Known as the “perfect pitch” virtuosic a cappella legends, the Persuasions were established in 1962 by Jesse “Sweet Joe” Russell, who was born on September 25, 1939, in Henderson, Kentucky; bass James Caldon Hayes, born November 12, 1943, in Hopewell, Virginia; composer/tenor Jerome Eugene Lawson, born January 23, 1944, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; baritone Herbert “Toubo” Rhoad, born October 1, 1944, in Bamberg, South Carolina; and lyric tenor “Little” Jayotis Washington, born May 12, 1945, in Detroit, Michigan. After playing basketball in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community, the five founders, reared in Brooklyn, would remain on the court harmonizing, then move the doo-wop to the stoops surrounded by their friends.
The Persuasions’ first album was A Cappella on Frank Zappa’s Straight label in 1968. The group’s “We Came to Play” came out in 1971 and reached No. 189 on Billboard 200. Also, their rendition of “Buffalo Soldier” from the album Man, Oh Man: The Power of Persuasion was released in 1971 as well. The following year, “Spread the Word” moved up to No. 195, and “Street Corner Symphony” peaked at 81 on Billboard 200 and remained on the charts for 12 weeks. “We Still Ain’t Got No Band” reached No. 178 in 1973. In 1974, “I Really Got It Bad For You” on the album More than Before peaked at No. 54 on Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop.
Over the next two decades the Persuasions did not release any new singles or albums. They continued to tour and in 1996, baritone Bernard “B.J.” Jones, formerly with the Drifters, joined the Persuasions as a fill-in for Hayes, who became ill.
In 1999, they released their first children’s album, On the Good Ship Lollipop. The following year, 2000, The Persuasions released an album, Might As Well: The Persuasions Sing Grateful Dead, on the Grateful Dead Records/Arista label.
In 2009, The Persuasions were inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame at Symphony Hall in Boston. In 2010, Jerry Lawson was placed in the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame as a solo artist. He was also presented a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Contemporary A Capella Recording Awards (CARAs) and the Lifetime Achievement by the Contemporary A Capella Society, both in Boston in 2015.
The Persuasions partnered with Barenaked Ladies in 2017 to release the album Get Barenaked, which was the first time their singing was accompanied by musical instruments.
While the Persuasions did not release many charted hits, they produced 25 albums, including We Still Ain’t Got No Band in 1973 on MCA, and Live In The Whispering Gallery in 1993 on Hammer n’ Nails. In 2000 the ensemble released a tribute album, Frankly A Cappella: The Persuasions Sing Zappa in honor of the executive of their first recording contract.The Persuasions are one of the longest-lasting a cappella ensembles in the United States and its territories.
Herbert “Toubo” Rhoad died of a brain hemorrhage on December 8, 1988, in Sacramento, California. He was 44 years old, leaving the ensemble as a quartet. Jesse “Sweet Joe” Russell, 63, died on May 5, 2012, in Brooklyn, New York. James Caldon Hayes died on May 18, 2017, in New York City from pneumonia at 74 and Jerome Eugene Lawson died at 75 on July 10, 2019, in Phoenix, Arizona.