By KATIE EUBANKS
In the 1950s and ‘60s, Jacksonian Bill Morris fell in love with doo-wop music. He listened to groups like The Drifters (known for “Under the Boardwalk” and “This Magic Moment”), The Moonglows, and Vicksburg-based band The Red Tops, who performed at many of the dances Bill attended.
Decades later, Bill got to meet his musical heroes, sing with them, and even form lasting friendships. And just as he’d memorized the way their voices sounded on his favorite records, he learned to recognize and listen to another Voice and its divine assignments.
‘We’ll back you up!’
In 1980, Bill attended a performance by The Moonglows in Washington, D.C. (The Moonglows preceded and influenced The Dells, The Spinners and The Temptations.) At intermission, Bill visited the singers in their dressing room, where he wound up singing with them a cappella on a song called “Daddy’s Home.”
Turns out, Bill can sing.
After the impromptu performance, Bobby Lester — the only original Moonglow in the group, and the lead singer at the time — said, “You’ve got to do that number (onstage) and we’ll back you up!”
Bill had never considered himself a singer, and politely but firmly declined. But during the second half of the show, Bobby introduced Bill to the audience – and then the group started the opening to “Daddy’s Home,” with one mic unattended. They beckoned Bill onstage.
“It was like God pushed me out of the chair,” he says.
Afterward, Bill marveled, “Lord, did I really sing with The Moonglows?”
Then, not audibly but in his spirit, he heard God answer: “It’s about My glory, and I’ll reveal it in due time.”
The dark side of the moon
One year later, a man named Prentiss Barnes appeared on the cover of Jackson’s Clarion Ledger newspaper. Prentiss was one of the original Moonglows and was now living in Jackson.
“Many consider him one of the best (bass voices) in rock and roll. Not the deepest … but it was so broad. It just pulled the whole group along,” Bill says.
Prentiss had not performed with The Moonglows in Washington the previous year. In fact, he was not doing well at all. He’d lost an arm in a car accident, he was an alcoholic, and he had no hope.
When Bill read the article, he heard that Voice in his spirit again:
“God let me know that Prentiss was the reason I sang with The Moonglows, and that I was to take care of him,” Bill says. He contacted the reporter and got Prentiss’ number. “He didn’t want to talk. Then I told him I’d sung with the Moonglows, and his whole voice changed.”
That unlikely event in D.C. led to a deep friendship that spanned three decades. Bill was able to help Prentiss reconnect with other members of The Moonglows, enjoy a more stable quality of life, and receive the recognition he deserved.
In the coming years, a healthier and happier Prentiss and the other original Moonglows would receive a string of honors — including a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, and induction into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Doo Wop Hall of Fame — all with Bill by their side.
‘Accept it. Receive it.’
Bill also became close with Harvey Fuqua, an original member of The Moonglows and highly successful arranger, record producer and executive who’d discovered Marvin Gaye and helped Berry Gordy establish Motown Records.
One day at church in the early 2000s, Bill heard that inaudible divine Voice in his spirit again:
“Bill, I want you to call Harvey and tell him how much I love him. I want you to tell him that Prentiss loves him and that you love him.”
Decades earlier, Harvey and Prentiss had had a falling out, and their relationship had cooled. Bill called Harvey and relayed the message.
Harvey’s response: “What am I supposed to do with that?”
“Accept it. Receive it,” Bill said.
Apparently, Harvey listened.
“His attitude totally changed when he and Prentiss met up (at an awards show) soon after,” Bill says.
When Prentiss passed away, Harvey thanked Bill for the role he’d played in their lives: “Bill, I’m fairly certain if you hadn’t come along, Prentiss and I would never have gotten (back) together.”
‘I didn’t know people cared’
Bill reconnected with Rufus McKay, lead singer for The Red Tops, after hiring the group to play for his 40th high-school reunion. The Red Tops never made it “big” but were a popular dance band around the Southeast. Bill used the opportunity to talk to Rufus about moving back home. He was living in Carson City, Nevada.
“(I said) ‘Why don’t you come back to Mississippi where people know and love you?’” Eventually he did, and their friendship grew.
One day, Rufus called Bill and “said he was totally out of money,” Bill recalls. “He had never asked me for anything.”
Bill asked a local music blogger to send out a call for money to help Rufus, along with any notes or cards of encouragement.
“Somehow close to $8,000 came in, with cards of appreciation for him, which overwhelmed Rufus, his voice cracking between sobs, saying he didn’t know people cared like this.”
‘I really miss them’
“When a human being knows that people care about them … it changes their whole life,” Bill says.
“Prentiss had one foot in the grave when I first met him. Knowing that so many genuinely loved him and respected his accomplishments meant the world to him. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, he looked younger than when I met him in 1981.”
Along the way, Bill got to feed his passion for music by attending industry events, meeting iconic singers, singing at Boston Symphony Hall with The Moonglows, and even producing two gospel CDs with The Original Drifters. Bill Pinkney, lead singer of the group, was another of Bill’s closest friends.
One day in 2007, Bill felt led to visit Bill Pinkney at home in South Carolina. Two months later, Pinkney died of a heart attack. Bill was honored to speak and sing at the funerals for all four of his famous friends.
More important than any of these opportunities were the friendships themselves, Bill says. “To this day, I really miss them.”
Bill is amazed how these friendships came about and continued under God’s sovereign hand:
“Through the years, I have learned to trust that Voice even more. There’s nobody who could’ve created this except our heavenly Father.”