The group Blue Magic is unfortunately often overlooked in discussions of the great Philly soul acts of the 70s, but the quintet was responsible for some of the most enjoyable smooth soul of that decade.
Formed by Temple University student Ted 'Wizard' Mills, with some friends, Blue Magic scored an early hit with Mills' composition "Spell." When the other members of the group balked at touring, Mills merged with local band Shades of Love (Vernon Sawyer, Wendell Sawyer, Keith 'Duke' Beaton and Richard Pratt) to form the nucleus of the group that would top the charts for years to come.
Signed to Atlantic Records in 1973, the group came out with several hit singles on the way to creating a debut album. Blue Magic became one of the earliest acts produced by veteran Philly guitarist Norman Harris, who spent most of the decade in the shadow of Gamble & Huff but who masterminded a number of great albums for artists from the Trammps to the Temptations.
Blue Magic's debut album included a number of quality tunes, perhaps the most surprising of which was "Look Me Up," an infectious stepper highlighted by Mills' clear falsetto, and which created early comparisons with the Stylistics. But real crossover success came with "Sideshow," a now classic Philly forlorn ballad that topped the Soul charts and made the Pop top 10. The rather contrived follow-up, "Three Ring Circus," was musically another solid ballad that did well despite its obvious attempt to mimic "Sideshow" (even beginning with the same carnival barker). Over the next three years Blue Magic became know mostly for smooth ballads, and the group stayed high on the Soul charts with "Stop to Start" and "Chasing Rainbows" before landing a big hit with the dance tune "Magic of the Blue."
Blue Magic's fortunes faded as the 70s came to an end, and Richard Pratt left in the early 80s. However, they continued to record sporadically, landing two moderately successful comeback albums, 1983's Magic # and 1989's From Out of the Blue. But internal struggles in the group, from financial issues to substance abuse, sidelined attempts to keep them together. And those misfortunes were amplified by a horrendous auto accident that nearly killed Ted Mills and appeared to end his career.
Fortunately, Mills recovered, but by the 2000s, and established a solid solo career. He appeared in the touring play "Girl He Ain't Worth It" with the Manhattans, Me'lissa Morgan and Tito Jackson and joined with Russell Thompkins Jr and William Hart on a 2008 Shanachie Records disc as the 3 Tenors of Soul, still sounding fantastic. What remained of Blue Magic splintered into multiple groups each led by one or more original members - the most notable consisting of the two Sawyers, Beaton and lead singer Wade Elliott (managed by Elaine Sawyer with promotional help from Sgt. Gary Nadler).
Nearly five decades after they first had a hit, the five members of Blue Magic reunited in 2018 for an episode of TV One's music biography show, Unsung. It was the first time they had all been together in nearly three decades, and they mulled over the possibility of a full reunion. Music fans around the world continue to hold out hope that that could happen.
By Chris Rizik