Black Americans have been hit hard by the coronavirus. Nearly 1 in 3 Blacks know someone firsthand who has died from the virus, compared to 9 percent of whites, according to a Washington Post poll. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Blacks are 11% of Missouri’s population yet account for 32% of the state’s coronavirus deaths.
Although more than 56,000 blacks have succumbed to the virus, most of the deceased are unknown outside their circles of family and friends. This is not the case for thousands in St. Louis who recently learned that beloved singer and performer Lamont Hadley Sr. had succumbed to the coronavirus.
St. Louis’ live entertainment scene in the late 1980s and ‘90s was robust. Hadley’s rise to fame came at a time when St. Louis and East St. Louis clubs like the Ambassador, the Max, St. Louis Nites and Broadway’s featured live performances. The bookings of local groups and solo artists such as Plush, Transit Authority, Velvet, Marty Abdullah and Julius Williams guaranteed packed houses.
Singer James White met Hadley in the early ‘80s. A tenor like Hadley, White said his singing group, Plush, had a friendly rivalry with Hadley’s group, Master’s Touch. White likened St. Louis’ ‘80s and ‘90s Black music scene to the infamous Chitlin Circuit, where African-American musicians, comedians, and other entertainers made a living performing in the era of racial segregation.
While attending Vashon High School, Hadley joined the group Fire 5 in 1978. The group sang their own renditions of hits by the Temptations, the O'Jays and other popular male ensembles. By the mid-1980s, Hadley’s new group, Rare Form became the opening acts for celebrities like Kenny Rogers and Sheryl Crow.
Hadley hit his stride in 1989, as part of the all-male vocal group Master's Touch. The group sold out local venues with their smooth vocal stylings, energetic choreography and dapper, matching attire. Master's Touch opened for legendary R&B singers and groups such as Peabo Bryson, Gerald Levert, and the Delfonics.
Music promoter Red Rooster grew up and attended high school with Hadley. The two were opposite personalities, but Rooster said they remained lifelong friends.
“Lamont had been singing since he was nine or 10 years old,” Rooster said. “We got really close as adults. I’d go to his shows and rehearsals. Afterwards, we’d do the St. Louis and East St. Louis club scene. But Lamont was a good boy, a church boy. He didn’t drink or do drugs.”
Bridgette West, Hadley’s long-time girlfriend and mother of his son, Lamont Hadley Jr., 41, recalled how she met the shy, young singer in 1988.
“I was working in the pharmacy at Medicare Glaser Drug store. My brother told me there was this guy he knew who liked me, but I never met him. Lamont would come into the store and always buy the same thing – a grape soda and a (Hostess) Suzy Q,” West said.
“Even though there was a cashier up front, he’d always come all the way back to the pharmacy to check out. Then one day, he asked for my phone number. We’ve been together since then for 32 years.”
In 2002, as part of the group L.L.C., Hadley recorded a CD titled "Guaranteed for Love Making." In 2006, Hadley formed his own group, Lamont and The Hadley Band, and recorded an album titled "It's Been A Long Time Coming."
On Hadley’s Facebook page, hundreds of fans shared their condolences and memories of their favorite Lamont Hadley Sr. performance or song. For West, her soulmate’s rendition of Dee Harvey’s “Leave Well Enough Alone” will always be her all-time favorite. Their son, Lamont Jr., said Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come” is the song that will be forever attached to memories of his dad.
“He grew up wanting to be like Cooke,” Lamont Jr. recalled. “He analyzed his music and style. Sam Cooke was his role model. Later, when I watched Sam’s biography, I recognized the similarities in their lives.”
Local music manager and concert promoter James Witherspoon said he had just signed on as Hadley’s manager. He remembers the singer’s ability to delight audiences.
“Lamont was so versatile he could perform for any audience – young or older,” Witherspoon said. “He played to the audience. No one was left out. He covered everything from Sam Cooke, to Stevie Wonder to Ray Charles, he was just that talented.”
Witherspoon had Hadley open for some of his concerts featuring singer Will Downing, the R&B group Bloodstone, and other national acts. He said they were working on a new CD before Hadley contracted the coronavirus.
“He had sent me a rough cut of one of his songs. We talked often,” Witherspoon said. “When I heard he was in the hospital, I called, but he sent me a text saying he couldn’t talk because he was on oxygen. That was the last time I heard from him.”
Lamont Jr. was with his dad the night he almost collapsed while performing at a Master’s Touch reunion concert.
“During the last three songs, he got very weak and had trouble breathing,” Lamont Jr. “I had to bring a stool up on stage for him to sit down.”
The next day, Hadley was taken to the hospital, where he was initially diagnosed with pneumonia. A few days later, Lamont Jr., said doctors informed the family that his father had indeed contracted the dreaded virus.
Although Hadley’s condition continually worsened, West said that she and his family were unprepared for his demise. Since Hadley’s mother and sister had also contracted the virus and survived, they expected a similar outcome.
Sadly, Hadley slipped into a coma and passed on August 21.
He was not an unknown victim to his family or a whole generation of loyal followers. COVID 19 robbed them of Lamont Hadley Sr., a familiar face, much-loved personality and a treasured voice.
Services for Lamont Hadley Sr. will be held on Saturday, September 5 at `11 a.m. at the Ambassador Center, 9800 Halls Ferry Rd., St. Louis, MO 63136.
Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow.