The Three Degrees are a female Philadelphia soul and disco vocal musical group, formed in 1963 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although it has always had a three-girl lineup, the group has undergone numerous personnel changes, and a total of twelve women have represented the trio so far. The original members were Fayette Pinkney, Shirley Porter and Linda Turner. The trio, tagged by the media as “Prince Charles’ favourites”, were the first girl group to top the UK Singles Chart since The Supremes in 1964. They are best known for their 1974 million-selling hit, When Will I See You Again.
The Three Degrees (aka the Twelve Degrees) were formed around 1963 in Philadelphia. They were discovered by producer and songwriter, Richard Barrett. Barrett was responsible for groups of the 1950s such as The Chantels, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and The Valentines. Barrett recorded the original lineup on their first song, “Gee Baby (I’m Sorry)”, for Swan Records. Turner and Porter both left the group and were replaced by Helen Scott and a string of other ladies, before Janet Harmon joined in the mid-1960s. Barrett also began managing and producing Sheila Ferguson who was a high school friend of Scott. Barrett also signed Ferguson to Swan Records in 1965. The Three Degrees released a number of singles such as “I’m Gonna Need You” and a cover version of “Maybe”, with Scott taking the lead vocals.
By 1966, with many performances lined up, Scott decided to leave the group to start a family. Ferguson filled in for Scott and would remain with the group for 20 years. Ferguson sang backup on all the group’s Swan recordings as did the Three Degrees for her solo singles.
By 1970, they were signed to Roulette Records and they released their first album, Maybe. The title song took them to #4 on the U.S. R&B charts. Other singles like “I Do Take You” and “You’re the Fool” followed, as did their second album, So Much Love. This success landed them a cameo appearance in the 1971 film, The French Connection, filmed during one of their appearances at the Copacabana nightclub in New York, and also an engagement at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada with Engelbert Humperdinck, who was quoted saying that “The Three Degrees are the finest female vocal trio around today.”
In 1973, with their contract with Roulette ending, Barrett signed them to Philadelphia International Records under Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, where they were to have their greatest successes. They also made an appearance on the television program, Sanford and Son, singing “I Didn’t Know”. The first song they recorded there was with the studio band MFSB, entitled TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia), which was the theme song for Soul Train. Altogether, The Three Degrees recorded four albums for that label.
The first album spawned three hits. Dirty Ol’ Man went gold in the Netherlands and Belgium. The second single was Year of Decision which made it to the Top 20 in the UK Singles Chart. Their third single, “When Will I See You Again”, was the one that helped the trio break into the mainstream. It topped the UK Chart and sold over two million discs to earn the trio a gold record. The RIAA made the award on 9 December 1974.
The Three Degrees also recorded two live albums: one from Leicester in the UK, and the other from Tokyo, Japan, and both were released in 1975. International, their second studio album on Philadelphia International, was marketed internationally in various languages. In Europe, the album was called With Love, and spawned the hit single Take Good Care of Yourself, which was a Top 10 hit in the UK. There were two songs from that album that were big in Japan: “Midnight Train” and “Nigai Namida”, which was recorded in Japanese. In 1976, they parted company with Gamble and Huff and moved to CBS Sony/Epic Records where they released the concept album, A Toast of Love, purely for the Far East market, although a single of the title track as released all over the world.
In 1976, Pinkney decided to leave the group to return to full-time education, and was replaced by her former band member and great friend Helen Scott. In 1977 they released the album, Standing Up For Love. In 1978, The Three Degrees were signed to Ariola Records in Europe and the U.S. and began working with Giorgio Moroder. Further success was to follow, and they released two albums on Ariola which delivered four UK Top 20 hits: “The Runner”, “My Simple Heart”, “Giving Up Giving In”, and “Woman In Love”. They performed at Buckingham Palace for Prince Charles’ 30th birthday party, and were guests at his pre-wedding party to Princess Diana. Their own television program was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in London, called “The Three Degrees at The Royal Albert Hall”, in October 1979.
Between 1982 and 1985, The Three Degrees released two albums on their own 3D label: Album Of Love and Live in the UK. On that label they released one single written by Ferguson, “Liar”. They returned to the charts in 1985 with “The Heaven I Need”, which was produced by Stock/Aitken/Waterman on Supreme Records. A third BBC Television show was also recorded in 1982, entitled Take 3 Degrees, which included performances of their greatest hits, and also songs that the group were performing in their latest show, such as “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and “Celebration”.
In 1986, Miquel Brown filled in for Scott whilst the latter was expecting. That same year Ferguson decided to leave the group. Scott and Holiday replaced her with Vera Brown in 1986 and then Rhea Harris in 1987. In 1989, Scott and Holiday, along with new recruit Victoria Wallace, recorded an album entitled , And Holding on Ichiban Records. A single, “A Tender Lie” was also released. Following the album, the group recorded a live CD at London’s Dominion Theatre, with Billy Paul and Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes in the summer of 1989. The group followed this with another tour of the UK and Japan at the end of the year.
In December 1989, Cynthia Garrison replaced Wallace, forming the longest running lineup of the group. In 1993, they were asked to record a new version of “When Will I See You Again” with Thomas Anders (Modern Talking). He supplied three tracks for their album Out the Past Into the Future, marking their return to Ariola Records and their most successful and musically varied album in 15 years.
Scott, Holiday, and Garrison continue to tour. They made their first U.S. TV appearance in over 20 years in 2003 on the PBS show, Rhythm, Love, and Soul with Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls and Mary Wilson. They were also part of the “Best Disco In Town 2004 Tour” with The Pointer Sisters, Chic, The Emotions, and Evelyn “Champagne” King. They also took part in the 2007 “Best Disco In Town” tour in the United Kingdom in May 2007.
The ladies, together with former member Fayette Pinkney, received various honors during 2007 and 2008, through BIMA and the City of Philadelphia, for their contribution to music over five decades. The four ladies appeared together to receive these awards, creating, for the first time ever, The Four Degrees.
Helen Scott (1963-1966)
Valerie Holiday (1967-present)
Helen Scott1 (1976-present)
Cynthia Garrison (1989-present)
1Helen Scott rejoined the group in 1976 after a 10-year break
Fayette Pinkney (1963-1976)
Linda Turner (1963)
Shirley Porter (1963)
Janet Harmon (1964-1967)
Sheila Ferguson (1966-1986)
Sandra Tucker (1967)
Vera Brown (1986-1987)
Rhea Harris (1987-1988)
Victoria Wallace (1988-1989)