When I learned that Unsung was going to air an documentary on R&B/Quiet Storm Singer/Songwriter Howard Hewett, I knew this was documentary I had to watch. I always wanted to know about the 3rd lead singer of the Disco/Dance/R&B group Shalamar, and let’s just say that there were some interesting things I learned about the crooner.
Hewitt was born in Akron, Ohio as the 4th of 6th children to a postal worker father and a socialite, community activist mother, who taught Howard and his siblings the values of hard work, while their mom encouraged them to focus on their talents and not their looks. (In other words, people are going to be automatically drawn to you because of your looks, but you have to show them that you have more to offer than your looks). His mom was also influence Howard and his siblings to sing in church and formed a Gospel group where they sang in church while pushing Howard to the forefront where he got lots of love from the audience including the females. Hewett’s sister revealed how once they were performing and a female jumped onstage and put him in a headlock and while Howard continued to sing, their mother got upset and intervened. Like many kids who honored their vocal chops in church, Hewitt began to listen to secular music and by the time he entered high school, he joined a R&B/Soul group called Life, who won a large female following. After high school, Hewett moved to California and quickly got a gig performing at the legendary Mavericks Flat and toured with a group called Beverly Hills. Months later, he met the 1st of his 4 wives; Rainy, who was the secretary to the late Don Cornelius creator of Soul Train. The couple quickly fell in love and got married and learned they were going to be parents. With a child on the way, Howard performed and did sessions with Motown, but his big break came when Jeffrey Daniels of Shalamar called to inform him that he and bandmate Jody Watley was in need of a singer to replace the group’s original lead singer Gerald Brown who left the band due to a contract dispute with the late Dick Griffey the founder of their record label Solar Records. Hewitt met with Griffey who asked him to sing for him. After singing Peabo Bryson’s classic Feel The Fire, Griffey gave him $500 and airline ticket to the East Coast to join Jody and Jeffrey for a scheduled performance on The Dinah Shore Show where he performed and lip-synched Brown’s vocals. After that performance the trio teamed up with Producer and Songwriter Leon Sylvers of The Sylvers to record their classic album “Big Fun” which went gold and featured their 1st and only # 1 R&B Hit “The Second Time Around” which became a huge hit; in addition to topping the R&B charts the single also hit # 8 on the Pop charts as well as becoming the 2nd # 1 R&B hit of the 1980’s. Hewitt’s gospel trained tenor helped the group score several hits, but his looks helped the group become mainstream
“Howard had the look” Daniels said on the documentary. In other words. Howard’s complexion and curly Afro was what got the group attention from the press and fans.
Around the time “Big Fun” was released, many the Disco movement began to fade and many acts from the era were being dubbed Dance Acts including Shalamar., but that changed with the release of their follow up album “Three For Love” which included the hit ballad “This Is For The Lover In You” which Howard co-wrote with Dana Myers. Not only did the ballad become a hit, it took the trio out of the Dance group category and showed that they was going to have longevity while becoming Howard’s signature ballad. The song still get played at weddings and became one of R&B Music’s most famous baby making songs. “For The Lover In You put the group in another whelm” Howard said about the song’s success.
The classic line-up recorded 3 more albums including their classic “Friends” which included the classics “A Night To Remember” and”I Don’t Wanna Be The Last To Know” with the later becoming the group’s biggest radio hit to date, but after the release of the follow up album “The Look” Daniels and Watley left the group due to conflicts with Howard and Dick Griffey. “Business wasn’t right” Daniels said. Howard’s 1st marriage had ended due to him being on the road and him cheating. “I wasn’t a good dude. I was not faithful” Hewett admitted. He later got custody of his two eldest daughters who he raised with his 3rd wife Singer/Songwriter/Actress Nia Peebles who gave birth to his only son Christopher. Hewett chose to carry on. He mentioned in several interviews that he felt he owed the fans another Shalamar album and didn’t want to leave them hanging. “I Thought he would have gone solo earlier” Singer/Songwriter/Musician Delissa Davis said. Filling Jody and Jeffrey’s slot was Davis and Singer/Rock Guitarist Mikki Free who joined Howard on the classic single “Dancing In The Sheets” which became Shalamar’s 2nd biggest Pop hit to date. The single helped push the soundtrack “Foot Loose” to the top of the album charts. The group also recorded the single “Don’t Get Stopped In Beverly Hills” for the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack earning them a Grammy Award. They also released the album “Heartbreak” which had a combination of Rock, New Wave, Synch-Pop and R&B scored two minor hits including “Amnesia” and “My Girl Loves Me” with the latter becoming a fan favorite Despite embarking on a successful tour in the UK, the album didn’t do as well as expected and when his contract expired, Howard decided to leave Shalamar and pursue a solo career. His departure was felt when Delissa and Mikki carried on with Hewitt’s replacement former football player Sydney Justin.
Howard was offered a deal from Elektra Records and found love for the 2nd time after meeting Mori Molina at an after party. Things seems to have been going well for Howard until he and Molina were vacationing in Miami, where they went to a shopping mall and it was there where they were arrested for cocaine possession. Hewett spoke about the incident on Unsung. He said that he had no idea that his fiancee was selling drugs until the arrest. “Wrong Place. Wrong Time. Wrong People” The city and District Attorney wanted to make an example of him to scare others from coming into the city to sell drugs and Hewett was facing 49 years in prison. Scared to death about being away from his family, Hewett asked for God’s help in an unusual way; he woke up at 2 AM in the morning and stood on the bible and asked God to use him in his way. The result was the him being found not guilty (his fiance who he married and divorced 2 years later was given a 2 year sentence), signing with Elektra who decided to give him a chance and releasing his solo debut album “I Commit To Love” which featured his classic ballad “I’m For Real” which peaked at # 2 on the R&B Charts and showcased his ability to sing all types of vocal ranges, while the follow up “Stay” became a hit with men. “(It’s) a song about a lady wanting to leave, but you don’t wanna beg her to stay.” Hewett said about the song’s inspiration. However his Gospel-Flavored-Inspirational single “Say Amen” which was inspire by his trial and he co-wrote became his 2nd and most popular signature single to date due to him performing it on Robert Townsend’s HBO comedy special. “The fact that it was received speaks to the power when you’re true to yourself” Actress/Singer/Songwriter Dawn Lewis said about the song’s impact.
Howard began to be recruited to work with other singers and one of the artist he worked with was Actress/Dancer/Singer/Songwriter Nia Peeples, who’s label recruited him to work on her debut album and it was during the recording of the album that sparks began to fly and surprisingly Hewett didn’t want to pursue a relationship with a lady in the music industry but he couldn’t control his feelings and they fell in love, got married and became the parents of a son shortly before the release of his self-titled album which became another hit due the video for the album’s lead single “Show Me” being a family affair with Nia suggesting that Howard and the director allow Nia and their children appear in the video. The single which peaked at # 2 further displayed his vocal talents and became a hit with both the men and ladies due to the lyrics about communication. “She has to let you know sometimes.” At the beginning of the 1990’s Howard found himself having clashes with Elektra who wanted him to release the single “Save Your Sex For Me” which he co-wrote. Howard told the executives that he wanted the song to be an album track due to the future blacklash he would receive. The single was released and it didn’t do well nor did the album. Howard asked to be released from the label. During that time his marriage to Peeples failed due to their careers, but Nia stated the reason the marriage failed to her wanting to have a solid family. “That’s what tore us apart” the former host of “Party Machine” said along with him cheating. “He was fing around.”
After the marriage, Howard decided to abstain from sex and was celibate for 2 years. In 1996 Howard’s career got an boost when Singer/Songwriter/Producer and former label mate Babyface recruited him, Jody and Jeffrey to reunite and join rapper LL Cool J for a remake of the classic Shalamar’s classic “This Is For The Lover In You” (an important part of Shalamar’s history which wasn’t featured in Shalamar’s 2009 Unsung documentary) which became a huge hit peaking at # 2 on the R&B charts and # 6 on the Pop charts introducing the group to a new generation of fans. Howard did finally mention that he and Jody did have conflicts and tension during their time in Shalamar and was happy to recording with his former band mates. He spoke about Jody choosing to shoot her part for the video separetly from the guys and while he didn’t bash her, group mate Daniels claims that Jody messed up the Shalamar reunion. (I will speak about this later in this blog). The success of the single got Howard more gigs and bookings and the opportunity to record a Gospel album followed several more albums. Howard also married caterer Angela who gave to his 4th child Anissa and after being together for nearly 14 years they divorced in 2012.
Howard continues to perform as a solo artist with many classic R&B, Soul and Disco acts while performing overseas with Jeffrey Daniels and Griffey’s daughter Carolyn in their version of Shalamar. (Original member Jody Watley gain ownership of Shalamar’s trademark and performs internationally with Nate Allen Smith and Rosero McCroy as Shalamar Reloaded). “I enjoy working. I enjoying connecting with my audience with my audience” Hewett said about performing. He also spoke about being a father to his 4 children and he told them while most of his decisions he made wasn’t all great he admit that ‘every decision was 150 percent for them. Howard also revealed that despite having 4 failed marriages, he still wants to find himself a wife but hasn’t found one who can deal with his personality. “I haven’t found the person who could deal with all my changes.”
Howard’s unsung documentary was a good one. I have to admit I wanted to watch to learn about his upbringing and he did have a parents who supported and encourage him, but there were many things Unsung failed to mention or add. The documentary failed to mention that he recorded duets with Dionne Warwick La-Toya Jackson and Teena Marie. He recorded the duet “Lovers Lane” on Lady T’s album “Conga Square” The documentary didn’t mention him singing background on Donna Summer’s self-titled album and on Michael Jackson’s classic “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing). Unsung didn’t mention him teaming up with Klymaxx for the ballad “I’d Still Say Yes” which became a huge top 20 Pop hit and was later remade by The Braxtons on their debut album. Unsung failed to mention him recording a cover version of the Sam & Dave classic “Soul Man” for the 2nd season of the hit sitcom “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper.” Unsung didn’t mention how rapper Mase and former Missy Elliot’s former portogee Singer Torrey Carter each sampling Shalamar’s classic’s “A Night To Remember” and “This Is For The Lover In You” for their singles “Get Ready” and “Take That” with the latter’s single becoming a huge hit and being dubbed as one of Vibe Magazine’s top 10 summer bangers of the year 2000. On the subject of his tenure with Shalamar, I also have to admit that another reason I tuned in to see what he was going to say about his time with Shalamar and if he was going to bash Jody Watley. I was surprised that he didn’t do that and it was great that he admitted that they did have issues and he was glad that he, Jody and Jeffrey was able to record again.(A classy move) I was also surprised to see Delissa Davis and Mikki Free featured. Jeffrey however claims that Jody messed up the Shalamar reunion, but the documentary failed to mention that they along with Babyface and LL did team up for a performance of the single which was aired on the U.K. show “Tops of The Pops.” Unsung also made a slight error. Howard co-wrote “For The Lover In You” with Dana Myers. Leon Sylvers produced the single, but it was written by Hewett and Myers. (Da-Professor is in the process of writing an article honoring Shalamar’s 40th year anniversary which is scheduled to be published next year).
All in all the documentary was a great one. Howard still has a great voice and still has ladies wanting to listen and see him live (among other things). It showed him as a human being and if he continues to maintain his faith and being humble he will continue to inspire and have happiness.