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Phone interview recorded November 16, 2011

Since the mid 1960s, THE EMOTIONS have given music fans great classics from their Stax-produced hits (“So I Could Love You”), to their years with Maurice White’s Kalimba Productions, where they enjoyed their biggest success, thanks to the #1 smash hit “Best Of My Love,” as well as the chart-busting “Boogie Wonderland”...

Kevin Goins: This is Kevin Goins with Soul, and with us today is a Chicago Soul legend … well, I don’t want to say Chicago Soul. She is a Soul and R&B legend—

Wanda Hutchinson: I like that.

KG: There you go—part of the family group known as The Emotions, and there were four sisters who were in this group: there was Sheila, Jeanette, Pamela, and with us is Wanda Hutchinson. Good morning, Wanda.

WH: Good morning, Kevin. How are you?

KG: I’m doing fine, thank you. And I understand that The Emotions are going to be in Great Britain in December?

WH: In December, the indigO2 Center for the Giants Of Rare Groove.

KG: There you go. And I think you’re performing with Barbara Mason? I think she’s on that same tour as well?

WH: Yes, she is. Yes, we performed with her about three months ago in Memphis. She’s wonderful.

KG: Great. Well, I’m going to get started with the beginning: Hutchinson Sunbeams.

WH: Oh, my [laughs].

KG: Okay, Hutchinson Sunbeams. Dad formed the group, and this was back in Chicago.

WH: In Chicago.

KG: Now, who are the original members of the Hutchinson Sunbeams?

WH: Of course Wanda, Jeanette, and Sheila were stairsteps —we’re actually one year apart—and then Pamela came along, who’s six years from me, as a matter of fact. But Jeanette, Wanda, and Sheila were the Hutchinson Sunbeams who sang with Daddy, choir director at our church, and then we started touring with Mahalia Jackson and Red Saunders’ Band in 1968-69. And then we met up with … oh well, I might be going too fast, so I’ll let you in.

KG: That’s fine, that’s fine, because you basically brought up someone else I wanted to talk about. My dear colleague Leo Sacks of Sony Music—he put together THE BEST OF MY LOVE Collection. And I took a look inside the book lid—I had an advanced copy of the CD—and I saw this great picture of the three of you in the pulpit and Mahalia Jackson looking right at you. What was that like?

WH: Yes. Oh, my gosh, we love her and we always did. When we were very young, Dad was choir director there in Chicago, and we would go to her church just to visit, of course. And then we sang a lot of the luncheons and teas at particular churches—hers was one of them. And when she saw us sing at a tea, she asked us to come to a service, and that’s how you got that picture.

KG: And what church did you belong to?

WH: We belonged to a Presbyterian church right there in Chicago on Sixty-seventh and Union. I’m trying to think of the actual name of it, but it was Presbyterian. Reverend Allison…

KG: Reverend Allison was the pastor?

WH: Pastor, yes, right there on Sixty-seventh and Union. In the neighborhood there were a lot of gangs, and my father would try to rehabilitate them and get them to join the choir. He would send us out and, of course, we would get them to join. But anyway, that was something that I really remember about being there. We did gospel there, and a lot of the church … it was very much a mixture. Reverend Allison was white and the whole neighborhood was a mixed neighborhood--whites and blacks. And we started singing Soul music, but we sang hymns out of the books every Sunday, and then my father started teaching us our gospel. He met with some opposition, but after a while they stopped complaining and just went on with it.

KG: Yes, there is that thing of when a gospel group crosses the line into Soul and Rhythm and Blues. There will be, pardon the expression, some you-know-what to pay.

WH: Yes, yes.

KG: Being a preacher’s son I can understand that. My next question: when did you all make that transition from Gospel to Soul and Rhythm and Blues? What time period was that?

WH: Well, 1969-1970, because in 1969 “So I Can Love You” came out. Pervis Staples, Staples Singers, who we would also sing at Pops’ and them’s church; that’s how Purvis Staples became our manager, and signed us up with Stax Records, which Staples Singers were on that label. And I remember my grandmother saying, “Oh my God, what is God going to do with you now? You’re singing the devil’s music.” But we said, “Grandma, we’re singing about love. God is all about love.” Because at that time it wasn’t the kind of love that they sing about now on the radio, but it was the actual love between people and … I would say “puppy love”; that’s what it was called then. Now it’s called “dog love” or something, I don’t know.

KG: I like that.

WH: But anyway, once hearing us and then, every time we would appear, we would always do two Gospel songs, and so Grandma was cool with it. So as long as Grandma was cool, everybody else didn’t matter.

KG: There you go. Well, I want to backtrack here, Wanda, because you mentioned being signed to Stax, and Pops Staples bringing you ladies and your dad to the label then, which took care of my fourth question as to how you went to Stax. But let’s backtrack into Chicago for a minute. You ladies recorded for a couple of local labels before you were signed to Stax. I believe one of them was Twin Stacks?

WH: Oh yeah… Twin Stacks, right. Was that Hillary, I think? Hillary Johnson and Leo—

KG: Leo Austell. Leo Austell was the owner of Twin Stacks. Because I met Leo’s daughter Renee many years ago.

WH: Yes, oh my gosh.

KG: And Renee is still in Chicago; a businesswoman, no-nonsense lady.

WH: Yes, true.

KG: She remembers seeing you ladies in the studio recording a song called “Somebody New.”

WH: Yes, and Jeanette wrote that song.

KG: Little Jeanette? Really?

WH: [Sings] “Boy, I’m tired of you…” the first line was called “boy, I’m tired of you,” so she was getting ready to tell a young man off.

KG: Which leads to my next song, “So I Can Love You.” It seems as though there was this theme running, Jeanette writing “Somebody New” and, I believe, was it Shelia or was it you who wrote…

WH: Sheila writing “So I Can Love You,” yes.

KG: And the story behind that was Sheila was having a little problem with the fellas, there.

WH: Yes, a prom date, as a matter of fact. The guy that asked her out, a friend of ours—well, the whole family knew her—she wanted him to take her, and then that wasn’t going down because Andre asked Sheila to go. So that’s the way it went.

KG: And it became The Emotions first Top Ten R&B single and your first Top Forty Pop record too.

WH: That’s right, that’s right. It was a mainstay in our repertoire. We always had to do “So I Can Love You” and “Show Me How”, those [were from] 1968-69.

KG: There you go, which leads me to Isaac Hayes. What was it like working with Isaac?

WH: Oh my gosh, Isaac … it was amazing. When we first came to Stax, he was in the studio, there were strings in there, and he’s teaching them this line he wants them to know. And instead of playing it on the piano or anywhere else, he’s singing it to them, because he wasn’t really a music writer as to notes and all that. But he could hear all the arrangements in his head and he would sing it to them, and I said, “Boy, I’ve never seen that before. I usually see the music in front of string players, and they’re playing it.” But there he was, singing the lines of all the songs. I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” They were doing something--it was Sam & Dave or Bettye Crutcher or Rufus Thomas--one of those, because we had just gotten there, and we were like, “Wow.” They were like, “Yep, this is the guy who’s going to be doing you guys’ albums.” We were, “Oh, cool.” We thought he was something. And I remember he was twenty-six, because when we met him we thought he was our age but we were sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, or whatever; but he was twenty-six. Anyway, we loved him, and it was amazing. And when he heard us sing our songs and the songs Shelia wrote, and we had other songs that my father had written—“Toys to Boys,” and there was another one—that one, Cool Daddy Kane [sic]… what was his name, Daddy Kane? He did his first record off of the track of that song my father wrote.

KG: Big Daddy Kane.

WH: Big Daddy Kane, yes.

KG: Big Daddy Kane the rapper, who also sampled another record of yours--we’ll get to in just a moment. “Show Me How”: that song, I believe, the sisters had a tough time with being the fact that dad was in the studio when you were trying to cut it.

WH: That’s true. He was like, “How are you going to have that girl sing about this? They’re only sixteen, seventeen. How are you going to have them do this?” and Sheila was like, “I don’t mind, Dad. We’ll sing it.” But anyway, we did. Because her voice sounded older than what she was, and that was the whole thing. I remember Carla Thomas being in there when we were recording it and she was like, “Oh my God, listen to her voice. And she’s just a kid!” But her voice sounded like the song. So Isaac was a genius; he wrote according to our voices and not our ages, so that was the way it was.

KG: I love the string arrangements on that song.

WH: Oh, yeah.

KG: Priceless stuff. And the song we were talking about just a moment ago, with Big Daddy Kane: “Blind Alley”.

WH: Yes, “Blind Alley.”

KG: A funky, funky classic. And, at that time, one of the sisters took a leave, I believe, and Theresa Davis came in?

WH: Yes, yes, yes … Jeanette had her first baby; you’re right. She took a leave of absence, and Theresa came in and filled in wonderfully. We had known her for years, and the label said, “We’re going to say she’s your cousin, so we want it to remain a family group.” And we understood, so we said okay. But we knew her so long, she was just like part of the family, so it was cool.

KG: And it blended in just perfectly. 1975, Stax Records closes up shop: bankruptcy problems, Al Bell, lot of trouble. We will skip over that. Every act left—Staples Singers, Isaac Hayes, The Emotions … you all left. How did Maurice White step into the picture?

WH: That’s something, because at that time, Ron Ellison, who was a drummer, he was in Chicago, a friend of my father’s, and he was playing with a group that Maurice was also with. He had moved up to Chicago—his grandmother raised him—and he had moved up to Chicago, and Ron Ellison was his friend. And later on Ron Ellison became Warner Brothers, and he was also the head of Maurice’s company, Kalimba—the A&R director over there. But he moved in with Ron and they did all these gigs around town, and they heard us singing and he brought Maurice to Dad and he was like, “Oh gosh, you’ve gotta hear this group. They’d be perfect,” because he said he had just started Maurice White with a production deal for CBS and Deniece Williams, Ramsey Lewis… he was doing Ramsey at the time, as a matter of fact.

So we went to Charles Stepney’s house to meet him, and what a thing. So then I had started writing on little piano, the Fender Rhodes, and I was writing “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love.” I had about ten songs. And Maurice came from L.A. or whatever—he came out here because he was working with folks out here—and then he came back with all these songs, and then when he heard our songs, he threw those songs back. Well, a couple of them he kept, like Clarence McDonald and Deniece’s song, and “Me for You,” “The Very Special Part of My Life”… some of the songs on the first album, the FLOWERS album. But he chose five of my songs: “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love,” “You’ve Got the Right to Know,” “We Go Through Changes,” “How Can You Stop Loving Someone,”… and all of those were on the first album, on the FLOWERS album.

And I was playing there in Charles Stepney’s basement, and I remember when I got to “How Can You Stop Loving Someone” he said, “Wait a minute. You know that’s the Beethoven Number something Sonata?” I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, because I have never listened to classical music.” But I didn’t know that he was also the conductor at the Philharmonic in Chicago, and Minnie Riperton would sing things with them at the Philharmonic. So I’m playing “How Can You Stop Loving Someone” and he says, “I’m telling you, that’s the Beethoven Number blah blah blah.” I had heard of Beethoven, but I’d never heard of no sonatas or anything that he did, and that just wowed me. He said, “It’s something how you’re playing”—[sings motif], ’cause that’s how the song went. And “How Can You Stop Loving Someone”, that was the title.

But anyway, what a wonderful experience to know that I was in that group of people that actually wrote something, and Beethoven had written it years and years ago. But then he played it for me; he actually found it to play it for me ,and I couldn’t believe it; It was a sonata. But anyway, so Charles Stepney came into our lives, along with Maurice White. He said, “These girls can sing, Reece. We’ve got to let them sing.” So one thing that he did--when we went in to Paul Serrano’s to record the FLOWERS album, he said, “We’ve gotta have the rhythm section …” He was playing keyboards along with Larry Dunn, and Al McKay, Freddie on drums—Maurice’s brother—and he said, “We’ve gotta have them singing while the girls are singing, not after. Don’t let them put the track in and then the girls …”

Why Charles said that, I didn’t know at first, but then I got to know why: because he saw us sing with our father with the guitar. And there’s something happens with musicians when the vocal is singing in their ear and they’re playing it—it’s that live sensation, it’s something we don’t get today. Unless they listen to our music, even experience. But anyway, it was the most wonderful thing and I so appreciate him. I see his daughters a lot when I go back there; about four or five times a year I go there. Our musical director—who’s the same, Keith Henderson—he has a club there, and talent come up out of Chicago on Monday nights, and every Monday night that I’m there I go to these clubs and Charles Stepney’s daughters attend there. And it’s amazing to see them and relive stuff that we used to do in their father’s basement. Anyway, I got off-subject, but…

KG: No, no, no, you did not get off of subject, Wanda; you hit the nail right on the head because I was going to bring up Charles Stepney, a genius … a genius.

WH: A genius. Absolute genius, yes, he is … always was. And he told me, “Wanda, one day you’re going to want to produce.” I went, “Oh, no, no, I just want to sing, Charles. I don’t know if I could….” He said, “I’m telling you, you’re going to be producing. You would be a great producer. Don’t throw it away, and when it comes about …” he told me to embrace it. And I’ve been doing a lot of that out here on another project, but I have been doing it in Los Angeles with my daughters, and with commercials and different things. Looks like we’re getting ready to do it again, so I’m going to do it under my own group now.

KG: That’s great. Well, the great thing about Charles Stepney—excellent arranger, excellent composer, excellent producer—

WH: Excellent, yeah.

KG: As my colleague Leo Sacks said, and I wrote in the liner notes to Earth, Wind & Fire’s Greatest Hits, which I co-wrote in 1998, “All hail Charles Stepney, co-pilot of Kalimba Productions.”

WH: Yes, he was… yes, he was. He was amazing. Just so happens, I was in the studio with him and Maurice when they were recording Ramsey’s album, Ramsey Lewis. And he went back to the hotel, the Holiday Inn, and he went to pick up … his lunch had came, and he didn’t come back to the studio. I was sitting right there … what a time. I remember that. But those days in the studio with him … he had a sugar thing, diabetes, and he ate something, I guess, and went back to the hotel or he went to lay down for a minute, and he didn’t wake back up.

KG: Massive heart attack brought about by diabetes. Wow… forgive me, I just had to think for a moment, because your record FLOWERS was one of the last recordings that Charles Stepney had co-produced with Maurice.

WH: Yes.

KG: It was three recordings that I recall: Flowers, Spirit—Earth, Wind & Fire, This Is Niecey from Deniece Williams. And all three albums went on to become bestsellers, so he left this earth on a big note.

WH: A high note--yes, he did.

KG: A high note. I want to go back to the whole Chicago scene, here: Emotions, Minnie Riperton, Deniece Williams, Earth, Wind & Fire. What an amazing time to be from the Windy City.

WH: What an amazing time. And then to find out that we would be going on the road with Earth, Wind & Fire, our first big road experience … it was wonderful. We traveled in the airplane… they had their own little Viscount that said “Earth, Wind & Fire” on it, and we would go from city to city. Because before, when we first started … well, we weren’t in the airplane yet—that was the next year, it was “The Best of My Love” year. But that year we did the FLOWERS album, we was in a bus and trucks and cars, and they were in planes. But then that next year, we were in the planes with them with the BEST OF MY LOVE Rejoice album. But the FLOWERS album, going around the country and singing … And then we were still in school, so we would just travel on the weekends. And it was something. We’d come back to the school, the teachers—oh, my gosh—the students… it was something else. They would all be doing our songs in the talent … you know how we would have talent shows? They don’t have that anymore in these schools, I don’t know why. I think it’s because of the doggone computer.

KG: Computers plus cutbacks… we can go on about that after the interview. I want to touch base on two things. One thing that you mentioned about Charles Stepney encouraging you to become a producer, he was very good at knowing and seeing who had something extra, and encouraging them to move forward, with you as a producer and with Larry Dunn, who became Earth, Wind & Fire’s musical director. I always had a feeling that Charles Stepney was pretty much grooming and preparing you all to take that next step.

WH: Yes, yes, he definitely was. I remember I was living out here then, when Larry was with Caldera ... I don’t know if you know that instrumental group. But anyway, I saw him producing them at Capitol Records—that’s not too far from where I live. But I’ve always been in awe of him. Larry… there’s something about him. And even my husband, who is Wayne [Vaughn] who wrote “Let’s Groove,” him and Larry, they had the same flavor. When Maurice met the guy I was going with, which is my husband, he was playing with Brothers Johnson. He did stuff with them. But when he saw him play, he said, “Man, you got a flavour like Larry.” He would always say that. And I was like, “Isn’t that something?” But he did … he did. He had that kind of jazz/funk-flavored chords that no one else had put together that way but Charles Stepney and Larry Dunn and my husband Wayne. But anyway, it was amazing how that happened. And we’re still married—still doing music and still doing things.

KG: Real quick, Wanda, let people know, who is Wayne? Who is your husband?

WH: Who is Wayne?

KG: Yes, yes. Let people know who this man is.

WH: In ’77 we were on the road with The Commodores. ’78 it was the Brothers Johnson and The Emotions, and he was singing with the Brothers Johnson—you know, Louis and George—and he was the keyboard player. And he played on [hums riff] “Strawberry Letter 23”—that’s him playing the keyboard at the beginning of the song. And Quincy [Jones] made him their musical director, for the Brothers Johnson. So that was really something. But I met him in ’77 when we were on tour with The Commodores. And ’76 was Earth, Wind & Fire, so let me get that right. ’76 was Earth, Wind & Fire that whole year, then ’77 was Commodores; ’78 was Brothers Johnson, which is when I met my husband, and we got married in ’79. So that was something.

KG: And your husband co-wrote the classic “Let’s Groove.”

WH: Yes, “Let’s Groove Tonight.”. Recorded side-by-side with “I Wanna Be With You.” A lot of songs me and him wrote together on Earth, Wind & Fire.

KG: There you go, which goes back to 1977. The album, REJOICE; the hit, “Best of My Love”; the lineup: Larry Dunn on keyboards; Al McKay, Johnny Graham on guitars; Verdine White on bass; Freddie White and Maurice on drums. It sounded like an Earth, Wind & Fire session with The Emotions.

WH: That’s what it was! They started calling us the Girl Earth, Wind & Fire when we were on the road, and he said he used us as his horns and percussion. They called us the Percussion Horns of Maurice.

KG: And a Number One hit on the Pop and the Soul charts in the early summer of ’77. One of the few records, and this is according to Billboard Magazine--I remember hearing this on Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40.” Your record was Number One for four weeks on the Pop charts. Then Andy Gibb’s “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” went to Number One, but it didn’t stay there, because days later y’all were back at Number One.

WH: Yes, and then The Eagles’ “Best of My Love” came out at that same time—[sings] “I’m giving you the best of my love”—remember? Because I’ve got that on my wall in there: one week, we were at Number One and they were at Number Two; then the next week in Billboard, they were Number Two and we were Number One.

KG: With the same song title.

WH: The same title. That was such an enigma. And I remember Casey Kasem making an actual thing of it, and that was really something.

KG: I remember hearing it on the radio. The Rejoice album—what a great album. And the song I would like to talk about right now is “Don't Ask My Neighbors”, a well-traveled classic. Skip Scarborough.

WH: Four o’clock in the morning in Hollywood Sound Studios we were recording and crying to the story of Skip telling us how he wrote it. it was a personal thing that had happened to him with his marriage, but boy, he had me… we were still pretty young, so we were in tears. And Sheila starts singing it. And we were going to do it the next day and she says, “I can do it now, it you want,” and we did it right then. That’s when Maurice learned that at that hour of the morning, because her voice was that sultry kind of thing, it sounded even more Sarah Vaughan-ish or more mature because it had the heavies in it and she had been emotional about Skip telling us about it and everything. But we recorded it, about three or four a.m., and it’s the exact one that people are still listening to.

KG: And it’s been recorded by so many different groups. Let’s fast-forward to around, I believe it was, 1996-97. Nancy Wilson cut the song and she had you ladies sing on it with Philip Bailey.

WH: Yes, with Philip Bailey. And Sheila was doing something at that time, there was some reason why she couldn’t be there, because I know I was pregnant and Sheila was… I think it was something with my mom, because she certainly would have been there, she just couldn’t. but anyway, it was the most wonderful session; I enjoyed it so much with Nancy. And you know what? I think Sheila would have made it, but Nancy wouldn’t let her sing a verse with her, so I think that had something to do with it.

KG: Nancy Wilson, a very classic, legendary singer. And to see you all in the music video, going across that staircase when all of a sudden the camera pans over, you see The Emotions and Philip… to me, it was a perfect tribute.

WH: Perfect, yes—you’re right. I loved doing it.

KG: Let’s move up to 1978, the Sunbeam album. Great album. Of all The Emotions’ albums that I’ve listened to over the years, this is my personal favorite.

WH: I know what you mean, yes. We’re standing out there in the wildlife way station, a place I became a member of. But up there, also, Maurice… there were animals that people would not use in the movies, and they would come to this haven. And we got to know the owner there and she was also a dressmaker; she made a lot of their costumes, ours—like the ones for “Boogie Wonderland”—she made a lot of costumes. But on her property, a lot of property up there in the hills of San Bernardino, there was still wildlife: these mountain lions and different… but anyway, so that’s why the sheep and the difference animals were around there. We were at a creek when we did that photo session, and I’ll never forget: we were playing the songs from the Sunbeam album, and even all the animals—looked like the birds and everything—just came, and it looked like they were listening as we were doing the photo shoot. It was really amazing.

KG: And it was an amazing album. “Smile” was the single off the album, it was a Top Ten R&B single; on the pop charts it didn’t even go past One Hundred.

WH: I know.

KG: That shocked me, because “Best of My Love”, Number One record; “Don't Ask My Neighbors”, huge hit on the soul charts; it did good on the pop charts and one would think that Sunbeam would…

WH: You know what?

KG: Go ahead.

WH: There was a transition happening then to the disco music, and also Kalimba was changing up with a lot of stuff with the label—everything became Kalimba, I forgot that. There were some things happening, I understand, on that side of things, but I know the music was changing into disco, because “Boogie Wonderland” came right after.

KG: Disco pretty much dictated where pop music was heading, and the record stores wanted it, radio wanted it, TV wanted it and it seemed as if, in the land of soul and R&B, if you didn’t get on the disco bandwagon, you were going to be left at the station. Which made no sense, because “Smile” was an uptempo record.

WH: Yes it was, it was. And I thought it was disco a lot and had guys singing parts that you couldn’t possibly do onstage, but no one would really know that unless they knew music.

KG: Correct, correct. And I also felt that Columbia really did not promote that album very well. I’m not trying to bash the label.

WH: No, they didn’t, because they were upset with Maurice changing up hands up there at Kalimba and not letting them promote. And he wanted to promote his own songs, and he kind of cut ties with them on the business side of things, the production side. So I do remember that.

KG: Right. It seems as though after Charles Stepney died there was this big shift and transition that was happening within Kalimba and Columbia.

WH: And you know, Ron Ellison was there at that time and he was explaining it to us and my father, because they were still great to us then. But Maurice had hired him at that time to run Kalimba, to run the A&R department. That’s when they kind of split from CBS as to they were just being the distribution; at Kalimba he’d have his own label. So that wasn’t popular at that time. it is now, of course, but it wasn’t popular then.

KG: Ron Alexumburg was an executive with CBS, and he clued me in many years ago about how the corporation felt with certain groups who wanted to control their own stuff. CBS had an issue with the Isley Brothers, for example.

WH: That’s true.

KG: They had an issue with the Isleys because the Isleys said, “Hey, we have our own label, T-Neck. We just need you to distribute us.” It seemed as if CBS didn’t have a piece of the company, like they did with Philadelphia International, they really didn’t put any effort into really promoting your stuff.

WH: That’s true, and that’s what happened. You’re right about that.

KG: Because I remember when I bought the single “September” and I see this ARC, I’m like, “What the…? American Recording Company, whoa!”

WH: Right, ARC Records, ARC Records—ARC.

KG: And so as a teenager who was starting to read Billboard, I went to the library and that’s what I read up, that Maurice White formed a record company, and he had The Emotions, he had Deniece Williams, he had Earth, Wind & Fire underneath… which leads us to 1979, “Boogie Wonderland”. How did that song come about?

WH: Oh, my gosh. Maurice was in New York recording and he called us and he said, “Oh, I got this song”—he was doing the Sgt. Pepper thing—and he said, “Oh, you guys have got to sing on this song.” We were already at Hollywood Sound doing something else, and my father was like, “Oh no, they’re doing this session” but they wanted us to do it with Earth, Wind & Fire. And he says, “Well, that’s fine, but it’s got to go on the Emotions album.” And Maurice said, “Nope, it can’t go on there. It’s got to be on the Earth, Wind & Fire.” And we never understood that, but it was a big issue between my father and Maurice, and it actually broke off their relationship behind that.

But I know that my father was so upset that they didn’t put it on our album. Anyway, it became a big smash, and now because of people like Sound Exchange we finally get paid for doing it. We never got a cent for it, because I think he got so mad at him, he didn’t give us artist royalties. But anyway, now we get it because of this company called Sound Exchange, and anything that your voice is on, because of the union, they have to pay you. and “Boogie Wonderland” went through so many movies and so many soundtracks, they had to do it. So many band soundtracks, I guess they had in Europe or something.

I’m into the union, because I’m really close to the people up here at AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), and they said, “Oh, it’s because your voice is on there.” The union has a thing now; if there’s anything recorded, even though we didn’t have an artist’s contract that said, “You gotta pay us for singing on this album, Maurice,” they have to do it. so I guess this is how we’re getting made up for it.

KG: Wow. And for our listeners at, what Wanda’s referring to is Sound Exchange, an excellent organization that’s making sure that the artist, no matter when they recorded their work, they are compensated for their work—especially in the world of digital; especially in the cyberspace world.

WH: Yes, you’re right, because there’s stuff that’s on satellite that never was recorded on FCC, which is radio—which is like the difference, they were telling me, between a landmine and a cellphone.

KG: Absolutely.

WH: So I got it when they told me that.

KG: Let’s get back to Columbia/ARC. The Emotions do two more albums after Sunbeam, and it just seemed as if the lack of interest in promoting The Emotions was so apparent. And in 1985, The Emotions leave Columbia and go to Motown. How did that come about?

WH: Oh my gosh. My father met Lou Young, who was over at Motown right before MCA took it over with Jerhyl Busby and they were saying, “Oh, gosh, you guys should do this.” And by the time you’re finished they now have the control of it, and that’s how it happened. And we met Ben Wright when he did the arrangements for “Boogie Wonderland”, and Ben knew Lee Young from the jazz side of things because Lee Young’s father… or his brother, I think, was the jazz great Lee Young, Sr. But Lee Young, Jr. worked for Motown for years, and he knew they were getting ready to make a transition and he said, “You guys would be a great way for them to go out, to have an album on there.” So that’s how we did it.

KG: And it was so different, because when I picked up the record in ’85, I’m like, “Wow, The Emotions, Motown—cool.” Got it home, put it on the record player—I have never heard so many synthesizers on an Emotions record in my life.

WH: I know.

KG: Oh my goodness.

WH: No more live music or singing live; the people were putting tracks together and everything was done and you’d just come in and put your stuff on there.

KG: But the vocals just cut right through all that like a cannonball going through a wall of butter.

WH: That’s a good one.

KG: Let’s fast-forward. I know we’re jumping ahead here because I know your time is very precious here, Wanda. Let’s jump forward to the nineties. 1996, The Emotions cut a live album under their own label, Sunbeam Records, and it was part of a review of the life and times of the Hutchinson sisters. And what was that review called?

WH: Bigger Than Bubblegum, and we performed it here at a lot of the universities. We did it in London, England, at Cornwall; we did it in New York at the Alice Tully Hall. And after the first night there was a big union thing and they closed us, but it did have an opening in New York. But it was called Bigger Than Bubblegum, and we had about forty songs in that play; songs we had written for the play, but a lot of songs that we had done in our… and it was about how promoters and businessmen would take us from here to there and move our stuff around and let us write songs and not give us credit for things, and the fact that we had never received artist royalties ever in life… but that’s the story of a lot of seventies artists. I remember Larry Graham telling about it right after the 9/11 thing had happened and they had the Pioneer Awards, and Jerry Butler and Larry Graham hosted it and Prince was there, and they were all talking about how they had to fight to get royalties. Some of them found it and some of them didn’t.

KG: Right, right. To touch base on the Bigger Than Bubblegum album—and I was managing a record store at the time in New York City—to hear you sisters sound as good as you did in the sixties and seventies… and that live version of “Show Me How” must have been a showstopper.

WH: Oh, yes. Oh my gosh, it was. And it was a tearjerker; it brought a lot of memories, because it opens up with my father’s funeral and we’re saying that we’re not going to stop and we’re going to do what he’d want us to do. So between there they’d show the promotion men, the businessmen, the writers, the publishers; and then we would be singing “Show Me How” and it would go through there along with “We Go Through Changes”, the a cappella song that we sang through the years. But anyway, it was a great time, we enjoyed it out here. And Saigon had opened at the same time, and we got a better review than that even though it ran longer years. But it was a wonderful time. Larry, the director, who was also the music and theatre director here at Harvard college. And I still work with him, as a matter of fact. We just came from London, doing the HIV musical. But anyway, it’s an amazing thing.

KG: You’re talking about a lot of the things that the Hutchinson sisters and The Emotions are doing now—you touched base on them. Go into more detail with our listeners as to what are The Emotions doing today.

WH: Today we are at our tenth year, I believe, of the Soul Jam 70s [sic]. We’ve been doing it now… it would be The Stylistics, The Manhattans, The Blue Notes, The Emotions, Delfonics… but it would always be all these male groups—in those days, we were the only female group out, except for the girl with Atlantic Starr, Midnight Star. We’d come up on some of them. But we’ve been doing these tours for the last ten years now. We start up again in March and we do them all over the country. We go to London, England, like you said, in December; we do Fort Lauderdale on the 25th for Thanksgiving, and it’s with The O’Jays and The Whispers and the Ohio Players. And Marc Anthony is on that show, I don’t know how that… but anyway, it’s an amazing venue that we’re doing now, and that’s like the American Arena or something. But it’s always shows that we’re doing with a lot of ethnic groups that love R&B music, and they’re all R&B: Keith Sweat, Montell Jordan… we look out in the audience and there’s all these Asians and Mexicans and we’re like, “Wow. Boy, things have changed.” But they love R&B music, and that’s how we’re doing these shows now.

KG: Well, music, as they say, is the universal language, but in particular when it comes to soul and rhythm and blues music it seems to attract so many different and diverse ethnicities. If you go to the West Coast, for example, in east L.A. you have the Latinos and the Chicanos and the low riders; they love that stuff.

WH: They love it, yes.

KG: You go to Japan and…

WH: Yeah, we do that every year to Japan, we do the Bluenote over there, we do the House of Blues over there; we do Osaka, Tokyo, Fukuoka… what’s that mountain? Fuji Festival, we did that with Larry Graham. But anyway, we do that every year, and it was Keith Sweat touring with us. It was something how they have all the, like I say, different ethnic groups on the same shows. But they all love that R&B, that funk flavour.

KG: Another Chicago-based group, the Young-Holt Unlimited, who brought us the hit record “Soulful Strut”: I remember in the nineties when they went to Japan, they were only going to be there for a week. They wound up staying there for six months, because the audience just took to their music and would not let them come back to the United States. They stayed there for half a year.

WH: You’re right. I remember when George and them did that—the Brothers Johnson—and Louis ended up living there, so you’re right about that. And Johnny Graham, because I know we would come back every year and Johnny would have us come to his house and over to his club. I was like, “Gosh.” And he knew that Japanese so fluent… oh, my gosh. I said, “Are you sure you weren’t born here?”

KG: And let’s not forget our brothers and sisters in the United Kingdom, Great Britain, with the northern soul movement and with the tour that you’re embarking on with Barbara Mason in December.

WH: Yes, and we were there a year ago with The Pointer Sisters, Evelyn Champagne King and this group that I love from… I can never think of these groups where it’s like the band, but it’s a female singer. Oh, gosh… Atlantic Starr, darn it—Atlantic Starr. But how they still embrace the R&B music… nothing like here. Here, the rap music… not that they can’t stand rap music over there, but they’re not big performances; they don’t have the live performance. And when the rap groups come there, they’re on there with R&B artists. They’re not just Jay-Z and that’s it; they gotta be on there with another artist, and I think it’s because they really crave the music part of things and not just talking. I don’t know, I just wish they were more positive and didn’t have their own agendas in their music, and actually sought out the interest and appreciation of other people instead of their own interests and you know, “What I can do” and “I’m the biggest thing happening” and “I’m the big MC, I’m the one that’s bigger than you and can kick your butt.” It was never like that, writing, and now it is. It’s not a positive thing.

KG: It’s not a positive thing, and that’s why—forgive the sidetracking to our audience—that is why the death of Heavy D really weighted heavily on a lot of people, because he was very positive.

WH: He was positive.

KG: And he loved women and he showed it in his music.

WH: Yeah, you’re right.

KG: That said, Howard Hewitt of Shalamar said this to me, and it pretty much sums up what you just said, Wanda: “In the United States it’s—like the Janet Jackson song—‘What have you done lately?’ Whereas when we go to Europe, it’s ‘What have you done?’ ” The European audience, they’re not so hung onto what’s hot and what’s not today. Once you’ve made an impact over there, you’re set. You’re set.

WH: That’s it. That’s it.

KG: Now to wrap it up once again, you and Barbara Mason will be part of what again in December?

WH: The indigO2 Raging Soul Legends concert, December 17th.

KG: Great.

WH: Anyway, I look forward to it. I love the audiences there, and even though it’s in Great Britain and everybody’s from England, it just looks like there’s so many Africans there because it’s closer to… but I’m telling you, it’s so diverse, the audience. You can’t say that these are just Londoners. Well, of course they live there, but I understood from the very beginning when we went there, even though you’re in Great Britain, it encompasses six or seven other countries that are right around the corner at distances of eighty, ninety… you know, where they can get there: from Scotland to Germany, Paris… everything is just right in the same area. And Glasgow… because I remember when we did those tours, it didn’t take us no time to get to the next place. And oh, a lot of folks from Germany. And then you know what it is? I think too that you know how American soldiers are still there, and so we get a lot of the military people coming. And it’s amazing, absolutely amazing. Then they all wear that seventies look—that’s how great they are. they wear these afros and everything, it’s really cool.

KG: And I still have mine. Wanda Hutchinson, thank you so much for joining us on Our friends in Europe will look forward to seeing you, and I will say this: there is still an audience here in the United States that loves soul and classic soul and rhythm and blues music, and I’m sure that once this interview hits, you’re going to get requests from here.

WH: Oh, wonderful! I will love to, I’ll love to. And you have my number, so if you ever need me to come online to do an interview, I can do that. My daughter has things set up. Both of my daughters are teachers, an English teacher and a Math teacher over at the college up here.

KG: But before we sign off, you mentioned earlier about you and your daughters working together in music. Tell us about what you’re doing real quick.

WH: Yes, real quick. We’re getting ready to do an album that will include them; matter of fact, they’ve written some of the songs with us. But there’s one particularly, “Rest Inside My Love”—if you like “Neighbors”, you’re going to go crazy for “Rest Inside My Love”. And “Mission of Love”, and the other one is talking about Chi-Town, but it’s called “Chi-Town”. But anyway, that’s something that’s going to come. I can talk about it a little more later; it’ll be online. I can’t say the company right now—I do know it, but as I just said, we have to wait a minute. But I will call you and let you know, Kevin.

KG: We’ll have to do a part two of this interview. Wanda Hutchinson of The Emotions, thank you for joining us at

WH: Okay, thank you so much, love. Thank you so much. You got the best…

KG: The best of our love, there you go.

WH: Yeah, I love you.

KG: Love you too. For, I’m Kevin Goins

About the Writer
Kevin Goins aka “The Soul Ninja” is a veteran of the radio and recording industries, has authored liner notes for CD collections by Earth Wind & Fire, Melba Moore and Stacy Lattisaw. He's also the producer/host of the Internet radio interview series "Soulful Conversations" as well as a classic R&B show "The Kevin Goins Soul Experience".
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