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R&B singer Gerald Levert dies at 40

Kelley L. Carter
Detroit Free Press

Gerald Levert, fiery singer of passionate R&B love songs and the son of O'Jays singer Eddie Levert, died on Friday. He was 40.

His record label, Atlantic, confirmed that the Cleveland-born singer died of a heart attack at his home in Ohio.

"All of us at Atlantic are shocked and deeply saddened by his untimely death," reads a statement released by Atlantic. "He was one of the greatest voices of our time, who sang with unmatched soulfulness and power, as well as a tremendously gifted composer and an accomplished producer."

Levert garnered national acclaim as a member of the group Levert, which was comprised of his brother Sean and friend Marc Gordon. Among others, they recorded the No. 1 R&B/No. 5 pop hit "Casanova" in 1987, followed by three more R&B chart-toppers, "Addicted to You," "Just Coolin'," which featured rapper Heavy D and "Baby I'm Ready" in 1991.

In 1991, Levert went solo, releasing "Private Line," which grabbed the No. 1 R&B spot that year. He earned a second No. 1 R&B single with "Baby Hold On To Me," the next year.

In addition to his group and solo work, Levert produced and wrote for his father's legendary group, the O'Jays, and also for performers including Barry White, Stephanie Mills, Teddy Pendergrass, the Winans and Patti Labelle.

"This is terrible," said Pastor Marvin Winans, who created music with Levert for his group's 1994 album "All Out." "He was a great voice and a great talent. And my condolences go out to Eddie and his brothers and the Levert family."

Even though Levert called the Atlanta and Cleveland areas home, he maintained ties to Detroit. A regular stop for the performer was Shantinique Music, a mom-and-pop music shop on the east side.

The news hit co-owner Josie Beal hard. She and Levert's Uncle Reggie, who still lives in Detroit, went to Kettering High School together. She also was a fan of his music. The last time Levert was in her shop, he had his dad Eddie Levert Sr., boxer Tommy Hearns and Emmanuel Steward in tow with him.

"He was an icon," Beal said. "I was just saying all of the real singers are gone now. Gerald Levert. Luther Vandross. Barry White. Who do we have to look up to now? His dad is still with us now. As long as Eddie is still here, Gerald will be here in our hearts. The voice is still there."

On one of his later projects, 2004's "Do I Speak For The World," Levert changed his tune slightly, straying away from the sexy vocals that brought him much pop music acclaim in the 80s. His album, "Do I Speak For The World," was a way to address social issues that he'd never allowed himself to sing about before.

"It's a socially conscious thing," he said then to the Detroit Free Press of the album. "There are some love songs, but not the sex-you-down-type songs. It's more love relationship, break up and getting back together type songs. I have some religion stuff and some state-of-the world type stuff too.

"Folks are kind of tripping out on it and that's what I wanted. I wanted the shock factor. The war and the president and the school systems - all these different things that are happening that I think needed to be addressed and I'm talking about it. It' a departure from what I would do mainly on a record. It's time," he said. "... And I'm willing to take that chance right now in my career and my life."

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