LaMonte McLemore of The 5th Dimension Shares Memories of Broadway, Sinatra, and More in HOBO FLATS Memoir

He founded one of the most popular singing groups of the proverbial rock era, The 5th Dimension. Their Grammy-winning, uplifting anthems for a generation, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" and "Up-Up and Away" brought soothing yet exhilarating harmony during the turbulent times of the late '60's. He's also a renowned photographer, edifying the beauty of women of color as the premier photographer of JET magazine for over 50 years. He's LaMonte McLemore, and his popular memoir, as-told-to Robert-Allan Arno, is "From Hobo Flats to The 5th Dimension: A Life Fulfilled in Baseball, Photography and Music." Here, "Mac" chats with his biographer about Broadway influences, Sinatra and Champagne Soul.

Robert: So Mac, you've been wanting to "do" your memoir for ages and since its launch earlier this year, it's been quite a success.

LaMonte: I probably have ten books to write, but this one is "it." It's all about the love, and I love meeting fans while on book tour, "wood-shedding" with them about the music and how it made them feel. I'm proud of the history--of our discography and as African-American entertainers who were known as trailblazing. My grandma was my muse, a Cherokee Indian who couldn't read or write but was as prophetic as they came. She'd be proud.

Robert: Tell me one of her sayings.

LaMonte: They are all through the book: "The sun rises and sets for everyone, we're the only ones who screw it up in between!"

Robert: Right now we're celebrating the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra.

LaMonte: Frank loved The 5th Dimension. We're the only group he took on the road, we opened for him at Radio City with the Rockettes, at Royal Albert Hall before the queen, and in Vegas, too. We appeared on his TV special "Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Thing" where he was The 6th Dimension. He donned one of our "mod" costumes and joined us for a tune. We worked with many greats, but I did pinch myself when it came to Frank.

Robert: You mention opening for Frank in Vegas. Of course The 5th Dimension became a top headlining act.

LaMonte: We and The Supremes opened many doors for other Black entertainers in Las Vegas.

Robert: And during one of your stints with Frank in Vegas, by day the group recorded the iconic "The Age of Aquarius" album.

LaMonte: We felt we just had to record "Aquarius" from HAIR, after we got to see Broadway's toast of the town. Our producer joined it with "Let the Sunshine In" from the show, to give the medley oomph. Can you believe we had to stop tape every time the train came through...right next to the recording studio! Listen close and you can still here that "clack on our track!"

Robert: The medley spent six straight weeks at number one in the spring of '69.

LaMonte: I always say it's my favorite...it sold the most!

Robert: Broadway plays a big part in The 5th Dimension legacy.

LaMonte: We once opened our live act with "Magic to Do" from Pippin! We recorded other Broadway songs like "Light Sings" from The Me Nobody Knows and "Day by Day" from Godspell--we enjoyed doing that one live and raising the roof, "havin' church" on stage!

Robert: And you toured...

LaMonte: We were the first group to do the road tour of a Broadway show, in the '80's...it was Fats Waller's Aint Misbehavin'. We had the same performance schedule as a Broadway show, I never worked harder in my life or felt more accomplished!

Robert: And your members...

LaMonte: After original members McCoo and Davis left, we stocked ourselves with some great pros from Broadway like Marjorie Barnes and the late Danny Beard. Other members like Michele "Mic" Bell went on to win a Tony for the revival of Showboat, and the wonderful Eugene Barry-Hill is currently starring in the Tony-winning Kinky Boots. They added special showmanship to The 5th Dimension legacy and in turn, we were a launchpad for them.

Robert: Tell me about more favorites.

LaMonte: We grew up, so to speak, with Jimmy Webb who wrote our signature "Up-Up and Away." And we helped bring Laura Nyro to the public with her tunes, "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "Wedding Bell Blues." There's our fans' all-time favorite song by Bacharach/David, "One Less Bell to Answer." Oh, and speaking of Broadway, I've heard Audra McDonald likes that one, too!

Robert: They called your sound "Champagne Soul."

LaMonte: Yes, when I founded the group, I put Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis, Jr., Florence LaRue, Ron Townson and myself together...my hunch was we looked great and I knew each of them were gifted. I was the only one who couldn't sing...and I really didn't know what I was doing about forming a group!

Robert: You are humble. Your bass is iconic as is your vision.

LaMonte: Grandma would say, "Opportunity always knocks twice, the second time just ain't for you!"

Robert: Humor is important to you.

LaMonte: If I don't make people laugh, my job isn't done. If I weren't a singer or a photographer, or played baseball early on in the Dodger's farm system, I'd be a comedian.

Robert: In the book, you talk about comedy heroes.

LaMonte: Richard Pryor who was wild, and Redd Foxx became personal friends; did you know Redd wanted me to play his son on the classic sit-com, "Sanford and Son." That's why he named him "Lamont."

Robert: How do you want to be remembered?

LaMonte: I retired from The 5th Dimension after 40 years. The group continues today with original member Florence LaRue. And McCoo and Davis have been married 46 years and still tour to duet acclaim. I'll get on stage and join them for a chorus of "Let the Sunshine In" here and there. But the "sunshine" I got to deliver regularly with the group is what makes me happy to this day. We brought people together, crossing age, racial and record chart boundaries with our harmonies. A Vietnam vet will tell me our sound on Armed Forces radio brought him closer to home. As "Up-Up and Away" says, we made the world a "nicer place."

From "Hobo Flats to The 5th Dimension," featuring 50 photos, is available in paperback on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0692307362. LaMonte McLemore is @lamontemclemore on Twitter.



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