The group that became the Chi-Lites in 1964 was originally made up of four school friends from Hyde Park High School in Chicago plus a young singer who attended Englewood High School. They were Robert “Squirrel” Lester, Clarence Johnson, Burt Bowen, and Eddie Reed, plus Eugene Record. By 1960 a few changes had been made to the personnel, with Marshall Thompson and Creadel “Red” Jones in and Bowen and Reed out. They were called The Chanteurs and released a single on Vee-Jay Records entitled “You’ve Got A Great Love” in 1962.
In early 1964 the group became The Hi-Lites and released a song entitled, “I’m So Jealous” with Record on lead. Unfortunately, the group name they had chosen was already taken, so the group’s name became Marshall and The Chi-Lites, with an echo of Chicago perhaps. Clarence Johnson left the group later that year, and their name was subsequently shortened to the Chi-Lites.
In 1968, the group met with record producer Carl Davis and signed a contract with Brunswick Records, a New York company with a base in Chicago.
The Chi-Lites soon recorded their first hit song “Give It Away”, written by Davis and Record, which spent nine weeks on the chart, peaking at number ten on March 15th 1969. Eight more singles entered the R&B chart up to 1971, when suddenly they struck gold. “Have You Seen Her” went to number three on the Pop chart and number one on the R&B chart in the USA and also number three on the UK Pop chart.
Their next release in 1972, “Oh Girl”, did even better, taking the top spot on the Pop and R&B Billboard and Cashbox charts in the USA. They were now in the big league and Brunswick had another headline Soul/R&B act to put alongside Jackie Wilson. Both of these singles sold over one million copies and were awarded gold certification by the RIAA. Eugene Record, the group’s lead singer, had written both songs, the first with his regular song-writing partner Barbara Acklin. Behind “Oh Girl” in the charts during the week ending 27th February 1972 were four more singles by Afro-American acts: The Staple Singers with “I’ll Take You There” at number two, Roberta Flack with “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” at number three, Al Green with his gold single “Look What You Done For Me” at four and finally Sammy Davis Jr. at five with another gold-certified single “Candy Man”.
The Chi-Lites’ album “A Lonely Man”, number one on the album chart 10th June 1972 for five weeks, was the only number one studio album by a Chicago Afro-American group. The key musicians on the album were Quinton Joseph (drums), Eugene Record (vocals and guitar) and Floyd Morris (piano), with Bruce Swedien engineering and Tom Washington resposible for arrangements and conducting.
Sadly, further changes then occurred in the line-up which disrupted their ability to maintain this level of success. Jones left in 1973 and Record soon after, probably due to Brunswick’s legal problems. The group recruited replacements and carried on, occasionally releasing songs that entered the top ten on the R&B chart, but the golden days were never repeated. The last Brunswick studio album by the Chi-Lites was released in 1975. Amazingly, in 2020 the legacy lives on, with Marshall Thompson still performing as a member of the Chi-Lites.