeFlore and his late son Gerald.

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