Legends of Soul and Funk in the Nation’s Capital 

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The Photo Blog
May 12 2014 11:29 AM

Legends of Soul and Funk in the Nation’s Capital 

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The Jewels—from the left, Sandra Bears, Margie Clark, and Grace Ruffin—pose for a portrait in the chorus room at Roosevelt Senior High School in Washington in 2013. The Jewels met at Roosevelt Senior High School.

Eli Meir Kaplan

Soul and funk music thrived in the 1960s and ’70s, and while other cities may be more widely recognized for their contributions to the genres, Washington produced some of the greatest musicians of the day. Photographer Eli Meir Kaplan began listening to many of them as a teenager in Teaneck, New Jersey, and when he moved to Washington as an adult, he was curious to find out what happened to the musicians he enjoyed so much while growing up. Since 2011, he’s been photographing and interviewing some of his favorites, along with new musicians he’s met along the way, for his series and blog, “Soul51.” “D.C. is often thought about as just a government city,” Kaplan said. “I want people to be aware of this chapter of music that came from D.C.”

Kaplan found a number of musicians through Kevin Coombe’s website, DC Soul Recordings, and the Facebook group DC Funk and Harmony. “Each time I interviewed someone I’d ask for more recommendations,” Kaplan said. “It was like a puzzle. Everything connected, and everyone opened up a new section of music that I didn't know about.”

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The Soul Searchers—from the left, John Buchanan, Lloyd Pinchback, Bennie Braxton, Lino Druitt, Donald Tillery, and Kenneth Scoggins—pose for a portrait at the Panorama Room in Washington in 2013. A funk band led by the late “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown, the Soul Searchers played a central role in developing the go-go sound and were considered the top group in Washington. The Panorama Room was one of the go-go clubs that gave the genre its name.

Eli Meir Kaplan

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Al Johnson of the Unifics at Omega Studios in Rockville, Maryland, in 2011. Johnson and the Unifics met at Howard University and released the 1968 LP “Sitting in at the Court of Love.” Johnson released a few solo albums, but despite his powerful singing voice, he largely made his mark as an arranger and producer. He died in October.

Eli Meir Kaplan

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Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul—from the left, Gregory Hammonds, Joe Quarterman, Allen Stewart, and George “Jackie” Lee—rehearse in Quarterman's basement in Temple Hills, Maryland, in 2011. Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul's 1973 debut album was included in the book The Greatest Album Covers of All Time and is highly sought after by collectors.

Eli Meir Kaplan

While Kaplan hasn’t been able to enlist a couple of key big names he’s had his eye on for his project, he said the musicians he contacted were generally interested in participating. “A lot of people have a lot of nostalgia for the time when there was basically music just playing all over the place. For most of the people I photographed, it was really a high point in their lives. I think that's why they like doing this project, because it brings them back to that period in time,” Kaplan said.

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It took some experimentation before Kaplan figured out the best way to arrange the portraits. Eventually, he started asking his subjects to wear the clothes they would wear for performance and to pick a location for the shoot with personal or historical significance, which is how Kaplan ended up shooting at the Panorama Room, a venue known for go-go music. He photographed some of the musicians at their former high schools or colleges, occasionally in the very room where they first started playing together.

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William DeVaughn in Bowie, Maryland, in 2012. DeVaughn recorded the No. 4 Billboard Hot 100 hit “Be Thankful for What You Got” in 1974.

Eli Meir Kaplan

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Jimi Dougans of the Young Senators at the Howard Theatre in Washington in 2012. Dougans and the Young Senators were one of the top bands in Washington until they left to be the backing band for Motown legend Eddie Kendricks. The Young Senators were the studio band for Kendrick's sophomore solo album, People ... Hold On.

Eli Meir Kaplan

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Terry Huff poses for a portrait outside of his daughter's home in Temple Hills, Maryland, in 2012. Huff's falsetto voice was renowned for its pitch, and his single with Special Delivery, “I Destroyed Your Love,” was a hit in 1975. Huff died in 2012.

Eli Meir Kaplan

Many of the great soul and funk venues in Washington have disappeared or have transitioned into venues for other types of music. A few of the artists pictured in “Soul51” are no longer active musicians. Others, however, have kept it up and still perform exactly the way they did back in the ’60s and ’70s. “There are still a lot of groups around in D.C. that will perform, certainly not as often as they used to, but they still will have performances,” Kaplan said. “If people knew about it, they might be pretty excited to find out they're still performing.”

Kaplan’s ultimate goal is to photograph 51 artists for his project. He said the aim is to preserve the history of the music as much as it is to celebrate it. “Often I’ll hear that people died and I didn't even know about them before,” he said. “That's another reason why there's an urgency to photograph them and work on this project.”

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Pastor Alonzo Hart of the Stridells at Salem Baptist Church in Washington in 2013. The Stridells started at Eastern Senior High School and were briefly mentored by soul icon Curtis Mayfield when their single “Mix It Up” was issued on Curtom Records in 1969. Hart became a pastor shortly after but remains eager to catch up with other members of the Stridells.

Eli Meir Kaplan

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The Blackbyrds—from the left, Keith Killgo, Orville Saunders, Joe Hall, Allan Barnes—in a music classroom in the fine arts building at Howard University in Washington in 2012. The Blackbyrds were mentored by jazz legend Donald Byrd, who was their professor at the university, and had a No. 6 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1974 with “Walking In Rhythm.” Drummer Killgo teaches a new generation of musicians at Anacostia Senior High School.

Eli Meir Kaplan

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Herb Fame of Peaches & Herb poses for a portrait in 2013. Peaches & Herb had a No. 1 Billboard R&B 100 and Billboard Hot 100 song in 1979 with “Reunited.”

Eli Meir Kaplan

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Father's Children—from the left, Hakim Carpenter, Sadik Long, Malik Khabir, Nizam Smith, and Qaadir Sumler—at their alma mater, Duke Ellington School for the Arts, in Washington in 2012. Father's Children's first LP came out in 1978, but their actual debut recording, “Who's Gonna Save the World,” sat on a shelf for 39 years before being released in 2011.

Eli Meir Kaplan

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Osiris Marsh in the Eastern Senior High School auditorium in Washington in 2014. Originally the bass singer in the vocal group the Stridells, Marsh went on to form his own funk band, Osiris, in the late 1970s. The Stridells were one of several vocal groups in Eastern Senior High School and had one of their first performances in the auditorium.

Eli Meir Kaplan

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