Formed in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, and originally known as the Little Angels, the Sylvers were a family act tutored by their former opera singing mother, Shirley Sylvers. Her children, Leon Frank III, Charmaine, Olympia-Ann and James, started performing at local talent shows in Memphis, before moving to Harlem, New York – providing a more sympathetic audience for their pop R&B. Tours followed with Ray Charles and Johnny Mathis during school holiday breaks, until in the early 70s they relocated from east coast to west coast, taking up residence in Watts, Los Angeles, and calling themselves the Sylvers. By this time they had been joined by younger siblings Foster, Edmund (25 January 1957, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, d. 11 March 2004, Richmond, Virginia, USA), Ricky, Angie and Pat, and in 1972 the group, already veterans of television exposure on shows with Spike Jones, Groucho Marx and Dinah Shore, signed to Pride Records, a subsidiary of MGM Records. Their debut single, ‘Fool’s Paradise’, reached number 13 in Billboard’s R&B chart. ‘Wish That I Could Talk To You’ repeated the success, rising three places higher (and to number 77 in Billboard’s pop charts). Eleven-year-old Foster, who shone through in the ensemble performances, released a solo single, ‘Misdemeanour’, which reached number 22 in the Billboard pop charts.
Later the Sylvers transferred to the main MGM imprint, but only one chart appearance, ‘Through The Love In My Heart’, preceded a more permanent move to Capitol Records. Larkin Arnold was the man behind the move, intending to link the Sylvers with producer Freddy Pearson, previously behind the Jackson Five and Tavares. The first result of this collaboration was ‘Boogie Fever’, which rewarded Arnold’s foresight by rising to number 1 in the national charts. However, they never quite followed-up this feat, with the subsequent ‘Cotton Candy’ stalling at number 59. Much more successful was ‘Hot Line’ at number 5. Only ‘High School Dance’ reached the top 20, and by 1978 the Sylvers had moved over to Casablanca Records for a solitary chart excursion, ‘Don’t Stop, Get Off’.
As the world’s appetite for dance music waned in the early ‘1980s, so did The Sylvers’ popularity. In 1981, five members of the group, now without Edmund, recorded a new album Concept for Solar Records, with Leon producing and playing bass but not performing vocally. The first single from that effort, “Come Back Lover, Come Back” (featuring a now grown-up Foster on lead) was a minor hit, reaching #63 in Billboard. “Take It to the Top” failed to chart; but both singles appear on the Solar Records retrospective box set.
In 1984, after a three-year hiatus, the siblings (now six strong, with Charmaine returning) regrouped with new management (Weisner–DeMann) and a new label (Geffen Records). The result was an unsuccessful album entitled Bizarre. The disc was not heavily promoted, but spawned two minor hits: “In One Love and Out the Other” (#42) and “Falling For Your Love” (#76).