The Manhattans, originally from Jersey City, New Jersey, formed in 1962 with members George "Smitty" Smith, Edward "Sonny" Bivins(born 15 January 1942, in Macon, Georgia), Winfred "Blue" Lovett (born 16 November 1943), Kenny "Wally" Kelley (born Kenneth Kelley, 9 January 1943 in New Jersey), and Richard "Ricky" Taylor. Bivins, Lovett, and Kelley were graduating from Lincoln High School, whilst Taylor and Smith were graduating from Snyder High School. All five enlisted in the armed forces and came together as agroup following their discharges from their respective branches.
The group's first single was "For the Very First Time," released in 1964 by Carnival Records. Many consider August 15, 1964, the date of recording, to be the official birth of the group. They continued recording with great success with songs written by various members of the group. In 1968, the group received the "Most Promising Group" award by NATRA. In 1969, the group moved to the De Luxe record label of King Records, subsequently embarking on a college tour. While playing at Kittrell College in North Carolina, the group met another group, the New Imperials, featuring Gerald Alston, nephew of The Shirelles'lead singer, Shirley Alston-Reeves. They were so impressed with Alston that they asked him to join the group, but he declined.
Misfortune befell the group late in 1970 when George Smith fell down a flight of stairs and later took ill. Unable to perform, the group began to search for a new lead. First they attempted to woo The Cymballs' lead, Lee Williams, but he was not willing to leave them. The group then renewed their request to Gerald Alston (born 8 November 1951, in North Carolina), who accepted and took over the lead spot. George Smith died of a brain tumor December 16, 1970.
The Manhattans continued recording throughout the 1970s with Alston singing lead vocals. They struck chart gold in 1976 with "Kiss and Say Goodbye," written by Blue Lovett and arranged/co-produced with the group by top Philadelphia-based musician/producer Bobby Martin, a former member of the MFSB band of session musicians. Featuring an impassioned vocal by Alston and a memorable opening rap by Lovett, the song quickly became a #1 chart topper on both the Billboard Pop and R&B charts. It also became only the second single ever to go platinum. Taylor left in 1976 to concentrate on his conversion to Islam (but died in 1987 after a long illness). The group continued as a quartet and found further success in March of 1980 with the release of "Shining Star," which reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #4 on the R&B Chart. Produced and co-written by established Chicago producer Leo Graham, it received a Grammy award the following spring.
The group celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1985 with the release of Too Hot To Stop It. It included the Bivins/Smith-penned "We Were Made As One," originally recorded in 1966 but covered in an a cappella, doo wop style to emphasize the group's doo-wop roots. The album was also dedicated to George Smith.
The group continued until 1988. That year, Alston left to record as a solo artist, scoring with several major R&B hits in the late 80s and early 90s for Motown. Roger Harris was recruited as the new lead singer for the group, which moved to new label Valley Vue when their Columbia contract expired. Kevin Lunsford was the lead guitarist for the Manhattans from 1998 to 2003