It was the dawn of the 1980s. A recently-formed R & B vocal group from Columbus, Ohio, was “dancing on the ceiling.” They had just received a letter from Diana Ross about the demo tape they mailed her. The hand-written note (likely penned by an administrative assistant) said Ms. Ross liked their music and encouraged them to keep writing songs. Next, an alert Chicago relative wisely advised them to change the name of their group since there already was an Afro-Carribean a capella vocal group named “Paragon.”
Within a few days, the four hopeful twenty-somethings had changed the name of their group to The Stage Corporation. In the whirlwind year that followed, they opened for Gladys Knight and the Pips and Bob Hope, appeared on several regional television variety shows and were in high demand on the nightclub circuit in Ohio. The Stage Corporation continued to write, record and produce their own songs, winning a serious “look” but no deal from MCA Records in Los Angeles. Somehow, a Stage Corporation demo tape reached the ears of Teddy Pendergrass’s managers. They were impressed and booked the group to open for Pendergrass at the Columbus Convention Center. THIS, the group hoped, would be their chance to win a recording contract with Philadelphia International Records–a label they believed would appreciate their strong vocal talent.
Alas, the concert never happened. A few days before Pendergrass was scheduled to perform in Columbus, he was paralyzed from the waist down in his infamous and tragic car accident. “Bad luck”, pun intended, was what The Stage Corporation “had got”. Their brief career from the early to mid-eighties is an all too common tale of heartbreaking near misses at making the big time in the music industry.
The Stage Corporation’s lead vocalist, Beverly Flowers, sang in a crystal clear, crisply articulated soprano that was likened to both the voice of Olivia Newton-John and Deniece Williams. Add the rich, church-bred voices of brother and sister, Stan Embry and Francine Embry-Brown, and you had bright harmonies on par with the Friends of Distinction. The group’s two men/two women line-up drew comparisons to Chic. Their major key, uptempo songs combined soul with power pop in a fashion similar to Shalamar. Ironically, Stage Corporation founder, Jack Marchbanks, eventually left the group to become a songwriter for Solar Records, the record label of The Whispers, Lakeside, Klymmaxx, and, of course, Shalamar.
In retrospect, the members of The Stage Corporation may have been too smart for their own good. Their song lyrics railed at violence against women in domestic relationships (“Bullet Through the Heart”) and warned of a coming plague of sexually transmitted diseases among African-Americans by archly using a horror movie metaphor (“Vampire”). The MCA A&R chief who heard “Bullet..” said he thought the punk/rock groove was a winner but he couldn’t “sell a song about a woman shooting her attacker.” A year later, Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” — full references to gun violence — topped the charts. Maybe the real story here is that The Stage Corporation was ahead of its time.
Listen now to a medley of The Stage Corporation Songs – “Bullet Through The Heart”, “Vampire” and “Wherever You Go”.
All songs copyrighted by Jack Marchbanks
Download “Bullet Through The Heart” by Stage Corporation FREE!