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Joe Billingslea, Jr.

Singer and performer Joe Billingslea, Jr. was born on November 14, 1937 in Hamtramck, Michigan. Before his first birthday, his parents moved to Detroit, Michigan where he was raised. He sang with the boys' choir while attending Chadsey High School. After graduation, he enlisted in the United States Air Force. While stationed in the State of Maine, Billingslea formed a vocal group with four other airmen called the Revere Tone Five. After receiving an honorable discharge following his four-year stint, he returned to Detroit.

Upon his return, Billingslea was invited by an old high school friend, Billy Gordon, to join his singing group, The Majestics. In 1958, the group disbanded, so Billingslea and Gordon decided to form a new vocal group. Billingslea placed a want-ad in the local newspaper looking for singers. Billy Hoggs responded to the ad and became the group's third member. At Hoggs' recommendation, his friend Billy Rollins, became the fourth member of a group they named The Blenders. Within weeks, Rollins was replaced with another friend of Hoggs, Leroy Fair. In 1959, Hubert Johnson was added, making the group a quintet. At Billingslea’s suggestion, the group renamed itself "The Contours."

Within days of the name change, The Contours signed a recording contract with Motown Records. The group's first two records in 1960 and 1961 on the Motown label didn't receive much airplay outside the Midwest. However, in 1962 the group made music history with the million-seller, "Do You Love Me", recorded on Motown's newest label, Gordy. Billingslea continued to sing with The Contours for two more years, racking up a number of chart hits on the way. In 1964, every member of The Contours, except Billy Gordon, left the group over creative differences with Motown.

Billingslea took a job for Chrysler Corporation at the Dodge Truck Plant in Warren, Michigan. A year later, he was elected UAW Chief Steward; a position he held until he resigned in 1968 to join the Wayne County Sheriff's Department. In 1977, he joined the Detroit Correctional Department (DeHoCo), and eventually reached the rank of Sergeant.

In the early 1970s, Billingslea reconstituted The Contours and the group began playing weekends in the greater Detroit area, with occasional dates outside Michigan, including a few international dates. While leading The Contours, he continued to work his day job and in November 1985 he was assigned to the Detroit Police Department, 9th Floor Lockup.

In 1987, the release of the movie, "Dirty Dancing" created a renewed interest in The Contours’ music. The 1988 re-release of "Do You Love Me" from the movie's soundtrack soared on the charts, eventually going multi-platinum at level 4.0. The movie's success prompted the ten-month "Dirty Dancing Tour," in which The Contours participated.

In 1989, Billingslea decided to resign from the Detroit Police Department to devote all of his time to The Contours and his singing career. He is married and has eight children - five boys and three girls.

Joe Billingslea was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on June 22, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.206

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/22/2014

Last Name

Billingslea

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Sill School

Condon Intermediate School

Chadsey High School

First Name

Joseph

Birth City, State, Country

Hamtramck

HM ID

BIL04

State

Michigan

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

11/14/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Detroit

Country

United States

Short Description

Singer and performer Joe Billingslea, Jr. (1937 - ) was a member of the musical group The Contours, famed for their 1962 Motown hit “Do You Love Me.” The Contours have been inducted into both the Rock ‘n’ Roll Walk of Fame and the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame.

Employment

The Majestics

The Contours

Chrysler Corporation

United Automobile Workers

Wayne County Sheriff's Department

Detroit Correctional Department

Detroit Police Department, 9th Floor Lockup

Irving Burgie

Songwriter and performer Irving Burgie was born on July 28, 1924 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, to a Barbadian mother and a Virginia-born father, who worked as a day laborer. In 1943, Burgie was drafted into the U.S. Army and served for three years in the China, Burma, and India Theaters. When Burgie returned to the U.S., he took advantage of the newly passed G.I. Bill, which allowed him to attend the Juilliard School, the University of Arizona, and the University of Southern California.

In 1953, Burgie performed as a singer and guitarist at the Blue Angel in Chicago, Illinois. After playing at the Village Vanguard in New York City in 1955, he was introduced to Harry Belafonte, and the two began a collaboration with Burgie as songwriter and Belafonte as performer. A year later, they released the album Calypso, for which Burgie composed eight of the eleven songs, including the hit “Day-O.” Calypso became the first American record to sell over one million copies. In 1957, Burgie wrote the song “Island in the Sun” for the film of the same name, which starred Belafonte and Joan Fontaine. Burgie was then credited for ten of the eleven songs on Belafonte’s 1957 album Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean, and eight of the twelve songs on 1961’s Jump Up Calypso. In 1963, Burgie composed the music and lyrics for the off-Broadway show, “Ballad for Bimshire,” which starred Ossie Davis. Then, while on a trip to Barbados, Burgie was invited to write the lyrics for the Barbados national anthem, which he completed in 1966. In 2011, he signed a fifteen-year publishing deal with BMG Rights Management.

Burgie released The West Indian Song Book in 1972, and the Caribbean Carnival song book in 1993. He also released the solo album, Island in the Sun, in 1996, which included many of his own renditions of the hits that he wrote for Belafonte. In 2007, he published the autobiography, Day-O!!!: The Autobiography of Irving Burgie.

Burgie developed the Caribbean Day Assembly Program for New York-area public schools in 1973; and, in 1975, helped organize the United Black Men of Queens County Federation, Inc. He has received the Silver Crown of Merit from the Barbados government, and was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of the West Indies and St. John’s University in New York. Burgie was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007.

Irving Burgie was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 9, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.123

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/9/2014 |and| 4/10/2014

Last Name

Burgie

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

The Juilliard School

University of Arizona School of Law

University of Southern California

First Name

Irving

Birth City, State, Country

Brooklyn

HM ID

BUR23

State

New York

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/28/1924

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Short Description

Songwriter and performer Irving Burgie (1924 - ) was a songwriter for three Harry Belafonte albums and wrote the lyrics for the Barbados national anthem. He authored Day-O!!!: The Autobiography of Irving Burgie, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007.

Employment

U.S. Army

BMG Rights Management