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Festival of Music and Art: It’s the opening week for the 23rd annual performance series

By Carrie Humphreys
Coastal Observer

Although Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. were both on the telephone from Los Angeles, McCoo, did most of the talking. Articulate and charming, she said the couple was excited about coming to Pawleys Island for its annual music festival.

“We’ve traveled the world, but we’ve never been to Pawleys Island,” she said.

“Or to South America, South Africa or mainland China,” Davis added, recalling their days of glory as the lead vocalists of The 5th Dimension, one of the top singing groups of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

McCoo and Davis recorded such classics as “Up, Up and Away,” “Let the Sun Shine In,” “Aquarius,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “One Less Bell to Answer” and “Stoned Soul Picnic.”

Then, after 10 hugely successful years, the newly-married couple left the group.

McCoo explained. “We felt we wanted to start anew. Neither of us, Billy from St. Louis and me from New Jersey, ever meant to be in a group. We had other dreams and aspirations and wanted to pursue them. We decided to strike out on our own and sing as a duet,” she said.

They had immediate success with the single, “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” which earned them a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo.

At first they shunned performing any of their former 5th Dimension hits. “We decided not to sing any of those songs because if we sang them, we thought we should have stayed with the group,” McCoo said. “We had feelings of guilt. So the first year we didn’t sing those hits. Then everyone kept asking for them, so we put them all back in our show and have been doing them ever since.”

In addition to the success they’ve had together, McCoo and Davis have also enjoyed solo pursuits. McCoo hosted the popular 1980s television music series “Solid Gold.” Davis recorded a religious album “Let Me Have a Dream” with gospel great Rev. James Cleveland and appeared in several hit musicals, including “Blues in the Night” and “Dreamgirls.”

They both said that performing for Pope John Paul II during his 1987 visit to the United States was a career highlight.

Married 44 years, the talented twosome met prior to the forming of The 5th Dimension. “You know Billy started that group with Lamont McLemore and Ron Townson as a hobby. And the hobby turned out to be the biggest thing we ever did,” McCoo said.

They share a deep faith in God.

“We’ve seen so many artists that have incredible careers, but horrible personal lives. We decided early on that our relationship was the most important thing to us. And we believe our relationship with the Lord is crucial to our marriage,” she said.

They have no plans to retire. “Not until we can’t remember the lyrics or can’t make it up the steps,” McCoo said. Davis agreed. Both are in their 70s.

Accompanied by four musicians, two of whom sing background vocals, the couple will perform 5th Dimension favorites plus some blues and jazz and gospel when they appear at the music festival Saturday.

“People should be rest assured that we put on a good, entertaining show. People always come up to us and say, ‘We didn’t realize you did all that.’ It’s an interesting evening of wonderful music where we share with people our musical backgrounds,” McCoo said.

If you go: Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. Oct. 5, 7 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. Tickets $25, $35 and $75 at pawleysmusic.com

Elise Testone had local fans before Idol success

By Carrie Humphreys
Coastal Observer

American Idol contestant Elise Testone says singing to her is like breathing.

“I just have to do it ,” she said by telephone from her home in Charleston. She and her troupe of musicians will perform a variety of genres from jazzy blues to rock to Americana for her festival appearance Sunday. A portion of ticket sales from Testone’s concert benefits Teach My People, the after-school tutoring program.

There was never a question whether Testone would become a performer, she said. Growing up in Kinnelon, N.J., Testone’s first performance was at age 6. She never looked back. She received her degree in music at Coastal Carolina University.

How did this Jersey girl discover South Carolina?

“I love South Carolina,” she said. “I used to visit the area with friends from high school who lived there during the summer. Then I toured the CCU campus and was impressed with its music and arts curriculum."

In 2006, following her graduation, Testone moved to the Charleston area where she formed several bands and quickly developed a name for herself. In 2011, one of Testone’s bands, Elise Testone and the Freeloaders, was voted Best Funk/Soul/R&B Artist of the Year in Charleston. Local audiences know the group from their appearances at the Pawleys Island Tavern, the Hot Fish Club and Brookgreen Gardens.

The world knows her as the sixth runner-up on American Idol’s 2012 season. Commenting on her experience with long-running series, Testone said it helped her grow as a musician after receiving critiques from “people who have been doing this a lot longer than me.”

Plus, she said, “I was thrown into a situation with a bunch of people with the same dream and developed relationships with these people. Forming that family was amazing.

“And just becoming social. I became more social.”

She admits that the exposure resulting from her Idol moments was huge. After touring with the Idol Top 10, she continues to travel the country performing in both small and large venues. On one recent tour she performed for more than 15,000 fans. She enjoys the variety of her current gigs, she said, and hopes to be touring and recording for many years to come. Her first album featuring 12 of her original songs is in the works.

She’s pleased to be a part of the first ever festival charity concert, she said, and hopes for a capacity crowd. “My whole group is behind this.” Testone said.

The Teach My People benefit headlining Testone is an inaugural event for the festival organizers. If successful, expect another benefit performance next year.

If you go: Elise Testone. Oct. 6, 6 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. Tickets $25 and $40 at pawleysmusic.com

Echoes of Victor Borge from concert pianist

By Carrie Humphreys
Coastal Observer

Emile Pandolfi proclaims great admiration for the late pianist Victor Borge. Pandolfi’s performances reflect his hero.

“I’m not like Victor Borge. He made all the musical jokes you could ever think of and I don’t do any of them. But what I loved about him was you could enjoy piano and this absolutely beautiful music in a very light-hearted atmosphere. You could let your hair down and relax,” Pandolfi said. “I combine music with comedy. My music is sincerely played, but in between times I add a lot of humor. People who don’t normally go to a piano concert will be surprised.”

When he makes the trek to Pawleys Island on Wednesday from his home in Greenville, where he grew up, he brings along vocalist Dana Russell to enhance his music consisting of mostly Broadway tunes, classical favorites and old standards. “She’s a gorgeous singer and does a wonderful job on everything from ‘My Fair Lady’ to light opera to belting out ‘All That Jazz,’ ” Pandolfi said.

With a classical piano performance degree, who made his symphony debut at 14, Pandolfi remembers playing piano at age 5. “It was the most natural thing for me to do and I always knew that was what I was going to do.”

He recalls his first club gig after college. “I brought stacks and stacks of music with me and someone asked if I could play ‘As Time Goes By.’ I had to look it up. I could only play if I had the music in front of me. It was so embarrassing. So I studied diligently until I could play by ear.”

He’s performed in concerts for the past 25 years, he said. Prior to that, he spent several years working as the “piano guy” at major comedy clubs in L.A. where he was hired to interject musical interludes between sets by “up and coming” comedians including Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Robin Williams. He was one of four pianists selected to record Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” for the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics and was one of the 84 pianists playing live during the ceremony.

“Playing for the Olympics was a career highlight,” Pandolfi said.

With a discography of 30-plus recordings and album sales in the millions, Pandolfli said his most requested piece is “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” “I’ve been doing that for 10 or 12 years. I play it with just the left hand. It’s fun to watch. It’s a full rich arrangement, but it seems impossible.”

If you go: Emile Pandolfi. Oct. 9, 7 p.m., Reserve Golf Club. Tickets $25 and $35 at pawleysmusic.com

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