I don’t ever remember life without the Levert family.
Back in the day, O’Jays albums like “Family Reunion” and “So Full of Love” were in heavy rotation on Saturdays while my Mom cleaned house, filling the walls with lead singer Eddie Levert’s unmistakable soul shouting. A few years down the line, my sister and I watched the trio LeVert – Gerald Levert, his little brother Sean, and Marc Gordon – croon, step and shuffle to hits like “Casanova,” “Pull Over” and “My Forever Love” on “Soul Train” and “Video Soul.” In fact, one of my first concert experiences was seeing them live at the Hampton Coliseum when I was about 11. In all their S-Curl, stonewash jean-laden glory, they held the family torch high for our generation, and we loved it.
To the black community, the Leverts are more than mere singers. They are old friends.
Which is why the news of Sean’s March 30 death hit everybody so hard. It’s yet another tragic chapter in the Levert family saga, as the clan is still reeling from Gerald’s untimely passing in 2006 and the merciless flogging Sean was receiving in the press and the blogosphere regarding child support woes just last week. But the death of this father, son and brother is bigger than any issues he may have had. Two-thirds of LeVert is gone, and Eddie has lost another son in less than two years. It pains me to think of what he must be feeling. Watching Eddie and Sean endure the loss of Gerald together was bad enough, so I cannot imagine being in Eddie’s position and reliving such a devastating blow.
I remember the days after Gerald passed when a quiet, grieving Sean made his way through interviews, his blood-shot, tear-filled eyes hidden behind dark glasses. The outpouring of grief from the family’s colleagues and fans was instant and abundant, as radio programs, television shows and magazines highlighted the popular singer’s legacy through moving tributes and testimonials. But it wasn’t long before a troubling theme began to run through a lot of the commentary. Many people urged Sean to fill Gerald’s shoes. “You’ve gotta step up and carry on Gerald’s legacy. It’s something you have to do,” they’d say. This was both unfair and poorly timed, as moving into the slot left vacant in the wake of his brother’s death was likely the last thing on his mind. More importantly, Gerald and Sean were two different people, with two distinct voices. Nobody deserves to be put under that kind of pressure.
I was always a bit bothered by the way Sean was relegated to being in Gerald’s shadow. Granted, every family act has a standout lead singer. The Jacksons had Michael, DeBarge had El, Sister Sledge had Kathy – it’s just par for the course. Part of me always rooted for Sean and wanted him to get some shine. I actually liked his best-known solo single, the 1995 Top 40 R&B charter “Put Your Body Where Your Mouth Is,” but it seemed like it and the album “The Other Side” didn’t get much push. When I’d see Eddie and Gerald recording hit duets, performing together, and releasing books, I wanted Sean to be included. Obviously I have no idea about how their family dynamic works or the nature of their relationships, but I guess the idealist in me wanted to see one big, united Levert front, the two sons beside their daddy. It just never seemed to play out that way.
Still, I have very fond memories of Sean. Each time I saw Gerald live, Sean joined his brother on stage for my all-time favorite LeVert jam, “Casanova.” The crowd always went crazy on that one and showed Sean a lot of love. I always hoped that there would be a LeVert reunion one day, as they were one of my favorite groups from the late ’80s and early ’90s. It is sad to me that it can’t ever happen.
Thankfully there are plenty of musical memories for the masses to cherish. I hope that Sean is with his brother again singing much like they did here on Earth, matching jackets, fancy footwork, bright smiles and all. Such a thought is quite comforting in such a troubling time.
Above all else, I hope this loss will make people revisit Sean’s solo work and his contributions to the LeVert catalog. A closer look should show people that despite what you may have heard, Sean just being Sean was more than enough.