Founding member became an ordained minister later in life
"Heaven has gained another angel. Our hearts are heavy as we announce the passing of our beloved brother, Rudolph Isley."
—from a statement released
by Ernie and Ronald Isley
Rudolph “Rudy” Isley, co-founder of the Isley Brothers musical group, died on Oct. 11 at his home in Chicago. No cause of death was revealed.
Considered one of the most influential groups of the last half-century, the Isley Brothers’ roots go back to their Cincinnati roots in the early 1950s, where Rudolph "Rudy" Bernard Isley was born in 1939. Like many in the American musical tradition, they started out as a teenage gospel quartet before transitioning into R&B, more specifically the doo-wop style of harmonizing popular in the post-war era. They consolidated their career choice with a move to New York City in the late 1950s.
By the 1960s they achieved success bouncing between labels with hits on the Black charts like "Shout,” which featured the call-and-response tradition carried over from the field hollers and church spirituals of the south. Along the way, the Isley Brothers encountered an indigent guitarist named Jimmy James, and took him off the streets. He actually lived with the family at their New Jersey home for an extended period of time, and contributed a guitar solo to their 1964 single ‘Testify.’ He later became world famous as Jimi Hendrix.
They parlayed their smooth harmonies into a string of chart toppers over the next few years, as their record sales earned an international following across the ocean, spawning legions of imitators in England. By 1963 their rendition of a previously recorded tune "Twist and Shout" inspired another, closely copied version by an English rock group called “The Beatles,” which in turn propelled the unprecedented levels of critical and commercial success.
The residual effects of their success in turn rubbed off on the Isleys, and enabled them to book a UK tour in 1964, where they employed the unknown Elton John as a backing keyboardist.
Rudolph Isley graced the stage performances with a vast clothing ensemble, and initiated fashion trends including the 1970s eclectic of hats and furs, often sporting a cane.
Primarily harmonizing in the background, he was equally adept as a lead vocalist “Livin' the Life,” “Fight the Power,” and “You Still Feel the Need.” He was also instrumental in the group’s musical evolution, from gospel to doo-wop, to R&B, to social consciousness and politically-charged funk.
Alway a spiritual man, he was rocked by the death of eldest brother O'Kelly in 1986, a loss which eventually prompted him to join the ministry in 1989. In keeping with his new direction in life, he released a 1996 religious album titled “Shouting for Jesus: A Loud Joyful Noise.”
Recently, the surviving Brothers had a legal falling out, resulting in a nasty lawsuit involving trademark registration on the “The Isley Brothers” name brand. Results are still pending.
The accolades Rudolph and the Brothers Isley accrued over their six-decade long career include a BET Lifetime Achievement award, multiple Grammy awards and induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame, induction into the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame this year.
Rudolph Bernard Isley is survived by his wife of 65 years, Elaine Jasper Isley, their children Elizabeth, Valerie, Elaine and Rudy, and several grandchildren.
For more on Rudolph Isley and his seminal family of American music, go to their website at: https://officialisleybrothers.com.