By Alex Johnson
During the 1960s and ’70s, Motown changed the way people thought about and recognized the R&B/soul genre. In 1970, the record producer of the most successful Motown act, The Temptations, decided to experiment with his psychedelic soul production techniques. Norman Whitfield called his new group Undisputed Truth.
Undisputed Truth consisted of members Joe Harris, who was the lead singer, and Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce, who were formerly part of The Delicates. The group is known for their “psychedelic soul” look and sound. They sported unusual costumes with large white afros and white makeup on their faces.
Under Berry Gordy’s label, Undisputed Truth released six albums. Their debut album in 1971 named after themselves (The Undisputed Truth) landed at #7 on the R&B charts and #43 for all genres of music in the US. The single off their debut, “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” was their most successful song by far. It reached #2 on the R&B charts and #3 for all genres in the US. The group’s next album, Face to Face With the Truth, reached #16 on the R&B charts. The next album, Law of the Land, contained the original version of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” When the single was released, it flopped. Norman knew it was a good song, and didn’t want to waste such a beautiful sound. He decided to convert the truncated version into a mini drama that would be remade by his main act, The Temptations. The remake went on to win a Grammy for the Temptations.
In 1975, Norman Whitfield decided to venture out independently and start his own record company, Whitfield Records. Members Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce did not follow Whitfield, so they left the group. Joe Harris was the only one who remained of the Undisputed Truth, until he was joined by Virginia McDonald, Tyrone Douglas, Tyrone Berkeley, and Calvin Stephenson. The change in the group’s members and the record label switch caused the Undisputed Truth to change up their style of music and the content of the lyrics. The lyrical focus became less about politics and more about space.
By 1976, the group began to grow unpopular. After two unsuccessful releases under Whitfield Records, Norman began to focus his attention to another group, Rose Royce. In 1981, after years of groundbreaking changes to the Motown sound of psychedelic funk, Undisputed Truth disbanded.