Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers -
Mixed Company

Crooning, controversy, (counter)cultural capstones, and most visibly, color: The Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers biography has it all.

The group's lead, born Robert on February 18, 1936 in North Carolina, had music as well as multiple ethnicities in his blood. The Taylors included a Puerto Rican grandfather who sang, a Native American father, and a mother who listened to opera. After moving to Washington, D.C., the family gained a reputation for hospitality to traveling artists.

Young Taylor spread his own renown as a singer, doo-wopping in the projects (occasionally with Marvin Gaye), in Brooklyn with the future groups of Frankie Lymon and Little Anthony, on TV's Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour with Gladys Knight, and elsewhere with Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, and others.

He set his future at Motown in motion when he moved westward. He earned a degree at California's San Jose State University in 1960, but his group would first assemble in Canada. Little Daddy and the Bachelors had one notable single in Vancouver, "Too Much Monkey Business."

In the mid-'60s, Taylor, guitarist-vocalist Tommy Chong (formerly of the Shades in Calgary), bassist Wes Henderson, guitarist Eddie Patterson, drummer Ted Lewis, and keyboardist Robbie King formed a promising band called Four Niggers and a Chink.

You read that right.

So...the group became Four Coloured Fellas and a Chinese Lad. Then, Four Ns and a C. All this to describe four white guys (three-and-a-half, if you consider Chong's biracial background) and two black guys (Henderson and Taylor).

Bachelors fans didn't like any of that. "Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers" was better. The group's energetic covers of Motown songs? Better still.

Speaking of Motown, when Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson heard Taylor and Chong at Vancouver-the-city's Elegant Parlour, they sent word to Berry Gordy. The Supremes' boss became Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers' boss in 1967.

Life at the Detroit company wasn't ideal. Chong the marijuana-smoker irritated at least one producer. As a whole, the Canadian Vancouvers were outsiders, and co-workers made sure they remembered that.

At least Gordy liked the group--enough to produce its debut album himself. The public was also fond of the Vancouvers' soulful "Does Your Mama Know About Me" (which rose to pop's Top 30 and R&B's Top 5), "Malinda," and "I Am Your Man." (Click here for the discography.) Soon, however, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers became separate entities. The backups stayed that way, this time for soul songstress Chris Clark. Lewis, Henderson, Patterson, and King later moved on to other bands. King died on October 17, 2003 at 57.

Although fired from his Clark stint (he left for a green card interview midway through an engagement), Tommy Chong bounced back. As half of the pro-pot Cheech and Chong comedy team, he gained far greater fame than he had as a musician.

Bobby Taylor made notable contributions to entertainment, too. Not so much with his 1969 solo album, Taylor Made Soul, or works at other labels in the '70s. More with his finds for Motown, like the Delicates, two of whom became members of the Undisputed Truth...

...and some kids called the Jackson Five.

Taylor's fellow singers at Chicago's Regal Theatre became his apartment-mates in Detroit (until white tenants' complaints led to their exile). He coached them for their Motown audition, accompanied them for their first recordings in Los Angeles, and helped shape their earliest hits.

Yet he got no credit on those songs, and Gordy deemed Taylor's own productions too old school. Around 1971, the ex-Vancouver departed from Motown.

Two bouts of throat cancer, Motorcity recordings and recruitments of other ex-Motowners, Bobby Taylor and the New Vancouvers shows, fundraisers, and youth conferences filled out the next few decades of Taylor's life.

Hmm, should I bring this biography back to race?

I'll say this: Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, together or apart, distinguished themselves with much more than that.

(Click Play to hear Bobby sing)

Even if Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers are your Motown oldies singers, perhaps you'd like to see more biographies on the homepage.

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