Herb Ward, R&B singer, dies

Posted: February 15, 2013

HERB WARD, a Philadelphia R&B singer of the '60s and '70s, had the unusual distinction of being more popular in England at one point in his career than at home.

His hit "Honest to Goodness" did make a splash when it was played on WHAT-AM in Philly in 1969, but in England it sold more than half a million copies.

Another song, "Strange Change," was released on the Philadelphia Buddy label in 1965, then had a second life when it was re-released in 1970 in England and became a huge hit.

Herb was also featured in a recent film about soul music for British television called "The Strange World of Northern Soul."

Herb Ward, born Herbert Eugene McCracken in Philadelphia, died Dec. 24 of complications of surgery at Chestnut Hill Hospital. He was 75 and lived in Mount Airy.

After his recording career, Herb became a tractor-trailer driver for the Philadelphia Streets Department. He retired in 1999.

His wife, Elizabeth, told the Inquirer that Herb was pleased to learn that his music was still being played in England.

"They tried to get him to come over and tour Europe," she said. "He was very proud of that."

"He has some very collectible outings in the soul idiom," said Robert Bosco, writer and music historian. " 'Strange Change' is one famous outing for Argo [a division of Chicago-based Chess Records], which is worth a bundle, and I don't have.

"He had other notable releases - for Buddy [owned by local recording executive Frank Virtue] called 'Hands Off She's Mine,' 'You Can't Cry' for Phil L.A. of Soul, and for RCA, 'Honest To Goodness.'

"Truth to tell, he had only a modicum of success back in time, which is why his stuff is so revered and collectible into the Third Millennium."

David L. Brown, of Funkadelphia Records, said that once in the '60s when Herb was due to perform at the Uptown Theater, his band didn't show up.

"He asked Teddy Pendergrass to fill in as the drummer," Brown said. "It was Teddy's first performance ever."

(The late Teddy Pendergass went on to become a popular R&B/soul singer until he was paralyzed in an auto accident in Philadelphia in 1982.)

Herb Ward scored a success in 1967 with "Wrong Place at the Wrong Time," written by Philly soul impresarios Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

Herb's manager, WHAT-AM disc jockey Sonny Hopson, released Herb's final recording, "Going Home," on Hopson's All Brothers label in 1969.

Herb was born in Philadelphia to Eugene and Anna L. Reeder McCracken. He attended Germantown High School. He served in the Marine Corps from 1954 to 1962.

Besides his wife, he is survived by two sons, Michael and Jeffrey, and two daughters, Charlene and Ellesia Black.

Services: Requiem Mass at 11 a.m. Friday at African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, 6361 Lancaster Ave.

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