The Jones Girls Bring Motown Flavor to Philly Soul Sound

Detroit natives The Jones Girls started their career singing backup for Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls and Diana Ross before making it big as a trio. Listen to five essential tracks from the group now.

Before they made their mark as “The Jones Girls,” Shirley, Brenda and Valerie Jones grew up in Detroit and began singing and blending harmonies together from an early age.

The daughters of gospel singer Mary Frazier Jones, they first started recording for Fortune record label in Detroit before moving over to Hot Wax-Invictus, the company formed by former Motown producers Holland-Dozier-Holland, then later to Curtis Mayfield’s Custom Records.

The group began to gain attention for their ability to blend their distinctive voices into beautiful harmonies, and soon would find steady work as background singers for artists such as Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, Linda Clifford, Peabo Bryson and many more.

Their big break would come when Diana Ross hired them on as background singers for her world tour, which took them to Philadelphia for a show. There, they were noticed by Kenny Gamble who immediately signed them to his Philadelphia International Records label and their journey to stardom began.

Click on the player above to hear “5 on 5: The Jones Girls” and check out five essential tracks from the soulful sisters below.

The Progressive Underground’s 5 on 5: The Jones Girls

1. “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else”

The girls got the royal treatment from Gamble and Leon Huff, the legendary production duo and co-owners of Philadelphia International Records, who produced their eponymous 1979 debut album “The Jones Girls,” which featured the infectious dance single and The Jones Girls’ first hit record, “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else.”

2. “Who Can I Run To?”

Their self-titled debut album would feature another track that would also become a Jones Girls signature tune. “Who Can I Run To?” was the B-side to “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else,” and would come to be viewed as a prototypical ballad, later on covered by R&B groups including Xscape nearly two decades later.

3. “Children of the Night”

By this time, The Jones Girls were one of the most in-demand R&B groups. Everyone wanted to hear their gorgeously silky harmonies blended with Gamble & Huffs sophisticated arrangements.

The following year, they released their sophomore album, “At Peace With Woman.” The album would feature a remake of The Stylistics “Children of the Night” and would result in that rare occasion of a remake either equaling or topping the original.

4. “Dance Turned Into a Romance”

At this stage of their career, The Jones Girls had mastered their formula of injecting mystery and a seductive sophistication into their now classic and timeless productions, punctuated by the jazzy, quiet-storm-style orchestral soul of the Philadelphia International Records studio musicians.

“At Peace With Woman” featured another signature Jones Girls tune with a more up-tempo bent. “Dance Turned Into a Romance” was one of the last hits of the disco era.

5. “Nights Over Egypt”

Changing trends in R&B brought a shift away from the lush, live music and symphonic vibes of the Philadelphia International Records group that had colored earlier Jones Girls hits. The industry evolved into a trendier synth and drum machine aesthetic that was adopted by commercial R&B and hip-hop of the time. This dramatically impacted the trio and they didn’t achieve the success of their earlier releases. The group retired and lead singer Shirley Jones decided to pursue a solo career, releasing her debut solo album, “Always in the Mood” where she scored a number-one R&B hit with the song, “Do You Get Enough Love.”

The trio would periodically reunite for tours overseas in the UK, but in 2001 Valorie Jones died at the age of 45 due to complications related to alcoholism and then in 2017 Brenda Jones was tragically killed at the age of 62 in an automobile accident.

These days, Shirley Jones continues to perform as The Jones Girls, keeping the act alive and in the family, with two of her nieces and a nephew on background vocals.  During their prime years, The Jones Girls enjoyed three classic albums and numerous classic R&B tunes that went on to influence a generation of singers and musicians. The girls were talented and gorgeous, and each were individually accomplished lead singers in their own right.  When they came together, they created timeless and beautiful harmonies, which was their strongest trademark, a quality that few girl groups could match.

Possibly their most signature tune, “Nights Over Egypt,” taken from their 1981 release “Get As Much Love As You Can,” captures the trio at their zenith, dropping quiet storm sound-painting over a smooth soul canvas.  This track would go on to be covered and remade numerous times, most notably by the internationally-renowned jazz outfit Incognito.

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