Manhattans’ still true to their sound

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Manhattans front man Gerald Alston promises “nothing but good Manhattans music” when the group serenades the Pittsburgh audience for New Horizon Theater’s 14th annual event on Saturday, May 5 at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty.

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THE MANHATTANS

“We were there about eight years ago and when we come back, we are going to turn Pittsburghers who don’t know about us, on to The Manhattans,” says Alston, who has served as the quartet’s lead singer since 1970. “People will be in for a good show. We are going to do some songs with music and we’ll do some a cappella.”

Concert goers can expect to hear some of the group’s biggest hits including “Kiss and Say Goodbye,” which was released in 1976 and landed at number one on the U.S. Billboard Pop and R&B charts and “Shining Star,” the Grammy-Award winning song, which hit airwaves in 1980 and reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100, and number four on the R&B chart.

“The Manhattans were here in 2004 and we are excited to have them back again,” said Joyce Meggerson-Moore, chairperson of New Horizon Theater. “The fact that Gerald Alston remembered us from eight years ago speaks volumes about New Horizon. We went through our list of people and we saw who the crowd pleasers were and they kept coming up repeatedly.”

“For our annual event, we like to bring in groups that are evolving. We want to get the groups while they are still out there,” Meggerson-Moore continued. “The audience will still get the same sound that they got eight years ago.”

The Manhattans was formed in 1962 in Jersey City with George “Smitty” Smith, Edward “Sonny” Bivans, Winifred “Blue” Lovett, Kenny “Wally” Kelley and Richard “Ricky” Taylor. The group’s first single “For The Very First Time” was released in 1964 on Carnival Records.

Alston joined the group in 1970, eventually replacing Smitty who died of a brain tumor; another member Taylor died in 1987.

Current members of the group are: original members Alston and Lovett, Dave Tyson, and Troy May.

“I was heading a band called the New Imperials and we were all on a college tour and the Manhattans didn’t have a sound system and they asked if they could borrow mine. I said yes. I’d seen the Manhattans at the Apollo when I would go to New York in the summers and I liked Smitty’s voice and their songs. I had no idea I would become lead singer of the group,” Alston said.

With Alston heading it, the group continued its musical success, racking up a string of hits that spanned four decades.

Some of those hits included “There’s No Me Without You,” “Wish That You Were Mine,” “Hurt,” and “Don’t Take Your Love From Me.”

According to Alston’s calculations, the original group has been together for 50 years. Alston has been a member for 41 of those years.

“Everything hasn’t been peaches and cream, but the Manhattans has been a blessing,” Alston said. “We have stayed the course. Everything we have been through has made us stronger. We just keep working and moving forward, making ourselves stronger.”

Endurance is a lesson that Alston learned as a youngster in church from his uncle Johnny Fields of the Blind Boys of Alabama.

“My uncle taught me to stick with it if I love it, no matter what,” Alston recalled.

That’s exactly what he did when he decided to leave The Manhattans and pursue a solo career from 1988-1994.

His self-titled debut album was soon followed by “Open Invitation” in 1990. As the 90s progressed, Alston continued to release solo albums including “Always in the Mood,” and “First Class Only.”

The Jersey City native is about to step out on his own again with the recording of a gospel album, which should be released in June or July.

“It will consist of old school and contemporary gospel. I am going back to my roots. All of my fans know that I got started in the church and they ask me when I’m going to record a gospel album,” Alston said.

He rejoined The Manhattans in 1995.

“I believe what contributes to our longevity is belief. We have always believed in who we are and we believe in putting God first in everything. We stayed true to who we are. We did change with the times, but we continued to sing songs about everyday life that people can relate to. We talked about making love but we talked about it in a respectful way in our music,” Alston said.

Those are some of the reasons Meggerson-Moore believes that bringing soul groups to Pittsburgh has been such a success for New Horizon Theater.

“The audience is in for a treat. They definitely won’t leave disappointed. When people support us they are supporting the community and this gives artists the chance to show off their work,” Meggerson-Moore said.

To showcase the caliber of work that New Horizon Theater puts out each year, the opening act for the night will be powerhouse vocalist Shaunyce Omar, who will perform selections from New Horizon’s last production, “Hi Hat Hattie,” which chronicled the life of “Gone With The Wind” actress, Hattie McDaniel.

Christopher Moore will serve as the master of ceremonies for the night.

Tickets for The Manhattans are $40 and $50 for balcony seats or $100 for committee level seating, which includes a black tie reception with food, brochure listing and photo opportunity with The Manhattans.

(To purchase tickets visit newhorizontheater@yahoo.com or call (412) 431-0773.)

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