Born to O’Bryan Burnette Sr. and Glenice Burnette in Sneads Ferry, N.C., O’Bryan McCoy Burnette II was playing the piano at 6 years old and then began singing in the church and at local talent shows. In 1974, he and his family moved to Santa Ana, Calif. O’Bryan was singing in the Second Baptist Church young adult choir when his friend Melanee Kersey approached him about considering a career in music. Melanee Kersey introduced the young singer to her husband, producer Ron Kersey.
A former keyboardist for The Trammps and a veteran of the ’70s Philadelphia music scene, Kersey invited O’Bryan to join a group he was putting together. That group quickly folded, so Kersey later introduced O’Bryan to “Soul Train” television show creator and host Don Cornelius, with whom Kersey formed Friendship Producers Company. Cornelius took the young artist to Capitol Records, where O’Bryan released four albums that charted on the Billboard R&B charts.
The first album, “Doin’ Alright,” was released in April 1982 and peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard R&B Albums chart. The lead single, “The Gigolo,” was a slice of funk with new wave and rock elements that emphasized O’Bryan’s falsetto. Released in January, “The Gigolo” peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard R&B Singles charts.
The follow-up single was an updated cover of The Four Tops’ “Still Water (Love),” peaking at No. 23. Among the other standouts on O’Bryan’s debut include the mid-tempo title track; the elegant ballad “Love Has Found Its Way;” and the sentimental “Can’t Live Without Your Love.”
O’Bryan released his sophomore effort “You And I” in March 1983. The album was named after his cover of the Stevie Wonder ballad. Given a more contemporary twist, the title track was the second single (peaking at No. 19) and since has become one of O’Bryan’s signature songs.
The lead single, “I’m Freaky,” was an upbeat, synth-funk song that peaked at No. 15. Album tracks also receiving notice and airplay were the romantic “Together Always;” the fluid instrumental “Soft Touch;” and the energetic “Soul Train’s A Comin,’” which became the theme song for Cornelius’ show from 1983 to 1987. The album peaked at No. 13.
In May 1984, O’Bryan released “Be My Lover,” which became his highest charting collection (peaking at No. 3). The first single — the insistent, chugging “Lovelite” — marched to the top of the Billboard R&B Singles chart. The success of “Lovelite” prompted Capitol to release “Breakin’ Together” as the next single. But it was O’Bryan’s penchant for ballads — the quiet storm staple “Lady I Love You;” the lovelorn “You’re Always On My Mind;” and “Go On And Cry,” which was the third single — that shone as the album’s highlights. The title track also became known as one of O’Bryan’s better uptempo songs.
Because of a lengthy negotiation with Capitol, a fourth album — “Surrender” — was not released until December 1986. The single choices were the up-tempo “Tenderoni” and “Driving Force,” but arguably the strongest cuts on the album were three ballads — “You Have Got To Come To Me,” “Maria” and “Is This For Real” — that displayed O’Bryan’s musical and vocal development.
After a lengthy hiatus, O’Bryan formed his own label, Headstorm, and on Valentine’s Day 2007 released the ballad-driven album “F1RST.” The set derived its name from what O’Bryan calls “the first step of a new musical journey,” highlighted by the songs “Just Like Doin’ It,” “Can I Kiss Your Lips,” “Man Overboard,” “Gotta Let You Go” and “Gratitude.” Longtime fans of the singer welcomed his return and responded to “F1RST” with enthusiastic reviews on music buyer-driven sites such as CD Baby, iTunes and Amazon.