Today, the line-up consists of Valerie Holiday, Helen Scott and Freddie Pool. The beginning of the group dates back more than 4 decades, when their then-manager, the enigmatic Richard Barrett brought three young teenagers together in Philadelphia. After a couple of years of constant rehearsing and local record hops, the group made its first mark on the recording scene by way of the Philly-based Swan Records. But they were tough days for the teenagers!
The Three Degrees (quoted from 2011):
“I remember taking the bus to rehearsals every day,” recalls Helen. “We’d rehearse until 8 or 9 o’clock every night and on weekends. And we’d play local record hops whenever we could. Gradually, we started to make noise outside of Philadelphia and we went to Pittsburgh, into Ohio and Rhode Island. Always on weekends, though, because we were all still at school… You know, we were just happy-go-lucky teenagers… we had no big expectations and we did it for the sheer pleasure of music. We just wanted to sing! I remember getting my first TV paycheck…it was for $90 and I thought I’d hit the jackpot. To a fifteen year old, that was a lot of money.”
Soon thereafter Helen got married and left the group. By this time, they had signed with New York-based Roulette Records and the line-up was Fayette, Valerie Holiday and Sheila Ferguson. This line-up was to remain intact for their glory years with Roulette and Philadelphia International, where they made hits such as
Maybe, I Do Take You, You’re The One, There’s So Much Love All Around Me, and Trade Winds. In 1972, they aligned their recording fate with Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label and hit immediate pay dirt in 1972 with Dirty Ol’ Man. The following year came When Will I See You Again.
During their 3 year stint with Philadelphia International, they enjoyed a good measure of success. It was during this era that the threesome made their biggest forward strides. A great deal of attention has been given to the fact that Prince Charles publicly acclaimed The Three Degree as his favourite group…. Charlie’s Angels, they were tagged!
“It was a great feeling…a feeling of awe,” is how Valerie remembers this accolade. “Going to Buckingham Palace was…I’m lost for words! The British royal family was an institution and it really didn’t sink in at the time the magnitude of the people we were meeting… the British people took to us very quickly and very warmly and that warmth has always remained.
Helen had re-joined the group in 1976, replacing Fayette and they moved on to Epic Records, where one album was released but did not achieve any major success for the ladies. A year later, they teamed up with Giorgio Moroder (of Donna Summer fame) and a new string of hits began. Giving Up, Giving In, My Simple Heart and the lush ballad, Woman In Love, were the highlights of this period. In 1986, Sheila decided to leave the group and after a short period of regrouping, Valerie and Helen brought in Cynthia Garrison and set about their business again. Ever since, they have been constantly touring all over the world, occasionally recording but always working. Their hard work in the early years has held them in good stead for today’s more demanding audiences.
“For us, it is still exciting and we still enjoy our work,” Valerie points out. “We are blessed with a wide age group appeal….from fifteen to sixty-five. This is why we have survived, I think. We learned and were taught how to entertain and even before we had hit records, we knew how to do our job — our choreography, our costumes, the lights…these were all things that we learned at an early age.”
At the end of 2010 and after more than 20 years as a Degree, Cynthia was forced to retire from the group due to medical reasons. It brought to an end the most stable period in the trio’s long history. Her place has been taken by Freddie Pool, a hugely talented and experienced vocalist who has enjoyed past success both as a solo artiste and as a member of other groups. Vocally, she is the perfect blend for both Valerie and Helen and continues the rich tradition that The Three Degrees has always represented. So it is that after more than four decades of existence, The Three Degrees can still make the claim as being the longest running female vocal group in history… see the Guinness Book of Records for confirmation of this fact! And they show no signs of slowing down!
The Three Degrees are in concert with a live band plus support at King’s Hall, Ilkley on Saturday 23 September at 8pm.