**FILE** The Manhattans featuring Gerald Alston (Courtesy photo)
**FILE** The Manhattans featuring Gerald Alston (Courtesy photo)

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As lead singer of The Manhattans, Gerald Alston said his group has mad love for the D.C. area — specifically when they perform at The Birchmere music hall in Alexandria, Virginia.

“We sell out every time we play there,” Alston, 71, recently said from his home in Jersey City, NJ. The Birchmere also has a special place in the group’s heart, considering it’s the last venue in which their longtime leader Winfred “Blue” Lovett performed before his untimely death in December 2014.

In fact, two other original Manhattans died around the same time as Lovett within a three-month period — Kenny “Wally” Kelley and Edward “Sonny” Bivins.

As the lone member of the group’s 1970s hit-making years, Alston said at times, it’s difficult to reminisce.  

“I really miss the guys, but what can you do? You must keep on going. Blue and I talked about the day that either one of us could be here without the other. So I was sort of prepared for these tough days,” said Alston. 

Last November, the group suffered yet another death, when Baltimore native David Tyson died of heart-related symptoms. Tyson is the younger brother of longtime Temptations member Ron Tyson.

The current trio consists of Alston of Henderson, North Carolina, Troy May, a Brooklyn native, and their newest member, Lawrence Newton of Philadelphia. Newton also performs with a Philly group called Urban Gorilla Orchestra aka UGO.

Guitarist Mark Bowers of Newark, New Jersey, also adds a fourth harmony, in addition to his guitar accompaniment, Alston said. The entire traveling unit has also performed on the Manhattans’ very popular Soul Train Crew. The rhythm section is known as the East Coast Connection.

When Alston joined the group in the fall of 1970, he was a recent high school graduate and a freshman at Kittrell College in Kittrell, North Carolina, where he was a pre-med major. 

“Yes, I planned to be a doctor,” Alston explained, he was also singing in a gospel group in addition to a secular band.

Gerald Alston and the New Imperials did weekend gigs at the local juke joints and clubs around Raleigh and Durham, but on Sunday mornings he led a quartet-styled group of male singers similar to the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and Sam Cooke’s Soul Stirrers. 

“My uncle and my father sang this type of gospel. We were firm believers in God – and the people could relate to our style whether we sang about the Lord or about Love – it was music coming from our hearts,” said Alston, who prides himself as favoring the music of Sam Cooke and Mahalia Jackson. 

“They both sang from the heart. Their annunciation was tremendous and they were fantastic storytellers,” he said. Upon the death of Lovett, Alston recruited his first cousin, Dwight Fields, to join the group. Fields is Alston’s Uncle Johnny Fields’ son. The younger Fields died in 2016.

While performing with the New Imperials, Alston said his secular setlist mostly consisted of Temptations cover tunes. “The Tempts were the thing. We also did some Archie Bell and the Drells and some James Brown. It was the popular music of that era,” he added.

When they arrive in the DMV for their Mother’s Day weekend show on May 123,  the set will be chock-full of love songs. 

“Love is what the Manhattans’ musical success formula has always been based on,” he said. Don’t worry about hearing recorded tracks or computerized demos on this night. We always travel with a live band. Our drummer, Charles Butler, is our musical director, and he does a great job. He’s originally from the NYC area, but now lives in Greensboro, North Carolina. Two keyboardists, namely Curtis Dukes of Jersey City and Colt Younger of Philly, will join bass guitarist Jason Simons of Washington, DC to complete the band, he said.

Regarding how he’s managed to keep his vocal tones so pure, soulful and largely intact compared to the less-intact tones of some of his contemporaries, namely, Maze’s Frankie Beverly?  Without specifically criticizing Frankie, Gerald did add that some singers fail to continuously protect their vocal cords.

 “Vocal cords are muscles like any others in the body — and they must be protected. For instance, I still take vocal lessons and I’ve never smoked or drank. To keep in shape, coaches train and teach you to warm up your voice. The older we get — just like our bodies – you may have to try a different method on how to reach certain (higher) notes. Lowering of keys is another practice that helps protect the voice in the long run, he said.

“Getting to bed and getting sufficient rest is also another way of sustaining the vocal cords,” Alston added. “I’m a former smoker too,” he admitted.

Alston was born on Nov. 8, 1951, in Henderson, North Carolina, to the Rev. J.B. Alston and Geraldine Harrelson. Alston is the nephew of Gospel singer Johnny Fields of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. He grew up in the church where he learned his craft. Alston was just a teenager when he formed a group called the New Imperials who sang both secular and Gospel music. When the group performed in churches they would change their name to the Gospel Jubilee. Upon the death of Blue Lovett in 2014, Alston recruited his first cousin, Edward “Dwight” Fields, as Lovett’s replacement. Fields is the son of Alston’s Uncle Johnny Fields of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. The younger Fields died in August 2016 at age 66.

In 1970, The Manhattans’ original members were, George “Smitty” Smith, Edward “Sonny” Bivins Jr., Winfred “Blue” Lovett, Kenny “Wally” Kelley and Richard “Ricky” Taylor.

Alston joined the Manhattans in 1970, shortly after the death of their former lead singer George Smith. As lead singer, Alston helped the group achieve their first Pop and R&B top ten singles that reached gold and platinum status for songs like “Kiss and Say Goodbye,” “There’s No Me Without You” and the Grammy-winning, “Shining Star.”

As of 2023, Alston continues to tour the states and overseas as a solo artist and as The Manhattans Featuring Gerald Alston with Mays and Newton. Alston resides in New Jersey with his wife Edna and son.

Alston is the nephew of Shirley Alston, the former lead singer of the Shirelles. He’s also a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity incorporated. He pledged the frat in the spring of 1970, as a freshman at Kittrell College.

Manhattans featuring Gerald Alston will perform at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia, Friday, May 12. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Call 703.549.7500 for ticket information.

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