by Len Lear
Anyone who is now in the Medicare generation will undoubtedly recall the hit songs from the late 1960s and early ‘70s: “Up, Up and Away,” “One Less Bell To Answer,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Stone Soul Picnic,” “Last Night I Didn’t Get To Sleep” and “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In.”
They were all recorded by The Fifth Dimension, vocal group Hall of Famers who won seven Grammy Awards, had seven Gold albums, five Platinum singles and millions of record sales, and they have a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (Anyone who has watched the recent Channel 12 beg-athons showing music clips from the Ed Sullivan Show saw The Fifth Dimension doing “Let The Sun Shine In” in 1969. During the last season of The Ed Sullivan Show, Sullivan dedicated the entire Feb. 21, 1971, episode to the fifth anniversary of The Fifth Dimension.)
With all due respect to the three original men in The Fifth Dimension — Billy Davis, Jr., Lamonte McLemore and Ron Townson — the two striking women in the group, both former beauty pageant winners, are the ones who got almost all of the attention. Marilyn McCoo was the tall, pretty one, and Florence LaRue was the shorter, sexy one.
Geriatric fans of The Fifth Dimension may be surprised to find that the quintet is still touring, but the only original member still with the group is Florence LaRue, who was born and raised in Glenside. In 1975, McCoo and Davis, who had married in July of 1969, left the group to do both collective and individual projects. McCoo also served a stint as host of the TV show Solid Gold.
The original quintet reunited in 1990 and 1991 for a tour. Townson briefly left the group to try a solo career but soon returned as the group eventually resigned itself to the nostalgia circuit, but Townson died in 2001 due to diabetes-related kidney failure; McLemore retired in March of 2006, and McCoo and Davis continue to tour separately as their own act.
The four newest members to join LaRue are Willie Williams, Leonard Tucker, Patrice Morris and Floyd Smith, and it just so happens that they will be performing Sunday, Oct. 14, 7:30 p.m., at the Sellersville Theater 24 West Temple Ave. in Sellersville (just off Route 309, between Montgomeryville and the Lehigh Valley, about 30 minutes from Chestnut Hill).
Glenside native Florence LaRue, who is now 68, grew up studying dance and violin and graduated from Abington High School. She is currently married to her fourth husband, Laurence P. Cantor. (We tried three times to reach Florence through a p.r. person for Sellersville Theater to do a phone interview about growing up in Glenside, but we were unable to reach her.)
In the early 1960s, Lamonte McLemore and Marilyn McCoo had gotten together with two other friends from Los Angeles to form a group called the Hi-Fis. In 1964, they came to the attention of Ray Charles, who took them on tour with him the following year. He produced a single by the group, “Lonesome Mood,” a jazzy song that gained local attention.
However, McLemore sought to form another group and in 1966 started looking for members to join him and McCoo. One new recruit was Florence LaRue, who had received training as a child in Glenside in singing, dancing and violin, and who also won the talent portion, as McCoo had done the previous year, at Miss Bronze California. About the same time Florence was approached to join the group, Lamonte recruited an old friend of his, Ron Townson, who had toured with Dorothy Dandridge and Nat King Cole as a teenager.
After her early success with The Fifth Dimension, the Glenside native also appeared in a CBS-TV movie of the week, “Happy,” with Dom DeLuise, and she performed in the national tour of Broadway’s Tony Award-winning musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and in the Toronto and Calvary productions of “Mo’ Magic.”
In addition, LaRue co-hosted the Arthritis Telethon with Jayne Wyman, judged two segments of “Puttin’ on the Hits,” appeared as a celebrity guest on “Star Search” and was a special guest on numerous television shows, including several appearances on The Today Show, The Carol Lawrence Show and many other Christian and secular programs.
Florence also wrote a book, “Let Your Light Shine,” on mental, physical and spiritual beauty, and she has written and performed a one-woman show, “Just As I Am.” Among the rave reviews is this quote from Dr. Mary Sias, President of Kentucky State University, where Ms LaRue performed her show: “While the music was uplifting and exciting and delivered with an amazing energy, it was the story interwoven between the songs that was spellbinding.”
When her schedule allows, LaRue is involved in charity work, which includes working with the Ann Douglas Center on skid row in downtown Los Angeles. An advocate for education and good health (she is an avid participant in marathons), she often speaks to community groups on these two topics. For many years, she has also been an active member of The Church On The Way in Van Nuys, California, where she sings in the choir and serves with the homeless ministry and missionary work.
For more information about the Oct. 14 concert, call 215-257-5808 or visit www.st94.com