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Marilyn McCoo

Singer and actress Marilyn McCoo was born on September 30, 1943 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Her parents, Mary and Waymon McCoo, were both doctors and moved the family to Los Angeles, California when McCoo was seven years old. She graduated from Dorsey High School and went on to attend the University of California-Los Angeles, where she received her B.S. degree in business administration.

In 1962, McCoo entered the Miss Bronze California beauty pageant where she won the Grand Talent award and met Lamonte McLemore, who asked her to join his singing group, the Hi-Fi’s. She went on to perform with Ray Charles and record the single "Lonesome Mood." The Hi-Fi’s disbanded in 1965, and that same year McCoo, McLemore, Florence LaRue, Ron Townson, and Billy Davis, Jr. formed The Versatiles. The group signed to the Soul City label, changed their name to The 5th Dimension, and recorded their first hit in 1966, "Go Where You Wanna Go." In 1967, they released “Up, Up, and Away,” which won four Grammy Awards and was the title track to the 5th Dimension's first hit album. In 1969, The 5th Dimension released The Age of Aquarius. The album's first single, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," became a mega-hit and occupied the number one spot on the charts for six weeks. It earned the group two more Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year.

In 1969, McCoo married bandmate Billy Davis, Jr., and in 1975, they left The 5th Dimension. Together, they released 1976's I Hope We Get To Love In Time, featuring the single, "You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)." The song went straight to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned the duo a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus. McCoo and Davis went on to host The Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. Show on CBS in 1977. In the 1980s McCoo hosted the music countdown show Solid Gold. She also had a recurring spot on the soap opera Days of Our Lives in the 1980s, and acted in a number of movies. She appeared on stage in productions of Anything Goes, A...My Name is Alice, Man of La Mancha, and the Broadway production of Show Boat.

McCoo released a solo album, Solid Gold, in 1983, and then a gospel album in 1991 entitled The Me Nobody Knows; its title single went to number one on the gospel charts. She received another Grammy Award the following year for participating as a guest artist on Quincy Jones’ Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, which won Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album. In 2004, McCoo and Davis co-authored the book Up, Up and Away…How We Found Love, Faith and Lasting Marriage in the Entertainment World.

McCoo has also earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and The 5th Dimension was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002. She has received two honorary doctorate degrees and served on the boards of the Children's Miracle Network, the Los Angeles Mission, and the Cancer Research Foundation.

Marilyn McCoo was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 29, 2014.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Marital Status



University of California, Los Angeles

Talladega College

University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Arlington Heights Elementary School

Los Angeles High School

Susan Miller Dorsey High School

First Name


Birth City, State, Country

Jersey City




New Jersey

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles



Short Description

Singer and actress Marilyn McCoo (1943 - ) is an eight-time Grammy Award-winning singer and an original member of The 5th Dimension. She has also hosted television shows, appeared on Broadway, and acted in a number of movies. McCoo is co-author, with her husband Billy Davis, Jr., of Up, Up and Away…How We Found Love, Faith and Lasting Marriage in the Entertainment World.


Joseph Magnin

Westminster Neighborhood Association

The 5th Dimension

McCoo & Davis, Inc.

Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Marilyn McCoo's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Marilyn McCoo lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her mother's upbringing and education

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Marilyn McCoo describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Marily McCoo talks about her father's career as a singer

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Marily McCoo describes how her parents met and their move to Columbus, Georgia

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her family's civil rights activism

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Marily McCoo describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Marily McCoo talks about her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Marily McCoo describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Marily McCoo describes her early childhood education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her childhood in Columbus, Georgia and her family's move to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Marilyn McCoo describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Marilyn McCoo describes her early interest in show business

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Marilyn McCoo describes the role of religion in her upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Marilyn McCoo talks about the importance of music in her family.

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her early education and her parents' influence on her career path

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Marilyn McCoo describes her early musical education and her mentor Eddie Beal

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Marilyn McCoo describes the music she listened to and how it influenced her

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Marilyn McCoo shares her experience in high school activities

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Marilyn McCoo describes singing with her sisters as a youth

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her early career goals and her decision to attend college

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her private vocal lessons with Florence Russell during her college years

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Marilyn McCoo talks about competing in Miss Bronze California

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Marilyn McCoo talks about meeting HistoryMaker Lamonte McLemore and joining the Hi-Fi's.

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Marilyn McCoo talks about performing with the Hi-Fi's and her mother's reaction.

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her centerfold in Jet magazine

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her friend, actress Vonetta McGee

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Marilyn McCoo talks about working with Ray Charles through the Hi-Fi's

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Marilyn McCoo describes her experience as a woman in the entertainment world

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Marilyn McCoo talks about the music she performed with the Hi-Fi's and Ray Charles

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Marilyn McCoo talks about returning to school to study business administration

Tape: 3 Story: 13 - Marilyn McCoo talks about earning money on the road with the Hi-Fi's

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her decision to leave the Hi-Fi's

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Marilyn McCoo talks about her career goals after leaving the Hi-Fi's







Marilyn McCoo talks about working with Ray Charles through the Hi-Fi's
Marilyn McCoo describes her early interest in show business
So anyway, back to--so the Hi-Fi's are--well, you're still a minor with the Hi-Fi's, and at a certain point Hi-Fi's, they, they mu--they, they're still together until what, '65 [1965], '64 [1964] or '65 [1965]?$$Right, yeah, we stayed-- sa Okay.$$--together until the end of sixty-four [1964].$$And what--$$Yeah.$$Now you had Ray Charles--$$How did Ray Charles--$$Yeah, how did--$$--come into the picture?$$Yeah, yeah.$$Well, I don't remember exactly how we met Ray Charles. And [HM] Lamonte McLemore might have had something to with it because Lamonte was always trying to hook up the group with somebody. But Ray heard the group, and he liked what he heard. And he decided that he wanted to record us, and he did. He recorded us on his label, and we recorded a song called 'Lonesome Mood' and a couple of other things. And it was also during that time--so, Ray started managing the group. And now I was still in school, and Fritz Baskett was still in school, but he guys were ready to go out and work. You know, they wanted to go out on the road, so they went to Ray and said hey, why don't you take us out on the road? You know, you're managing us, and, and we're not doing anything, and you're out on the road. So Ray decided that he would take us out, and we ended up opening the show for him.$$Now this is really, this is like your father [Wayman McCoo] singing with Fletch Henderson [Fletcher Henderson].$$Yeah, well, it was, it was amay--$$Your--$$--it was a wonderful opportunity.$$Ray Charles--$$As a matter of fact, I dropped out of school for a semester to go out on tour with Ray Charles. My mother [Mary Ellen McCoo] was not pleased about this at all. So, and I was not twenty-one yet. And I'm, I'm forgetting Joe, Joe--what's Joe's last name?$$(OFF-CAMERA MALE VOICE): (Unclear)--$$Thank you, baby, okay.$$What, what was it?$$I'm just, I'm--now, my mother was not--$$What's his last name? What was Joe's last name?$$I'm gonna give it to.$$Okay, all right.$$I'm gonna give it to you in--$$Okay.$$So now, my mother was not excited about this at all.$$Okay.$$And I wasn't twenty one yet. But Joe Adams, who was managing Ray Charles now at this time, he came to my mother and he talked to her. And, and you know, he said you know your daughter wants to go out, and the group is gonna go out. And, and we'll, we'll take good care of her (laughter). And my mother didn't believe that at all. As a matter of fact, she told Lamonte, she said you all make sure my daughter is okay. And she made me promise her that when I came back home that I would go right back to school and finish and graduate, because I only had about twenty seven units left at the time that I dropped out. And it was an amazing experience for me. I really got a chance to learn what goes out, what goes on out on the road. I got a chance to sit out in the audience and watch Ray Charles perform. He was so amazing. What a brilliant, brilliant artist. And I really, really enjoyed those three months.$$$I read that you always interested in, been interested in show business. So when did this first manifest itself? Well, I guess always. I, I don't know. I mean, do you have any stories about when you first started thinking about yourself as being an entertainer at some point?$$Well, you know, when I was growing up, my father [Wayman McCoo] would come home sometimes with, with vocal arrangements, usually something from, from a book, because daddy at one time taught, taught choir at, at his church. He would come in with a vocal arrangement, and he would start assigning parts. And my mother [Mary Ellen Holloway McCoo] would sing her part; and my sister, Glenda, would sing her part; and then they'd give me a part to sing, and then we'd all four sing in harmony. And I loved it; I loved the sound of harmony. And we'd get around the piano, and daddy would plunk out the parts and, and play the, you know, play the chords. And I just loved that they included me in it because I was thinking I'm just one. And then they would marvel because I could, I could hold my note. And they'd say well, listen to her. She's holding her note. And I would think, well, of course I'm holding my note. That's what you told me to sing (laughter). It never occurred to me that it was unusual.$$Okay.$$So I just, I just enjoyed music from very on. And then my, my, my parents made sure that we studied piano lessons, that we took piano lessons. All four of us did. And they just wanted us to have, you know, a familiarity with, with music. My mother had studied violin when she was in, when she was growing up, and so they wanted us to have, to have a knowledge of music.