The Hutchinson sisters, Wanda, Jeanette, and Sheila, began their recording career in 1970 with a successful run at Volt records, with memorable hits including “So I Can Love You" and "Show Me How," which exposed their flawless sisterly harmonies and their undeniable Gospel roots. After their label folded, they signed a deal with Columbia Records, and in 1976 they released their hit LP FLOWERS, which was produced by Earth Wind & Fire's Maurice White. The master producer was able to revamp their "girl group" sound by incorporating the more elaborate and intricate instrumentation and arrangements characteristic of his highly respected band.
The following year the sisters returned with the classic REJOICE album, again produced by Maurice White and Clarence McDonald. On this recording the youngest sister Pamela joined the group (she is pictured on the cover instead of Jeanette, who stepped away to have a child). REJOICE represents the pinnacle of The Emotions' chart success, spending 2 weeks at the top of the R&B chart, and selling platinum status.
Maurice White and Al McKay wrote the opening song, the jubilant "Best Of My Love"-- a high spirited love affirmation punctuated with horns and shouting vocals. This irresistible groove grabbed hold and has not let go to this day. Spending 5 weeks at the top of the Billboard pop chart in late summer 1977 (and garnering a Best R&B Group Grammy for The Emotions, as well), this was only the introduction to a well-rounded collection of deftly crafted and melodiously delivered songs.
The mellow "A Feeling Is" follows, written by Sheila Hutchinson, bringing an uplifting theme. Then comes an unusual choice,"A Long Way To Go," written by the team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, which begins as a smooth ballad sung by Wanda, and evolves into a Gospel shout. "Key To My Heart," written by Verdine White and R. Douglas White, has a pleasant waltz tempo, and contains some of the most lush harmonies this side of heaven. Sheila's lead vocal on this song is pure heartache. By the end of the song, the sisters’ harmonizing over a trombone solo with Sheila's pleading vocal is a thing of beauty and wonder.
"Love What's Happening" is another track written by Sheila Hutchinson. This is one more opportunity for the sisters to spread their inspirational wings with an up-tempo ditty that just feels so good. Reprising a song he had previously produced for Deniece Williams on her debut LP the year before, White pulled off an equally exciting version of "How'd I Know That Love Would Slip Away," again with lead vocals by the dynamic Sheila. This time he gave it a punchier arrangement with more accentuated horns.
The second single released off the album, another top 10 R&B hit, and now classic track, "Don't Ask My Neighbors" was written by the inimitable Skip Scarborough. This song along with "Love Ballad," "Can't Hide Love," and "Love Changes," would solidify Scarborough's place in the highest ranks of songwriting legend. While it has been righteously covered many times, the tenderness of this original by The Emotions is unmatched in drama and pathos.
"Blessed," written by Maurice White and Jerry Peters, is the perfect marriage of Earth Wind & Fire's universal spiritual message and The Hutchinson sisters’ Gospel inclination. They sing, "My soul feels good about the ties that bind you and me and all mankind together." By the final chorus, you're in full "testify" mode, with the sisters chirping the two syllables "Bles-sed" over blaring horns. Pure delight!
What else is there to do now except "Rejoice"-- the title track co-written by Wanda Hutchinson. This is a jubilant finale to a perfect recording, allowing the sisters to impart their uplifting message in the most fully formed way.
From the songs, to the production, to the musicians and the singers--the phenomenal Emotions--REJOICE is as good as it gets. This is one of the definitive recordings of R&B music in the 1970s.
The Expanded Edition released by Expansion Records also contains the single version of "Don't Ask My Neighbors."
About the Writer
Michael Lewis is a long-time associate at SoulMusic.com. His industry experience includes Sony Music, Motown and La Face Records, and a tenure at HEAR Music. He is grateful to contribute to sustaining the legacy of R&B and soul music.