Friday, August 16, 2013

August 16: Robert "Squirrel" Lester of the Chi-Lites - "Have you Seen Her?" "Oh, Girl" - was born on this date in 1942…

... he died on January 21, 2010. Robert "Squirrel" Lester was born in McComb, Mississippi on August 16, 1942. He was the second tenor in the Chicago-based singing group The Chi-Lites.

Lester was part of the original Chi-Lites line-up when the group (then named 'The Hi-Lites') were first formed in 1960 from two Chicago groups — The Desideros and Lester’s group, The Chantours. He was included in the recent Chi-Lites line-up, along with group leader Marshall Thompson, lead vocalist Frank Reed, and backing vocalist, Tara Thompson.

Originally known "Marshall and the Chi-Lites" the name was subsequently shortened to The Chi-Lites. Record was the group's primary songwriter, though he frequently collaborated with others, such as Barbara Acklin.

Their major hits came in 1971 and 1972, "Have You Seen Her" and "Oh Girl", the latter a #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 on 27 May 1972. Other transatlantic chart hits followed, although the output became more fragmented as the group's personnel came and went.

Bass singer Jones left in 1973, and was replaced in quick succession by Stanley Anderson, Willie Kensey, and then Doc Roberson. Shortly thereafter, Eugene Record left, and David Scott and Danny Johnson entered. More personnel changes ensued, when Johnson was replaced by Vandy Hampton in 1977. At that point, the group totally disintegrated, but re-formed in 1980, with the mid-1960s quartet of Record, Thompson, Jones, and Lester back together.

Creadel Jones left for a second time in 1982, and the group would remain a trio. Record left again in 1988, and new lead Frank Reed joined to replace him. Singer Anthony Watson would also join the group at this time and the duty of lead vocals would alternate between them for several years. (Lester took over singing lead on "Oh Girl," while Watson led on their other songs.)

The group was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 2000 and Record made an appearance with the group on stage to perform and accept the award.

Thompson was jailed in 2001 for selling police badges, and Reed returned temporarily to take his place. Upon Thompson's return, Reed once again assumed the role of lead vocalist. This line-up of Thompson, Lester, Reed, and Thompson's wife Tara Henderson on background vocals would remain until the death of Lester in 2010 from liver cancer.

Fred Simon of The Lost Generation joined the group to replace Lester and to perform bass vocals.

An inductee at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, Lester was 67 years old at the time of his death. He died at Roseland Hospital in Chicago after a long battle with liver cancer.

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