Blue Magic

The group Blue Magic is unfortunately often overlooked in discussions of the great Philly soul acts of the 70s, but the quintet was responsible for some of the most enjoyable smooth soul of that decade.  Consisting of Ted ‘Wizard’ Mills, Vernon Sawyer, Wendell Sawyer, Keith ‘Duke’ Beaton and Richard Pratt, Blue Magic was formed in Philadelphia and began recording for Atlantic records in 1973.  The group became one of the earliest acts produced by veteran Philly guitarist Norman Harris, who spent most of the decade in the shadow of Gamble & Huff but who masterminded a number of great albums for artists from the Trammps to the Temptations.

Blue Magic’s debut album included a number of quality tunes, perhaps the best of which was “Look Me Up,” an infectious stepper highlighted by Mills’ clear falsetto, and which created early comparisons with the Stylistics.  Real crossover success came in 1974 with “Sideshow,” a now classic Philly forlorn ballad that topped the Soul charts and made the Pop top 10.  The rather contrived follow-up, “Three Ring Circus,” was musically another solid ballad that did well despite its obvious attempt to mimic “Sideshow” (even beginning with the same carnival barker).  Over the next three years Blue Magic became know mostly for their smooth ballads, and the group stayed high on the Soul charts with “Stop to Start” and “Chasing Rainbows,” before landing a big hit with the dance tune “Magic of the Blue.”

Blue Magic’s fortunes faded as the 70s came to an end, and Richard Pratt left in the early 80s.  However, they continued to record sporadically, landing two moderately successful comeback albums, 1983’s Magic # and 1989’s From Out of the Blue.  The group’s discography is well represented in a number of compilations, though their original albums are generally unavailable on CD.

By the 90s, lead singer Mills had left the group for a solo career, and he is still performing, mostly in multi-act soul music shows.  He recently appeared in the touring play “Girl He Ain’t Worth It” with the Manhattans, Me’lissa Morgan and Tito Jackson as well as joining Russell Thompkins Jr and William Hart in the 3 Tenors of Soul.  A reconstituted Blue Magic, consisting of the two Sawyers, Beaton and lead singer Wade Elliott, continued to tour in soul music shows and appeared on a 2003 PBS 70s Soul special, still sounding quite good.

By Chris Rizik

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