Inspired by George Floyd, Iconic R&B Group ‘The Whispers’ Delivers New Music and says: ‘Go vote!’
The music world lost two legends with the passing of Marcus Hutson and Nicholas Caldwell, two members of the quintet the world knew as The Whispers. But twins Wallace “Scotty” and Walter Scott and Leaveil Degree keep their memory alive by continuing to perform all over the world—and releasing new music well into their seventies.
The trio’s new single “How Long” is a response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It paints a picture of unity and love while calling out Americans for mistreating blacks and other minorities.
The Whispers had several hits on the R&B and Billboard Charts, and was the #1 “Hot Dance Club Play” with “And The Beat Goes On,” “Can You Do The Boogie” and “Out The Box.” The popular “Rock Steady” was #1 on the R&B charts and reached #7 on the “Hot 100” list in 1987. Walter, Wallace and Leaveil have had a career full of successes, big and small, but they’re not done yet.
They have seven gold albums, two platinum albums and 40 charted hits Since 1970. Our culture still needs them. They’re still here for us. And their powerful message about the importance of voting applies if you’re 18 or 80.
All of us fans thank them for their amazing tracks, and we hope there’s much more to come.
Percy Crawford interviewed The Whispers for Zenger News.
Zenger: It’s an honor to speak to you brothers. I am humbled. How is it going?
The Whispers: It’s going great, man. We’re like everybody else, just trying to exist in this pandemic. That’s about it.
Zenger: I would ask if it has been difficult to create, not being able to go on the road, but you guys gave us an amazing and powerful song with this “How Long” track.
The Whispers: It’s easy to create. We basically took the liberty of doing this new record that we’re going to talk about, in the midst of the virus, back in March and April. But like most people, we’re kind of staying put. We recorded this record with masks on, basically. That’s how we did that. We are about to do an in-person streaming show—a Pay Per View. It will be shown on the 31st of October.
Zenger: When I think about the premise of “How Long,” nearly 50 years ago, Marvin Gaye released, “What’s Going On.” Unfortunately, the same rhetorical question that was asked in 1971 holds true with your record in 2020.
Scotty Scott: I’m so glad you said Marvin Gaye’s “What Going On,” because when I first heard this record, that’s the first thing that popped in my mind. Once we saw the knee in George Floyd’s neck, we knew we had to come with it. We were in the midst of doing another Whispers record. And like everybody else, we were at home looking at television, and we saw what happened with George Floyd. Well, that changed everything. That made everything much more important. And like you said, man, we’re old enough to—this is not the first time we’ve seen black people being mistreated this way. We go back to 1965, we had another record called, “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong Before They Notice Me,” dealing with the same subject matter. Us being mistreated, police going crazy on black people, and you know how it goes. So this record was very important. “How Long” was basically asking the question, “How long have we gotta go through this crap?”
We have been through it for years. We have been singing for 54 years and we’re still dealing with this. We’ve done run out of names, and black people do die, who have given their lives for this. How long is this going to go on?
So, when we heard the lyrics to this song, which was originally written back in 1983 by our bass player, the guy in our band, and when he sent it to me and I heard the words, I got with Leaveil [Degree] and my brother and said, “We gotta record this right away.” I can’t think of a word more important than “important” for how important a song like this is right now. It’s time for this crap to end.
Leaveil Degree: All of us have been victims of it. I have been a victim of police brutality, my brother has, so this isn’t nothing new, but like Scotty said, it was so important for us to do this. And it was just a good thing like, Scotty said that everybody was home at the time that this happened. Everybody was quarantined. Normally, if something like this happens, not many people see it, so eventually it kind of goes right on by you. But this time, everybody had to sit right there and watch this man’s life get snuffed out. And it was only because of the grace of God and having cellphone cameras.
When I was getting jacked up, my brother was getting jacked up and friends of mine were getting jacked up by the police department, there was no witness to it. there were no cameras to say, this is what they did to me, so the police department always got the benefit of the doubt. This was—no doubt that this man was murdered.
So, when we saw that and Scotty sent that song to me, I was like, “We have to do this.” We can go back to our typical ladies’ ballads, but in this climate we need to help pull the wool off of this, and also in the same sense give some people some hope. Because right now, people are just tired. They are exhausted. We hope that this record gives them some form of peace while lending the message of “How long are we going to have to go through this crap of getting strangled, getting shot and kneed on?”
What are they going to do, pee on us next? I don’t know what can be worse than someone taking your life but how long are we going to have to deal with this?
Walter Scott: Let me continue on, you talked about Marvin Gaye. I happened to be the only Whisper that happened to go to the Vietnam War back in 1965, and most people don’t remember when Marvin Gaye asked—he made the same statement about, “What’s Going On?” We always talk about the story of when he brought the song to Berry Gordy. Berry Gordy didn’t want to release it on his label because he thought it was too controversial. He didn’t want to talk about the subject matter.
But what I relate that to, man, is—that’s the beauty of R&B music. From R&B music came a “What’s Going On,” which told people what was happening all over the world about killing. We had the same thing with a tune called “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong Before They Notice Me,” in the midst of the Watts riots, which is where we came from. So violence has been going on with black people and all minorities for many, many, many years. And what we are stunned by is that 40 years later we have to be talking about the same thing.
So, you asked: What is the answer? The answer is love. And that sounds corny to a lot of people, but man, if you treat people the way you want to be treated, we can solve this problem tomorrow. We don’t need black people being shot, policemen approaching them with guns drawn and putting them on the ground. That’s happened to every man on this phone [call]. I don’t know if it’s happened to you, but it has happened to all of us. And I’m sure you know exactly what we are talking about.
So this song couldn’t have come at a more important time. We just hope it catches on. It’s doing quite well. On October 31 we’re going to get more distribution with this PPV that we’re doing. It’s coming out of Chicago but it’s going to be seen all over the country and all over the world. So hopefully this message can catch on, because like we’re all saying on this phone [call], how long do we have to do this? It’s long overdue.
Zenger: The message is loud and clear, and I want to thank you guys for coming out of your comfort zone and doing a track that doesn’t align with what your fans have grown accustomed to hearing from you.
Scotty Scott: And we like to thank you, brother for giving us this platform. We do not take this for granted. You obviously realize the importance of this song. And we want you to know that we appreciate you giving us this platform to say to people what time it really is.
Zenger: This is a beautiful yet powerful message and not only does the song need to be heard, but the story behind it does as well. So I’m honored to offer this platform to you guys.
Scotty Scott: Thank you, my brother. You know, you sound like you’re a young brother. We’re probably old enough to be your grandfather.
Zenger: I’m 40.
Scotty Scott: Yes, you are much younger than us, but let me tell you what a joy it is to hear a young guy, 40 understand—see, you can tell the people below you, who are in their twenties, instead of going out in the street and fighting each other, you can explain to them that there is a bigger principle at stake. We don’t need to be fighting each other. We need to stick together and that’s what this song is about.
Zenger: I think it’s a testament to the foundation that you guys created—to have a powerful voice in 2020! Let me ask you, what are the keys to your longevity?
Walter Scott: I always attribute it to upbringing. You are from Louisiana, that means you are a Southern guy. My brother and I are from Texas, so we are from the South, and when you’re from the South, there is a certain way that we were all raised. We highly respected our parents and our grandparents. We understand that we are only as strong as our weakest link. When The Whispers starting singing, people would approach us and say, “Man, why don’t y’all call it ‘The Whispers featuring Walt and Scotty’? How come it ain’t ‘Scotty & The Whispers?’” We never bought into that, man. It was just The Whispers. That’s what it’s been for 54 years because we understood by sticking together—just like black people should stick together as a race. If you stick together you can accomplish anything. And that’s why I attribute our upbringing as our key to longevity in this game.
Leaveil Degree: You know, I’m from your home state. I’m from New Orleans. I was raised in New Orleans, so if you did something you would get beat by your mother and if you did something in another neighborhood you would get beat by them too. You learned a lot from going through that kind of thing. And our mothers were all about 4’11″ and barely 100 pounds, and we were scared to death of them. But our mothers always said, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
With that, I always felt like, no matter what my position is or what position the twins are, they are the lead singers. Me, Nicholas and Marcus were the background singers, but there were no difference in any of us. Women came to see them, they came to see me, they came to see Marcus and they came to see Nicholas. Everyone had a contributing part to this group’s longevity. So, we never lost sight of the fact that each one of those pieces of that puzzle was important to show the whole picture. And without a piece you don’t have that picture. So we knew the importance of making sure that we kept the puzzle together.
And now that we have lost two guys, we’re still trying to keep the picture, but we will never change the pieces of that puzzle because it will never be the same picture. We’re just going to be the three until we leave this planet and I don’t think we could get along with anybody else.
Scotty Scott: Let me close that out, brother, by saying that, first of all, I’ve gotta be honest enough to tell you that if anybody had told me I would be doing this for 54 years, I just wouldn’t have believed it. We come from Watts, California in the projects. I remember in the summertime we would be out singing, and the broom was the microphone and the front yard was all over the world as far as we were concerned. If anybody had told me that we would end up going all over the world and being here this long, I just wouldn’t have believed it.
My answer to your question is … They just gave you two or three of the reasons, which is our upbringing. But the other would be our fan base, man. I think we have the most loyal—there’s no way that we can be here this long had people not stuck by us all these years. So, to me that’s why The Whispers are still here. The people have backed us. They may not be as big, but they have been just as strong as some of the bigger acts. And I credit that more than anything to The Whispers being here after 54 years.
Zenger: Before I let you guys go, you have traveled the world and music has been the tool that opened up that option. Can you guys just speak on the power of music and how it can be used to bring the world together is put out properly because, “How Long,” is actually a song of love, unity and togetherness.
Walter Scott: Ah man, it’s a joy. I say this a lot, I wish our audience could understand what it feels like to walk on a stage and hear the beginning of applause. And I’m talking about Japan, Africa, Europe. The genre that we speak of called R&B is so powerful because—we come from Watts, but the good Lord has made it possible for us to go all over the world. It is incredible to sit down with a person who doesn’t speak your language and attempt to have a conversation with them, yet when the music comes on, you and that person become one. That music is so powerful that it brings you together.
Man, we are so blessed to be able to sing this music. Like Scotty said, we had no idea of this dream when we were out in the front yard in Watts with the broom as the microphone. We dreamed about going all over the world and I’m telling you, man, the dream actually came true. We’ve been everywhere. Talking about straight ahead rhythm and blues music, man. I can’t say enough about it. My dad was a tremendous jazz fan. Me and Scotty were brought up listening to Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald. He didn’t really think that much of R&B music until he saw how interested we were. Man, the power of R&B music is incredible. I know you know it, and I can’t say it enough.
Scotty Scott: I want to get this in before we end because, I know we are talking about this record, but this is also an opportunity for The Whispers to say to our fans and anybody who would listen to us, and black music, please go out and vote. We have a man in The White House, I call him ‘Satan In a suit.’ If you know anything about the Bible, check out who Satan is. There ain’t nothing he won’t do to destroy you.
Black people, we usually lay back. This is not the time to do it. We had a segment of people last time around that decided to pass that election up and thought it wouldn’t really affect them, that’s not true. Like Michelle Obama said, “Vote like your life depended on it because it absolutely does.” Along with this record, everything that we’re doing all comes into one thing, It all boils down to what’s getting ready to happen November 3. We need you to go to the polls, take somebody with you, take an Uber or whatever you need to do, but go vote, please.
Leaveil Degree: Scotty got on top of exactly what I was going to say. My biggest problem with our people is, our people always have this attitude that, “I don’t like either one, so I’m just not going to vote.” Well, when you don’t vote, it’s a vote for Trump. People died to give you the right to vote, so don’t ever take that attitude. I get so angry and disgusted when people tell me that. You don’t care about the world, you don’t care about yourself, you don’t care about what’s going to happen to your children in the future.
We talk to our fans on these kinds of platforms and we tell them all: “If you love any ounce of The Whispers, for us, please go out and vote. Like Scotty said, take somebody with you. Grab your grandparents to go to the polls. Or go to their house and help them vote by absentee ballot. Do whatever you can, because we are the majority here. We can actually change the tide of a lot of things.”
Zenger: I appreciate the time, again, it has been an extreme honor. And just to show you guys your significance in the music world, there is an extremely big-time rapper from Watts named Glasses Malone. Just in a general conversation the other day, I asked him: If he could have an R&B collaboration, who would it be with? And he said, “The Whispers.”
The Whispers: Wow! Thank you and him so much, and once again, brother, we can’t thank you enough for giving us this platform, man. God bless you.
(Edited by David Martosko and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)