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Classy Soul at the Classic

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This weekend, everyone in the city of Indianapolis will have a chance to party in the truest sense of the word.

Popular classic R&B and soul band, Rose Royce will perform timeless songs that created special memories for millions of people during this year’s Circle City Classic Cabaret, taking place Oct. 11 at the Indiana Convention Center. Also appearing will be vocalists Charlie Wilson, formerly of The Gap Band, and Johnny Gill.

Some may remember the well-received performance Rose Royce delivered during the 1999 Cabaret, which also included the groups Enchantment and Lakeside.

Rose Royce is best known for classy but funky dance jams from the 1970s like “Car Wash” and “Do Your Dance” and “Born to Love You,” as well as captivating ballads such as “I’m Going Down” and “Wishing on a Star.”

Kenny Copeland, the leader, trumpeter and co-lead vocalist for Rose Royce, promises an unforgettable show that will keep cabaret attendees on their feet.

“Our music has no age barrier and it’s still popular after all these years,” Copeland said. “We really want to give people a good show because we still love what we do.”

Formed in Los Angeles, Rose Royce got its start as a touring band for Motown superstar Edwin Starr, best known for the hit “War.” Starr introduced them to Motown producer Norman Whitfield, who signed the band to his own label.

Initially, Rose Royce was an instrumental band that included eight male musicians, but Whitfield believed the group’s presence and sound would be enhanced with a charismatic female singer. During a stop in Miami, Whitfield was introduced to singer Gwen Dickey, who was quickly recruited to join the group.

Whitfield was selected to write songs for the 1976 film “Car Wash” featuring Richard Pryor, and he used Rose Royce as the vehicle to perform and release the film’s soundtrack. Immediately, the “Car Wash” album became one of the best selling soundtracks of all time on the strength of the title track, “I’m Going Down” and “I Want to Get Next to You.”

Driven by the band’s energetic, rhythmic sound and fronted by Dickey’s expressive alto vocals and (occasionally) Copeland’s falsetto singing, Rose Royce followed up with two more outstanding albums that ushered in favorites such as “Ooo Boy,” “Do Your Dance,” “Wishing on a Star” and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.”

By 1979, Rose Royce was still reaching the Top 30 on the charts with “Is It Love You’re After,” but it became apparent that the band’s glory days were coming to an end. Infighting, creative differences and disputes over money and legal matters led some group members to leave, including lead singer Dickey, who is now a successful solo artist in the United Kingdom.

However, Rose Royce continued to receive radio play and chart action throughout the 1980s with releases such as “R.R. Express” (1981) and “Doesn’t Have to Be This Way” (1986).

During the late 1990s, Rose Royce was revived as a touring group and has a busy schedule of performances in venues around the world. Currently, the band is anchored by founding members Copeland, trumpeter Freddie Dunn, drummer Henry Garner, and keyboardist Michael Nash. They are now joined by new vocalist Debelah Morgan, 35, a performer with an existing fan base in the R&B and gospel communities.

In 2010, Rose Royce was profiled by the TV One program “Unsung” in an episode that can be found online and highlights the group’s career. In the episode, Dickey expressed interest in performing with the group again and in another interview described the relationship with her old band mates as “cordial,” raising hopes of a possible reunion.

In the meantime, those who enjoy the music of Rose Royce can expect to have a great time at the Cabaret.

“It’s always an honor for Rose Royce to be invited to different cities to perform at major events” such as Circle City Classic, Nash said. “We always look forward to coming back.”

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