Russell Thompkins Jr.

9 Feb 2024

Russell Thompkins Jr.

Russell Allen Thompkins Jr., born on March 21, 1951, is a renowned American soul singer, particularly celebrated as the original lead vocalist of the vocal group The Stylistics. His distinct vocal range encompasses high tenor, countertenor, and falsetto styles, which contributed significantly to the group's signature sound and success.
During Russell's tenure as the lead singer, The Stylistics achieved remarkable commercial achievements, including 12 consecutive Top 10 Billboard R&B singles and 5 gold singles spanning from 1971 to 1974. Their string of hits solidified their status as one of the prominent soul groups of the era, captivating audiences with their smooth harmonies and Russell's emotive vocal delivery.

Russell Thompkins Jr.'s musical journey began in Philadelphia, where he was introduced to music by his father and began singing formally while in school. During his high school years, Thompkins was part of a local vocal ensemble known as the Monarchs. The Monarchs gained recognition after winning a talent show at Benjamin Franklin High School, where they defeated another group called the Percussions. Despite both groups disbanding shortly afterward, the remaining members, including Thompkins, James Smith, and Airrion Love from The Monarchs, along with James Dunn and Herbie Murrell from the Percussions, came together to form a new group named The Stylistics in 1968. This pivotal moment marked the beginning of Thompkins's illustrious career as the original lead singer of The Stylistics, contributing to their incredible success in the world of soul music.

In 1970, The Stylistics recorded "You're a Big Girl Now," which quickly gained regional popularity under Sebring Records. Avco Records, a larger label, subsequently signed The Stylistics, and the single eventually reached number seven on the R&B charts in early 1971. Avco Records enlisted record producer Thom Bell to collaborate with the group.

Initially unimpressed after The Stylistics' audition, Thom Bell eventually agreed to work with them, recognizing the potential of Russell Thompkins Jr.'s soaring high tenor voice. Bell then tailored the group's sound entirely around Thompkins's voice. On most of The Stylistics' hits, Bell featured Thompkins singing virtually solo, showcasing his remarkable vocal range and distinctive style.

Thom Bell stopped working with the group in 1974, and the split proved commercially devastating to the group's success in the U.S. However, in 1975, the Stylistics did release one single which was commercially successful as an early disco track entitled, "Hey, Girl, Come and Get It". After 1976, the Stylistics general commercial decline was more pronounced, and they would only sporadically make the R&B charts in the next two decades. However, just as U.S. success began to wane, their popularity in Europe, and especially the United Kingdom, increased. The lighter "pop" sound fashioned by Van McCoy and Hugo & Luigi gave the band a UK No. 1 in 1975 with "Can't Give You Anything (But My Love)".

After Thom Bell ceased working with the group in 1974, the Stylistics faced a significant commercial setback in the United States. However, in 1975, they released a single titled "Hey, Girl, Come and Get It," which enjoyed commercial success as an early disco track. Despite this, the group's overall commercial decline became more pronounced after 1976, and they only sporadically made appearances on the R&B charts over the next two decades.

Interestingly, while their success in the U.S. dwindled, the Stylistics experienced a surge in popularity in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom. The band's lighter, more pop-oriented sound, crafted by producers such as Van McCoy and Hugo & Luigi, resonated well with European audiences. In 1975, their track "Can't Give You Anything (But My Love)" reached No. 1 on the UK charts, demonstrating their enduring appeal across the Atlantic.

After parting ways with the group in 2000, Thompkins expressed regret for not leaving sooner. He then pursued formal music education and expanded his skills by learning to play the piano.
In 2002, Thompkins released a solo album titled "A Matter of Style," featuring cover versions of classics like George and Ira Gershwin's "Embraceable You" and the Thom Bell and Linda Creed song "Jealousy," originally performed by Dionne Warwick.
In 2004, Thompkins Jr. formed a new ensemble called Russell Thompkins Jr. and the New Stylistics, alongside Raymond Johnson, James Ranton, and Jonathan Buckson. They embarked on tours and were featured on the DVD "Old School Soul Party Live!" as part of the PBS My Music series. Although James Ranton left the group due to health reasons, the trio continued performing.

In 2007, Thompkins collaborated with Ted Mills (the original lead singer of Blue Magic) and William Hart (the original lead singer of The Delfonics) to record an album titled "All The Way From Philadelphia" under the name The 3 Tenors of Soul, released by Shanachie Records.
As of 2022, Russell Thompkins Jr. & The New Stylistics are still active, performing and touring both in the United States and overseas.

In 2023, Rolling Stone recognized Thompkins' vocal prowess by ranking him at number 142 on its list of the 200 Greatest Singers of All Time.


  1.  "Gold & Platinum The Stylistics"RIAA. Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  2. ^ "The Stylistics | Biography & History"AllMusic. Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  3. ^ "The Stylistics Songs ••• Top Songs / Chart Singles Discography ••• Music VF, US & UK hits charts" Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  4. a b c d "Russell Thompkins Jr. and The New Stylistics 06/19 by WDKK Radio | Music Podcasts". June 19, 2009. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  5. a b c d Jackson, John A (2004). A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul. USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-514972-2.
  6. ^ CORRESPONDENT, Rita Charleston TRIBUNE (April 22, 2019). "The New Stylistics take stage with original lead singer"The Philadelphia Tribune. Retrieved April 18, 2021.
  7. ^ "Three Tenors of Soul"SoulTracks - Soul Music Biographies, News and Reviews. September 14, 2007. Retrieved October 12, 2022.
  8. ^ "The 3 Tenors of Soul Biography, Songs, & Albums"AllMusic. Retrieved October 12, 2022.
  9. ^ "The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time"Rolling Stone. January 1, 2023. Retrieved April 14, 2023.

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