For Jimmy Hayes, the secret of The Persuasions’ success over the last 50 years isn’t really much of a secret at all.
“It’s been divine intervention — clear and simple,” said Mr. Hayes, one of the founding members of the venerable a capella group coming to Dover’s Schwartz Center for the Arts Saturday night, bringing their decades of tunes, which cover a wide range from Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles to the Grateful Dead and U2.
The Persuasions came together on the outdoor basketball courts in Brooklyn, New York, in 1962. Mr. Hayes said that after they played, about 20 of the guys, most of whom came to New York to be music stars, would get together and harmonize.
“We didn’t really know each other. It’s not like we had grown up together singing in the bathroom in high school. Most of us were from the South,” he said.
“One day, I said to the guys ‘Why don’t we go to my house and rehearse?’ My house was really a small hall room and
I knew that all 20 guys weren’t going to show up. Four guys showed up. And together we became The Persuasions. If that’s not divine intervention, I don’t know what is.”
Those five ended up traveling the world together, recording more than two dozen albums and working with the likes of Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell.
In 1973, a young Bruce Springsteen opened for them and their version of the song “Oom Papa Mow Mow” can be heard on the soundtrack for the film “E.T. — The Extra-Terrestrial.”
The original five Persuasions — Jerry Lawson, Mr. Hayes, Joe Russell, Jayotis Washington and Toubo Rhoad — spent five years just singing for themselves before they shared their talents with the public.
They all had “regular” jobs during the day. Mr. Hayes was an elevator operator at a Brooklyn department store.
“I would sing all day. My manager would have rather I called out the floors. But we had some people who would come into the store just to ride the elevator and hear me sing,” Mr. Hayes said.
One day, one such woman asked him if he had a group and performed at parties and how much he would charge.
“I said sure, we do parties. I had to go back and ask the guys how much they thought we should charge. We decided on 25 dollars. That would be five for everyone in the group,” Mr. Hayes recalled.
The Persuasions were a big hit at the party but at the end of the night, the woman told them she had only raised $5 for them.
“But we didn’t care. It really wasn’t about the money. It was our first gig. We got paid. We were pros now,” Mr. Hayes, the bass singer of the group, said with a hearty laugh.
Their first big gig came at New York’s famed Lincoln Center where they were supposed to open for Dionne Warwick and The Woody Herman Orchestra. However, Ms. Warwick came down with laryngitis and couldn’t make the show.
“So we headlined and killed. I’ve still got the poster,” Mr. Hayes said.
Another case of getting that little help from above came in 1968 when The Persuasions were performing in a record shop in Jersey City, New Jersey. The music was being broadcast out into the street just as a man named David Dashev was walking by.
So taken with their sound, Mr. Dashev ran into the store and immediately asked to use the store’s phone. He dialed his friend singer Frank Zappa in California, who was starting his own record label.
“We gathered around the phone and sang ‘I Can’t Work No Longer’ while Frank was on the other end. I didn’t know Frank Zappa from Adam at the time,” Mr. Hayes said.
It wasn’t too long after that Mr. Hayes and company were on a flight to Los Angeles to record their first album entitled “A Capella” for Mr. Zappa’s record label, Straight.
In March 2000, The Persuasions released “Frankly A Cappella: The Persuasions Sing Zappa” in tribute to the late Mr. Zappa.
The Persuasions have recorded other tribute albums throughout the years, doing the music of The Beatles and The Grateful Dead. It’s that eclectic nature that has kept fans listening for years.
“To us, we do whatever songs strike our fancy. One of us will hear a song and if we like it, we might try to see if we can strip it down and do a version of it that suits us,” Mr. Hayes said.
“Sometimes we’ll work on a song and maybe set it aside and come back to it later. But we work at it and see what we can do with it.”
Mr. Hayes credits current lead singer Dave Revels with helping to arrange songs that fit with The Persuasions’ style.
He said the Schwartz audience should expect a little bit of everything at Saturday’s show.
“That’s the great thing about a capella. There’s no band so we don’t have to go by a set program. We don’t need to have sheet music. If we see kids in the audience, we might sing a few children’s songs. If we see an elderly crowd, we’ll do some gospel hymns,” he explained.
“Sometimes people will yell out their favorite songs and we’ll do them on the spot. We’re like football players who can call an audible at the line of scrimmage.”
Mr. Hayes is one of two original members still singing with the group, along with Mr. Washington.
“It’s been an amazing journey. I often wonder what I would have done all these years if this opportunity didn’t come along. I’m just so thankful it did,” he said.
“We’ve been all over the globe. We’ve been to Israel. The only things I knew about Israel was what I read in the Bible. We’ve been to Australia. Before I went there, the only thing I knew about Australia was that they had kangaroos over there.”
At 72, Mr. Hayes said he is still enjoying the journey.
“I’m having as much fun now as I had 50 years ago — maybe more so. When you finish a show and you see the smiles on people’s faces, that’s the greatest feeling in the world. You know you’ve done something really positive.
When I stop having that feeling, that’s when I know it’s time to hang it up.”
Before Saturday’s 7 p.m. show, The Persuasions will offer a free workshop at the Schwartz, “Mastering the Art of Live Entertainment” at 4 p.m.
The program includes a history of their impact and influence on the popularity of contemporary a capella music.
Group members also will give tips on harmonizing with groups of two or more voices or singing solo.
There will be an emphasis on the pure enjoyment of singing and getting the absolute best out of an onstage performance.
Tickets for the 7 p.m. concert are $30, $25 for seniors and $20 for children and can be purchased by visiting www.schwartzcenter.com or calling 678-5152.
The Schwartz Center is at 226 S. State St.
Vajra to play Cooldog
For music of a different sort, Vajra will perform at the Cooldog house concert series, near Kenton, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Vajra was formed by composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Annamaria Pinna during her self-imposed exile in India.
Vajra’s music is described as hauntingly dark and hypnotic, weaving Eastern Indian themes with melodic, progressive rock creating foreboding and mysterious lullabies.
Suggested donations are $15 per person or $12 ages 10-18 and active military.
Participants are asked to bring a covered dish to share. The event will be a masquerade party.
For more information and to RSVP, visit www.cooldogconcerts.com.
‘Crowns’ at DSU
Delaware State University’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences will present the student production of the gospel musical “Crowns” in three performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. April 17, on the stage of the Education and Humanities Theatre on campus.
“Crowns” is a musical play in which hats become a springboard for an exploration of black history and identity as seen through the eyes of a young black woman who comes to live with her grandmother.
Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children 12 and younger and free for DSU students. Tickets will only be sold at the door. The box office will open at 6 p.m. and seating will begin at 7 p.m.
For additional information call (302) 857-6573 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Collector’s Day Saturday
Have a cool collection you’d like to share with others? The Air Mobility Command Museum will hold its 10th annual Collector’s Day Saturday.
Over the years, participants have shared collections of turn-of-the-century postcards, World War I uniforms, pocket watches, Trench Art, football memorabilia and sunflower jewelry.
For additional information on the free event, call the museum at (302) 677-5991. Table space may be reserved in advance. Receive a free reservation form by emailing email@example.com or stop by the AMC Museum.
There will be prizes for best overall exhibit and most unusual collection. Setup starts at 7:30 a.m. and doors open at 9 a.m.. Teardown is at 2 p.m. No weapons or inappropriate material. Take Exit 91 off Del. 1 and follow the signs.
New in theaters this weekend is the romantic drama “The Longest Drama.”
On DVD and download starting Tuesday are the horror films “The Woman in Black 2” and “The Babadook” and Amy Adams in “Big Eyes.”