R.I.P. Pamela Hutchinson – the sister who completed The Emotions’ platinum picture in 1977…

(September 21, 2020).  From the second those famous initial horn blasts and drum beats begin the song, most R&B and pop music fans of a certain age know The Emotions’ 1977 mega-smash hit “Best of My Love” the instant it starts.

Fast paced and impeccably sang by the group’s four Hutchinson sisters – three of whom were pictured on the album (Jeannette had temporarily left the group by the time their Rejoice album was released and was replaced by youngest sister Pamela) – It was the No. 1 soul chart hit that surprisingly crossed over and achieved that same status on the pop chart in the summer and early fall of 1977.  “Best of My Love” spent five non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 – the longest of that year before a certain daughter of Pat Boone’s topped the same chart for ten weeks with “You Light Up My Life.”

Emotions singer Pamela Rose Hutchinson died on Friday, September 18, 2020. She was 61.

Pamela, that last sister who completed the group’s picture as they enjoyed their first No. 1 platinum success in a career that had already spanned more than fifteen years, died Friday, September 18, after a long illness.   She was just 61 years of age.  

Pamela joined the Emotions at a time that marked significant change for the Chicago-based group.  They had enjoyed big success with their 1976 gold-certified album Flowers and its top-20 R&B charting single “I Don’t Want to Lose Your Love,” a comeuppance no doubt due to the band’s signing with Columbia Records the year before (after their previous label Stax had folded) and their alliance with production wizards Maurice White (founder and leader of Earth, Wind & Fire) and EWF’s co-producer Charles Stepney.

But Stepney died in 1976 and Maurice took on production duties of the Emotions’ followup album on his own, while still managing the affairs of his own group (EWF’s album Spirit was released in late 1976 and their followup, All-N-All came in 1977 – both to major success).  

Undaunted, White manned the boards for Rejoice, an album of nine beautifully crafted songs the Emotions began recording with older sister Jeannette, but finished with Pamela joining the group.  The union of White with this refreshed version of the Emotions would yield not only the group’s biggest hit in “Best of My Love,” but the biggest pop chart success ever for Maurice White (bigger than EWF’s only No. 1 Hot 100 single “Shining Star” from two years earlier).

All of this happened at a time that the “girl group” was becoming a bit of an anomaly in pop music.  During the 1960s, there had been at least 20 Number One songs by all-female groups, including names like the Shirelles, the Marvelettes, the Angels, the Chifons and, of course, the Supremes.  

In the 1970s before “Best of My Love,” there had only been two: Honey Cone’s “Want Ads” in 1971 and Silver Convention’s “Fly Robin Fly” in ‘75.  “Best of My Love” would be the third and last by a female group for the next nine years (Bananarama’s “Venus” finally ended the drought in 1986).

The near-immediate crossover success of “Best of My Love” was somewhat of a surprise in 1977, but it shouldn’t have been.  Aside from the soulful vocal stylings and tight harmonies of a group of sisters who clearly had roots in the church, the highly spirited song was a slice of pop perfection.  Its impeccable production contained many of Earth, Wind & Fire’s funk-pop elements (with at least four of that band’s members playing instruments on the track, including bassist Verdine White, guitarist Al McKay, and drummer Fred White).  The melody was as catchy as any pop hit that year.   

Still, it was the song’s vocal arrangement that carried it over the top.  Wanda’s lead vocals were undeniable, but it was the collective group’s harmonies that took the tune to another level altogether, especially at the song’s finish, where the sisters are in sheer jubilation as they unrelentingly declare their love for the song’s object.  

“Best of My Love” was a formidable smash, carrying its parent album Rejoice to platinum status (certified on September 1, 1977) before the song’s run at the top was over.  The single duked it out at the top of the Hot 100 for weeks with one of the year’s other biggest hits, Andy Gibb’s “I Just Want to Be Your Everything.”  The two alternated position at the top of the charts for weeks that August and September before both finally began their descent down and off the chart.

The Emotions’ biggest album ‘Rejoice’ contained two R&B top-10 hits.

The Emotions’ success would continue with their follow-up single, the breezy down-tempo quiet storm track “Don’t Ask My Neighbor.”  Like “Best of My Love,” “Neighbor” reached the top ten on the Billboard Soul Singles chart, but failed to make the top 40 of the pop chart.  Beautifully sung by the Sisters Hutchinson, it is widely viewed as one of their shiniest moments by old-school R&B fans, even if it didn’t match the success of its immediate predecessor. 

The sisters Wanda and Sheila, with Jeannette rejoining the group, would continue making albums with Maurice White and/or Columbia Records for the next several years, including their disco classic “Boogie Wonderland,” a million-selling collaboration with EWF in 1979. 

But those recordings would be without little sister Pamela, who had largely been a fill-in for Jeannette while she took a temporary leave of absence.  Pam would rejoin her sisters in 2000 as they continued nostalgic concert tours.  

But Pamela is forever linked to the group’s greatest success and its only No. 1, gold-certified, Grammy-winning hit.  “Best of My Love” earned the Emotions their only win for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group at the 1978 awards.

Of course, without that smash hit catapulting the sisters to amazing heights in 1977, they might not be cited as influences by so many other female singers since their heyday, including Mariah Carey, Cheryl Lynn, En Vogue, Fantasia and Teena Marie, among many others.

In fact, without “Best of My Love,” we might not have ever had such fellow Columbia Records classics as Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real” or Mariah Carey’s “Emotions,” both being clearly influenced by the Emotions’ iconic hit. 

In 2015, Billboard named “Best of My Love” the top-performing song by a girl group in Hot 100 chart history.  That’s saying an awful lot for a chart that dates back to 1958.

Thanks to the Hutchinson sisters – Wanda, Sheila, Jeannette and Pamela – their place in history may stand forever.

Rest In Peace Pamela Rose Hutchinson (1959 – 2020).

The Emotions (circa 1977): Wanda, Pamela and Sheila Hutchinson

DJRob

DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

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