*The John Harms/Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, New Jersey, was filled with the entertainment world, press, and the family of Al Goodman on Monday, August 2nd.
All gathered to give their last good-byes to the enduring entertainer. While on the recovery table, Al’s heart stopped unexpectedly after undergoing a procedure to remove a tumor from his liver.
In a climate that fosters mediocre music artists, Al Goodman paid his dues. Like the consummate artists of his time, he honed his craft and worked his way to success. He was part of the Moments, a group noted for classic songs such as “Love on a Two Way Street,” “Sexy Mama,” and “Look At Me (I’m In Love).”
Later Harry Ray, Al Goodman, and Billy Brown would form the group that bore their surnames. The collaboration of Ray, Goodman and Brown gave birth to songs like “How Can Love So Right (Be So Wrong),” “Special Lady,” “Not On the Outside,” “Ooh Baby Baby,” and “Somewhere There’s A Love Just For Me.” Romantic songs that made the ladies swoon and the gentlemen hold their ladies close.
After Harry Ray suddenly died from a stroke in 1992, Kevin “Ray” Owens, a backup vocalist for Luther Vandross, replaced him.
“There are a lot of snakes in the music business but Al Goodman had integrity. He was the businessman of the group and I could always trust him to do business straight up. Al was honest. He was a dapper gentleman. A real star. He was the one that went out and represented the group to the public. Even when the group had 2 cents in their pocket, Al looked like a million bucks,” said Kevin Owens.
Goodman kept abreast of current events and when Hurricane Katrina hit his home state of Mississippi, Goodman joined forces with organizations aiding those Mississippi residents who lost everything.
“Al’s death came as a shock,” said Kevin Owens whose obvious grief periodically clutched at his throat and weighed heavily around his shoulders and eyes. “Al was only supposed to go in for a procedure,” said Kevin still trying to reconcile Goodman’s unexpected demise. “The last time I talked to Al he told me that Billy and I had to keep things together until he returned. Al was always trying to make the group better. Looking back now I suspect Al was getting tired and was considering not returning. Before his surgery, he made sure that Ice (Friedman) fixed every inch of his house so that his wife Henrietta wasn’t left with a problematic house. When we were younger we did all kinds of things but as we got older we became more settled. Al was close to his family and God. He was the kind of guy who would visit people in the hospital and help people out. He loved his audience. He was a charmer. He wanted the group to represent class and elegance. He saw the group as one that catered to the ladies. He wrote romantic songs so he wanted us to always represent well. We have always been a very close knit group. Al was the big brother that taught me how to perform with poise and grace and elegance. His home was my second home. We’re family. Al is gone and of course eventually we will go on but for now we will lift Al up before our audiences. There are so many memories. Al is inside of us and will continue to be part of us. We are going to miss him” said Kevin who tried to collect himself as his voice broke and eyes teared.
And indeed, the show must go on. Thus, despite their grief Kevin Owens, Larry “Ice” Winfried and Billy Brown performed before a Coop City audience the night we interviewed. Billy came to the venue straight from the airport tired, sad and weighted down with grief.
“They call me the Last of the Mohican’s,” said Billy, the last original member of Ray Goodman & Brown. “This is especially hard for me. Al and I shared so much together: Life, children, family. At the end of October we would have been together 43 years. We were like brothers. We spoke every day. We had so much in common.”
As Billy reflected, the memories flooded back.
“Al and I met at Platinum Records. Al was working with a woman named Sylvia Robinson in Englewood, New Jersey. I was a lead singer at the time with a group called Broadways on the MGM label. Eventually I was invited to be a lead singer for the “Moments” and the rest is history. That was in 1969. Al and I became instant friends and sang as part of the Moments until 1979. It was Lonnie Youngblood who gave us the idea of using our own names to form our own group. That is how Ray, Goodman & Brown was born,” said Billy. “I wish…” said Billy as his voice trailed off. “I did hug Al before he left for the hospital. I told him I loved him. I went about doing chores and then realized 5 hours had passed. The procedure was only supposed to take 2 hours. Around 4:30, I got a call that Al didn’t make it. I thought something was wrong. That news couldn’t possibly be right! I started yelling that Al couldn’t be gone it was just supposed to be a simple procedure. In fact, the surgery was a success. They were wrapping him up and taking him to recovery when Al had a heart attack. Al’s passing broke my heart” said Billy Brown as his eyes welled, his throat caught and he got up to prepare for the show.
I sat in the wings as the group revved themselves up, put on their show attire, threw back their heads, squared their shoulders and headed for the stage. Elegant and poised, just the way Al Goodman had taught them.