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Get ready for WQED's R&B tribute

Sunday, January 20, 2002

By Nate Guidry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

For two nights in late November, Heinz Hall was filled with the soulful sounds of wonderful rhythm and blues.

The latest incarnation of The Temptations belts out the group's signature song, "My Girl," for an appreciative Heinz Hall audience. The concert was taped in November for a WQED fund-raising drive that begins tonight. (John Heller, Post-Gazette)

But just when it was about to become too old school, the emotive Fontella Bass belted out "Rescue Me," and the younger members of the audience began to sing and hum along with a greater sense of familiarity.

Hundreds of music fans were on hand when those back-to-back performances were taped to become "R&B 40: A Soul Spectacular," which celebrates 40 years of rhythm and blues and artists as renowned as the Temptations, whose hits included "Get Ready" and "My Girl." The tapings were edited into a single concert for television viewers.

Oh, to hear Ben E. King singing "Spanish Harlem" and reuniting with the Drifters on "Stand By Me" and "Under the Boardwalk"! They don't pirouette as well as they used to, but they still have a flair for the dramatic.

The concert, hosted by Jerry Butler, Dionne Warwick and Richard "Shaft" Roundtree, was created by Pittsburgh's T.J. Lubinsky as a kind of kissing cousin to his money-making doo-wop specials.

Like those pledge-break hits, this one airs tonight on WQED/WQEX, with a national release to follow in March on PBS.

Tonight's program features a cross-gathering of musicians from Motown, Atlantic, Stax, Volt and Muscle Shoals, as well as artists who were prominent during the 1960s and 1970s, including Warwick, who endeared herself to fans with the timeless "Walk On By."


"R&B 40: A Soul Spectacular"

When: 8 tonight on WQED/WQEX.

Hosts: Jerry Butler, Dionne Warwick, Richard Roundtree.


"It's a pleasure to be in Pittsburgh," said Warwick the night of the taping. She won the first of several Grammy Awards for the classic "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" in 1968. "This music is our roots, and it's wonderful to be back with so many old friends."

The show also features clips of the Marvelettes singing "Don't Mess With Bill," Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" and "Nowhere to Run" by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. The careers of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, whose "Ain't That Peculiar" continues to be a timeless work of art, also get the historical treatment.

"These are once-in-a-lifetime performances from the vocal groups and the soul superstars that evolved the doo-wop sounds into the 1960s through the '70s," said Lubinsky, whose "Doo Wop 52," produced last year, was the highest-grossing pledge event in public television history.

"This latest production was just the next step in the evolution of this great music. My goal is to bring Smokey Robinson and the Miracles together again."

That's a lofty goal. But until then, fans can enjoy "R&B 40," which is filled with nostalgia, well-orchestrated dance routines and good music -- like that of the Isley Brothers, who demonstrate on "Shout" and "Who's That Lady" why they continue to capture the minds and hearts of fans young and old.

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