Bernard Wilson, one of original Blue Notes

Bernard Wilson was part of the lineup known for its work with Gamble and Huff, and the Sound of Philadelphia.
Bernard Wilson was part of the lineup known for its work with Gamble and Huff, and the Sound of Philadelphia.
Posted: December 28, 2010

Bernard Wilson, 64, who helped define the Sound of Philadelphia as a longtime member of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, died Sunday.

Mr. Wilson, a North Philadelphia native, was part of the classic lineup during the early and mid-1970s that was responsible for such hits as "If You Don't Know Me by Now," "The Love I Lost," "Don't Leave Me This Way," and "Bad Luck."

He was the flashiest member, recalled Lloyd Parks, at 61 the last surviving member of the group that rose to fame under the legendary producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.

"He wore the best clothes, mink coats, diamonds - and Cadillacs," Parks said Monday night.

Mr. Wilson died at the Kresson View Center nursing home in Voorhees, said his cousin Faith Peace-Mazzccua of Bensalem. He had a major stroke last year and a heart attack this year, she said.

He grew up around 16th and Berks Streets in North Philadelphia and 30th and Norris Streets in Strawberry Mansion, Peace-Mazzccua said. His parents died when he was young, so he lived in later childhood with his grandmother.

Mr. Wilson attended Bok Technical High School, but at 16 left home to seek fame, she said. He dreamed of being an entertainer and wanted to impress girls.

"He was always singing and getting papers and writing down stuff," she said.

"We used to say, 'He left home a pauper and came home a millionaire.' "

The first incarnation of the group emerged in the 1950s and featured Melvin, another Philadelphia native. At some point, Wilson became part of an evolving lineup.

But it wasn't until 1972, when the group re-formed with Teddy Pendergrass as lead vocalist and signed with Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International label, that Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes shot to stardom.

Their sound was soulful, yet lush with string arrangements that were the trademark of the Sound of Philadelphia, which foreshadowed disco.

Mr. Wilson was the second tenor and baritone for the group, said Parks, who was first tenor.

During this period, the group also recorded the hits "I Miss You" and "Wake Up Everybody."

Two albums reached the top of the rhythm and blues chart and four songs hit No. 1, including "Hope That We Can Be Together Soon," recorded with Sharon Paige.

Pendergrass quit the group and had a successful solo career, which was cut short when he was paralyzed in a car accident. He died in January. Melvin died in 1997.

"Me and Bernie were the only two left," Parks said.

Mr. Wilson had hoped to recover from his illnesses and sing gospel, Peace-Mazzccua said.

The last time he performed was during the 1990s at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Parks said.

Mr. Wilson was once married and had an adopted son, Parks said.

Funeral services were incomplete, but Peace-Mazzccua said they were likely to be Friday, Jan. 7, at Morris Brown A.M.E. Church, 1756 N. 25th St.


Contact staff writer Robert Moran at 215-854-5983 or bmoran@phillynews.com.

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