With a career that has taken her from the Apollo to the Royal Command Performance, from the top of the charts to the big screen and onto bookshelves across the world, Sheila Ferguson is truly one of the First Ladies of Soul. For the very first time, and exclusively for sheilaferguson.com Sheila’s daughter Alexandria Robinson reveals the story behind the legend.
Sheila Ferguson is a lot more then just a Soul Music legend.
She is also an accomplished actress, writer and a world authority on Soul Food, African America’s traditional cuisine.
Born in Phildelphia USA, Sheila’s first ambition was to be a psychologist. However, a successful solo singing career put these ambitions on hold. By 1965 she was recording regularly for the Swan Record label under the tutelage of doo wop legend Richard Barrett, cutting a number of highly regarded singles including ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘How Did that Happen’ and ‘Heartbroken Memories’. As well as appearing at all the top music venues including the Apollo, (where she shared the bill with Marvin Gaye). Sheila was, most unusually for a female vocalist of that era, already writing her own songs.
While Richard Barrett was working with Sheila he was also developing a female vocal group called The Three Degrees. A strong friendship had developed between Sheila and the other group members who often sang back-up on her records, just as she provided extra harmonies on theirs, sometimes even standing in for missing Degrees at live dates. When one of the original members left, it was no surprise that Sheila was asked to join for good.
The Three Degrees with Sheila as lead became the most successful female group of the nineteen seventies, spearheading the rise of the Philadelphia International label and the Philly Sound, with a string of worldwide hits such as ‘TSOP’ (with MFSB), ‘Dirty Ol’ Man’, ‘Take Good Care of Yourself’, ‘Year of Decision’ and the Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff classic ‘When Will I See You Again’. Just as renowned for their dynamic stage act as for their glamour and vocal excellence, The Three Degrees toured all over the world attracting a huge and loyal fan base in countries ranging from Japan to Australia and, of course, the UK. The girls have appeared on most of the world’s top TV shows ranging from cult American sitcom ‘Sanford And Son’ starring the late Redd Foxx to the primetime special on British TV broadcast from London’s Royal Albert Hall. The group also made an explosive appearance in the Oscar-winning movie ‘The French Connection’.
In the latter part of the1970’s The Three Degrees were still topping the charts with discs such as ‘My Simple Heart’ working with Disco King Georgio Moroder. Hits like ‘The Runner’ and movie theme ‘The Golden Lady’ showed Sheila taking more of a hand in production and songwriting duties, but as the mother of twins it became less and less easy to balance family life with recording and touring, so in 1985 Sheila finally left the group.
Now living in Britain, Sheila felt that it was very important for her daughters to appreciate their African-American Heritage. Out of this desire came her bestselling book ‘Soul Food’ published in 1989. Much more than just a recipe book, ‘Soul Food’ has become one of the standard works on the food and culture of Black America and is found in kitchens across the USA and around the world. Sheila developed her acting career by becoming the first Black woman ever to have her own UK sitcom, ‘Land of Hope and Gloria’ which made its debut in 1991. Both as an actress and a singer she was constantly in demand throughout the nineties, appearing in several popular British TV shows both in dramatic roles and with popular entertainers such as Brian Conley. She also made her West End musical debut as Analise L’Avender in ‘Always’, a musical based on the romance between Britain’s King Edward and Mrs Simpson. On a completely different type of stage, Sheila won new fans and a lot of respect when she performed for British Forces stationed in the Falklands and also for her role in the fight for performing artists rights on behalf of both Equity and PAMRA.
At the dawn of the twenty first century Sheila Ferguson’s career and reputation moves from strength to strength not least with the launch of her own website. From early days to the height of international fame, Sheila has always valued her loyal fans around the world old and new and as with all her projects has taken a personal interest in its development. With several new projects underway, Sheila’s energy, sass and style are as potent as ever.
Now that you know the basics of Sheila Ferguson’s career, why not check out the full story serialised elsewhere on this site. As for the future ? We promise you’ll read it here first on www.sheilaferguson.com
It was a lovely autumnal day, 8th October, when Sheila Ferguson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Sheila attended more than 10 schools as a child and just missed out on graduating valedictorian (1st in her class) at Roosevelt Junior High School, all because she couldn’t draw! That’s right ladies and gentlemen, Sheila Ferguson is hopeless at art, and I really can get away with saying that because I am her daughter!
During her years at Germantown High School, she was asked by a teacher what she wanted to do with her life. Sheila replied, “I want to be a psychologist but first, I have such a major crush on Marvin Gaye, that if I were to become a singer for just a little while, I could meet him and then continue with my studies”.
Now, it is often assumed that all black singers, come directly from the gospel church, and yes, many black singers have. But Sheila Ferguson did not! Don’t get me wrong, she had nothing against the church, it’s just that she was always afraid somebody might ask her to get up and sing, which as a child absolutely petrified her! No, the accolade of changing Sheila from listener to singer goes to the one and only ‘Miss Nancy Wilson’.
There was a time during her teenagehood when Sheila would come home from school and listen to Nancy Wilson day in and day out. She began to secrete herself in the vestibule of her dad’s house, before anyone else came home from work. The accoustics there were just so damn good. And there she, literally, found her voice. She would sing to the top of her lungs, until she could feel her heart swell. And she would sway and close her eyes to feel the emotion of the melody and the taste of the lyrics. I suppose one could say that Sheila Ferguson was a closet singer!! But from those days on, Sheila’s destiny was preordained. Once something sticks in Sheila’s mind, she never lets go until she achieves it.
It was while at high school that Sheila’s teacher introduced her to Richard Barrett, who was to become her manager and mentor.
Richard had been the lead singer of a 1950’s singing group called ‘The Valentines’. He had also managed and/or produced such great acts as The Chantels, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Little Anthony and The Imperials, and The Flamingos - the very kind of vocal harmony groups Sheila loved. Richard also wrote and produced many of the biggest hit records for these groups: ‘Maybe’, ‘Look In My Eyes’, ‘He’s Gone’, ‘I’m Not A Juvenile Deliquent’, ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop’, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, ‘Don’t Say Goodnight’, ‘Lily Maebelle’, and many more.
Sadly Richard Barrett was ripped off very badly in New York and much of the money due to him at that time cleverly stolen. But aside from being one of the first black and successful producers on Broadway, Richard was always very proud of the accolade paid to him by ‘The Beatles’, when they said on prime-time American television, that Richard Barrett’s recording of, ‘Some Other Guy’ (which Richard wrote), was one of their biggest and earliest influences in American Soul Music.
When Sheila first met Richard, he was in the process of recording three other young hopefuls from West Philadelphia. Various girls came and went, almost from week to week, until finally the exact line-up stabilised. But in the beginning they consisted of Fayette Pinkney, Shirley Porter and Linda Turner. Their first single was entitled, ‘Gee Baby I’m Sorry,’ and Richard named the girls ‘The Three Degrees’, meaning three varying degrees of excellence.
Meanwhile …. up and over at Germantown High School, Sheila Ferguson became Richard’s one and only solo artist. Richard Barrett recorded Sheila with her first solo single entitled, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’.
Both of Richard’s acts, namely ‘Sheila Ferguson’ and ‘The Three Degrees’, recorded for Swan Records, the label which released The Beatles’ first single ‘She loves You’ in America. (Can you believe that Swan didn’t keep the Beatles signed up? What a dumb move, eh?) Down at 9th and Bainbridge streets, Swan had a rehearsal room with the piece of mirror where the girls were grilled into creating and practicing their dance routines - they insisted on looking absolutely identical. Sheila and The Three Degrees quickly became great friends and soon began recording with one another. Sheila would always sing backing vocals on their records, (and sometimes a quiet lead), to fatten up and enrich their sound. And they, in turn, would sing backing vocals on her recordings, which of course fattened her records making them sound so professionally done. They all travelled around together doing, what they called in those days, ‘Record Hops’. Today, we would call them, PA’s or personal appearances.
Both acts achieved some local success in the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York with their recordings and personal appearances. However, and most significantly for Sheila, her first professional appearance was at the legendary Apollo Theatre in New York City.
Solo career, The Apollo… and Marvin Gaye!
The Apollo Theatre that had hosted so many famous artistes, like Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Josephine Baker, Pearl Bailey, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Lionel Ritchie, Luther Vandross, LaVern Baker, Fats Domino, The Drifters, Billy Eckstine, Gloria Lynne, Lou Rawls, Richard Pryor, “Moms” Mabley - the list goes on and on. The Three Degrees were appearing there as well as Sheila but the main headliner was none other than Sheila’s major crush hearthrob, soon to be husband (she wished) - Mr Marvin Gaye!.
Sheila went into the star’s dressing room plucking up her courage, knees a knockin’, and finally met the man of her dreams. She says, “When I first laid eyes on him, he was like an angel in white. It was as if he were wearing a halo above his head. He was just so beautiful, I don’t think I spoke cause my lips were quivering, but I think I must’ve been able to babble somethin’ or other!”
She and Marvin talked for a while and at that point in her young and impressionable life, Sheila lost her crush on Marvin Gaye…. but instead, she gained her love for the maddening crowd. Sheila decided to become a professional singer. Her friendship with Marvin would continue until his tragic death, but her love of what he stood for and achieved in such a short time will remain in her heart forever.
After that week at The Apollo Theatre, Sheila Ferguson had to come down to earth in order to finish her high school education and to graduate with the class of 1965 at Germantown High. But during all that time, Sheila continued to record for The Swan Label. She also began to write some of own her material.
Under the tutelage of Richard Barrett, Sheila recorded the first two songs she ever wrote, ‘I Weep For You’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me Lover’.
Some of the other songs she recorded were ‘How Did That Happen’, written by Lamont Dozier (later to write many of The Supremes’ hits) and two songs entitled ‘And In Return’ and ‘Are You Satisfied’, written by General Johnson, later to become known to the world as the lead singer of The Chairman Of The Board.
Sheila considered herself to be, primarily, a ballad singer. But Richard selected two up-tempo numbers for her to record, songs especially written for her by a talented up and coming songwriter by the name of Leon Huff. Leon would later team up with the immensely gifted and prolific Kenny Gamble to form the legendary ‘Philadelphia International Records’. These early songs were entitled ‘Heartbroken Memories’ and ‘Signs Of Love’ and in them one can hear the beginning of the style and sophistication which was about to emerge.
Closer by DEGREES
Sheila continued to record her singles and to perform them at local record hops alongside The Three Degrees, whose line-up, by now, consisted of Fayette Pinkney, Helen Scott and Janet Harmon from West Philadelphia. Not much has ever been written about Janet, but Sheila always thought she was the most beautiful and sweetest person to grace the planet.
As for Helen, well, just a little bit of background information that not a lot of people know - Helen Scott and Sheila Ferguson have been friends since the year dot, and it was Sheila who introduced her to Richard. Sheila had once been in a local singing group in Germantown called The Kittens which consisted of 5 girls, one of whom was Helen Scott’s big sister Jeanie. The group recorded one record entitled ‘Count Every Star’. Over on the flip side of the record was a song entitled ‘I’m Worried’ sung beautifully in a sexy bluesy style by Helen’s older sister Jeanie. “In those days,” Sheila recalls “everybody in the neighbourhood used to just sing. We would all harmonize together and eat and have a great sisterly time because music was our common bond. Music, laughter and food; those three things always brought us all together. (And of course the pursuit of boys!!!) Nothing made you more popular than being able to sing, ha, ha!!”
Besides suggesting to a budding tomboy named Sheila that it was about time she wore a bra, it was Gloria Scott, Helen and Jeanie’s sister, who overheard Sheila singing one day and said to her, “Girl, you should become a professional singer”. So you see, it was really the natural order of things that when Richard Barrett needed another Degree, Sheila introduced him to Helen.
Quickly, Helen began to sing the leads for the The Three Degrees. Have you heard the bossa nova version of ‘Maybe’? Well, that was Helen. And Helen’s beautiful lead vocals can also be heard on other early Three Degrees songs, like ‘Yours’, ‘Look In My Eyes’ and ‘Close Your Eyes’ .
THE THREE DEGREES
One night, as fate would have it, The Three Degrees were due to perform at one of their record hops when one of the girls fell ill. Naturally, as Sheila was there in the ladies room with the girls, helping them to change into their costumes, they asked her to stand in, because she knew all the harmonies as well as the dance routines. (You should have seen her trying to fit into a costume that they had made for the other girl whoever she was!). And, also that day, fate took a left turn, because Helen Scott decided she was leaving the group because she wanted to get married! Within the next couple of weeks, she did, and Fayette and Janet asked Sheila Ferguson to take her place. She did-and stayed for 20 years! It’s as simple or as complicated as that!
In 1968, Janet Harmon left the group for love and, after audition after audition after audition, the girls found Boston’s own Valerie Holiday. She became the third Degree. Valerie had an Aretha Franklin-type soulful voice and soon became the lead singer. However, Fayette and Sheila did get their turn to share the limelight with their own numbers.
For Sheila, one of those numbers was ‘Stardust’, (which in my opinion is the best damn rendition of ‘Stardust’ I’ve ever heard and I don’t even like the song. But then again one could say that I don’t count because, well, she’s my mom. So my advice to you is to get a copy of it and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Anyway where was I? Oh yes…) Then there was Fayette - an excellent and very exceptional soprano. Fayette was also a very gifted actress on stage, with the ability to bring an audiences to tears. She emitted so much emotion when she delivered a song that people were often moved very deeply. Faye made them feel her pain. Her delivery of songs like the great Dusty Springfield classic ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ and ‘Buddy Can You Spare a Dime’ simply brought the house down..
Even tho’ the girls had first begun their careers performing before live audiences in Rhode Island, it was in Boston, where they played The Echo Lounge, that they really began gaining their avid group of followers. And when their big break came, were they ready? Well, not quite…
You see, the girls had worked the circuit in Boston from Revere Beach to Boylston Street and one day, quite unexpectedly, they were given a chance to star at a big ritzy club called Blinstrub’s. Now, the day before the girls were due to open, they had a last minute costume fitting and, during that fitting, Richard came running in to tell them that they had to go on that night! Wayne Newton, who was currently appearing at Blinstrub’s, had suffered an asthma attack and his doctors had ordered him to fly back to Las Vegas. The girls told Richard that they weren’t ready! He said, “Well, you’d better git ready, cause this is it baby!”
The girls were panic-stricken! Their Opening Night Santa Claus suits weren’t finished yet. And the ink wasn’t dry on several of their new musical arrangements. The musical run-through with the band was at 3:00pm and everyone was running around like headless chickens AND….. only The Boston Globe and The Boston Herald Newspapers were going to be there to review the show!! Sheila remembers going outside the front of Blinstrub’s to light up a cigarette. She was also wondering why the marquee hadn’t been changed, but then she forgot about that because that was the least of her problems. Instead, she just screamed to the top of her lungs! Just then, Fayette came outside and heard her, Faye said, “I know how you feel, but you’d better save your pipes!”
The girls went on that night for Wayne Newton and suddenly Sheila realised WHY the marquee hadn’t been changed. NOBODY had told the unsuspecting audience beforehand that Wayne Newton was not going to appear!!! My mom says she remembers singing the words to the opening number, but she was definitely thinking, “Maybe I’ll just fake a heart attack?”
Since the Santa number wasn’t ready, they had to open their show with the old trusty-dusty opening number - ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’, which segues into a moody rendition of ‘Stardust’ that began with just piano and …..Sheila. My mom remembers thinking, “I’m not gonna let them smell any fear, no matter what happens!.” Well, you could have heard a pin drop. But my mom sang like a real trooper, like a hummingbird, and after the girls’ big vocal ending of ‘Stardust’, when the band came thundering in to join them, the applause was thunderous and from that point onward, they had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. Glasses were being clinked, the screams and cheers of “Bravo” and “More, more, more!” were coming from out of the darkness and the show was just beginning. The Three Degrees were a big hit! A few years later Sheila went to see Wayne Newton’s show in Las Vegas, where the girls were opening for Englebert Humperdinck at the Riviera. She went to the after-show party and thanked him personally for having Asthma!!
The BIG TIME
After their success at Blinstrub’s in Boston, The Three Degrees began working bigger rooms like the Copacabana in New York, The Eden Roc in Miami, The El San Juan Hotel in Puerto Rico, The Hilton in Curacao, The Princess hotels in Bermuda and Acapulco, etc. The group travelled far and wide, learning the art of how to perform before live audiences. The idea being that as long as they knew how to perform they could always earn a living. And should a hit record come along, then that would be the icing on the cake, but not vital to their survival.
Now, we have already mentioned what a big Nancy Wilson fan Sheila was (and still is!). Well, when the Three Degrees went to Las Vegas to open for Buddy Greco at Caesar’s Palace, Nancy Wilson heard, through the grapevine, that she should check out the 3 young chicks who were creating such a stir.
Well, when Sheila heard that Nancy Wilson was coming to the next show she…well, folks, she was just fit to be tied. She looked out over the red-cloaked tables and eventually found where Nancy Wilson was sitting. She began praising and introducing this legend as the lady she had loved so very deeply since she was just a little girl. But Sheila didn’t stop there! “I just kept on and on, babbling and gushing, running my mouth….well at some point in my babbling I realised I was committing a major faux pas when Nancy Wilson plopped her head down onto the table, arms outstretched and said, “Oh boy, am I that old!” That was the precise moment in her show biz career when Sheila Ferguson learned the knack of swiftly getting on with it or as she puts it:”How to introduce the next number at warp speed before anyone realises what a prat you are!”
After the show, the word spread (as the word swiftly does at the back of any stage) that Nancy Wilson was coming up to see the girls in their dressing room. Sheila was in a state of blind panic. How was she ever going to look the woman in the eye? Needless to say, Nancy Wilson was a complete joy to behold, an absolute delight.
And so Sheila’s idol became even more of a magical, wonderful, professional, real person. A quality our Sheila adopted and has kept to this day.
While building their live act, the girls released a couple of records on a variety of different recording labels, but the one that made the most impact was the new version of the old Chantels hit, ‘Maybe’. Incidentally this is not the version with the bossa nova beat which I mentioned earlier had been sung by Helen Scott. Richard was too clever for that. This was a soul inspired version sung by Valerie Holiday. This version by the new Three Degrees line up is still considered, today, to be one of the all time classics of Soul music.
TV and movies
In 1970, Sheila, Fayette and Valerie made their acting/singing debut in the hit US sitcom ‘Sanford & Son’ starring Red Foxx and Desmond Wilson. It was noted by the public at large that the girls were actually singing, a capella, and that was almost unheard of back in those days. (Actually, it is almost unheard of today, as well!)
The following year, while appearing at the Copacabana in New York City, the girls were visited by two gentlemen who asked them to appear in a motion picture. That picture went on to win FIVE OSCARS and was called ‘The French Connection’. It starred Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, and Tony Lo Bianco. Those famous two visitors were the director, William Freidkin and the producer, Philip D’Antonio. The girls sang ‘Everybody Gets To Go The Moon’, a song written by Jim Webb, and as William Friedkin explained to my mom (who was forever asking questions), “It took about 3 days to film 3 minutes of real movie-time”. My mom found this all fascinating although she hated the dresses they had to wear. She told the costume designer that those sorry $&%$&! dresses made them look like saloon girls from out of the wild wild west! (Yesiree, and this was a long time before Will Smith - also from Philly - came on the scene!). But alas, there was no film budget for the girls to have other dresses made, and the rules were such that they couldn’t wear any of their own costumes and so they were stuck! This was the beginning of my mom’s well-known argumentative nature when it came to costumes! It’s no surprise to me that The Three Degrees were so very well known for what they wore, both at the beginning when they were sewing their own costumes due to Janet’s expertise, and later on when they were the flavour of the month, known for being the epitome of class, elegance and sophistication around the world.
The Philly sound
The major recording breakthrough for The Three Degrees came when they were signed to a record company from their own hometown, ‘Philadelphia International Records’. They teamed up with one of the greatest song-writing teams of all time, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who also wrote classic songs for the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, The Stylistics, The Jones Girls, Lou Rawls, The Jackson 5 and many others. This magnificent writing team was responsible for creating what became known to the world as ‘The Philly Sound’.
With the signing of their contract, the girls were really able to enter into the international arena. They went to Japan and then on to Europe, first setting foot on English soil in 1973. In Japan the girls won the coveted Tokyo Music Festival with ‘When Will I See You Again’.
Their first PIR album, entitled ‘The Three Degrees’, was released world-wide in that same year. From that album came hits like ‘Year Of Decision’ and ‘Dirty Ol’ Man’. But it was the next release from that first album that The Three Degrees would be remembered for for all time. This song, if you haven’t already guessed is the classic standard, ‘When Will I See You Again’. British fans were quick to catch on to this song and when it hit No.1, CBS flew the girls back to England for a champagne breakfast to celebrate (and also to perform on ‘Top Of The Pops’). It was then that other countries caught on because the song was spreading like wildfire and people everywhere would be saying the phrase, “When will I see you again?”.
So now, after the release of ‘When Will I See You Again’, The Three Degrees were a global success. Sheila remembers sitting in the waiting room at CBS and picking up one of the record industry’s music magazines - either Cashbox or Billboard - and much to her astonishment, ‘When Will I See You Again’, the song she hadn’t even wanted to sing, had reached No.1 in just about every country in the world. People who had never heard of The Three Degrees were now saying their names in every country and in every language. People were also saying that they were an overnight success. Little did they know that these girls had been working their butts off since the Sixties!
The next album they recorded with Gamble & Huff for Philadelphia International Records was entitled ‘Take Good Care Of Yourself’ in some countries and ‘The Three Degrees International’ in others because they sang in various languages on that album. They re-recorded ‘When Will I See You Again’ in Japanese. It was called ‘Tenshi No Sasayaki’ and shot the song back up to the No.1 slot again!. The ‘International’ album also includes a song sung in French, originally written and recorded by Claude Francois, entitled ‘La Chanson Populaire’. They also recorded a song made famous to the world as ‘It’s Impossible’ by Perry Como, only the girls sang it in Spanish and it is called ‘Somos Novios’ (We are Lovers). This song had been in their live show for quite some time now and it never failed to bring the house down.
GAMBLE & HUFF
My mom has always known that Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff have always been enormously proud of The Three Degrees and what they were able to accomplish worldwide. To this day, a beautifully framed picture of Princess Anne giving The Three Degrees their gold record of ‘Dirty Ol’ Man’, for England, hangs in pride of place on the wall of Kenny Gamble’s office.
It may sometimes appear that not an awful lot is ever said or written about Leon Huff and that’s simply because Leon is a very shy and private man. It is also because Leon also worked almost exclusively with the musicians while Kenny would be working with artistes creating the vocals. But every singer who came through the doors of Philadelphia International Records KNEW that when Leon Huff got on that piano, it was enough to give anybody the spirit. He could make a blind man see!!! So much was the soul coming out of Leon Huff. Leon led the group of musicians who played on most of the songs produced at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia.
The Three Degrees’ second gold record in The United States came from a surprise liaison between the girls and a group of highly talented musicians. They called themselves MFSB, which stood for Mothers Fathers Sisters and Brothers (if you wanna believe that!). The song they did together was entitled TSOP which stood for ‘The Sound of Philadelphia’ and was almost an accident.
MFSB were the musical backing for all of the acts at Philadelphia International Records. Sigma Sound studios was owned and manned by one of the greatest recording technicians in the business, Joe Tarsia. Joe won the award for the best-mixed record of 1974 for his mix of ‘When Will I See You Again’. He was an integral part of the Philly Sound. So it is not surprising that when Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were first commissioned by Don Cornelius to write the theme song for his US based hit television show ‘Soul Train’, Joe was right there listening when the girls first started to make up the harmonies and doo wops to go with the song. Though the lyrics were scarce, the girls’ harmonies soared and their recording of TSOP gave them their second number one in the United States and their second gold record at home.
With a universally renowned name for excellence now under their belts, The Three Degrees continued jet-setting and touring around the world, playing to sell-out audiences everywhere they went - the girls were hot property.
In 1976, they had to deal with the loss of another member - Fayette Pinkney was leaving The Three Degrees to carry on with another type of degree. She wanted to go back to her roots and complete her education by getting her Masters. So, with The Three Degrees ready to go on a worldwide tour, they needed to find someone else and fast. Remember Helen Scott who left the group in the Sixties? Well, she’s back!
The smooth melodic sounds of the seventies soon gave way to the funkier beat of the disco era. And, yes, The Three Degrees were on top of that as well! By now, Richard Barrett had signed the girls to Ariola/Arista Worldwide. The first thing Ariola did was to commission the hottest producer to produce the girls - Giorgio Moroder. At the time, Moroder had just finished a project with Donna Summer and had released her first hit ‘Love To Love You Baby’ (which he co-wrote with Donna) but he was delighted at the prospect of working with The Three Degrees.
Their first album for the new label, entitled ‘New Dimensions’ yielded another three hits for the girls, ‘Givin’ Up Givin’ In’, ‘Woman In Love’ (written by England’s own Bugatti and Musker) and the never to be forgotten classic, ‘The Runner’ (which my mum co-wrote with Giorgio).
Incidentally, ‘The Runner’ was the first 12“ vinyl record ever to be produced in three different colours - red, white and blue (as well as the original black version) and is now highly collectable. When Dominic Bugatti first heard Sheila’s interpretation of the ballad ‘Woman In Love’, he broke down and cried - no, it wasn’t that bad! Later, he remarked that he never dreamt anyone could have interpreted his song exactly as he had envisaged.
Sheila has sung for Royalty, Presidents and millions of people around the world in a career which has taken her from the smallest of clubs in downtown Philadelphia to theatres, stadiums and palaces.
This versatile diva has taken on board numerous acting roles on stage as well as on our TV screens, including a 6-part sit-com written especially for her.
With a best-selling book under her belt, Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South, we now await her self-penned auto-biography. Watch this space.
CHARITIES, CAMPAIGNS, MEMBERSHIPS AND AWARDS
Sheila has been acclaimed for her work entertaining the troops in the Falklands and Bosnia and has performed countless charity gigs for various organisations, some of which are listed below.
Sheila has been an Equity Councillor and an Events Speaker at and on behalf of Equity
Sheila has been a long time member and has expanded her work on behalf of artists rights via her work with PPL, PRS and PAMRA organisations which are supported by both Equity and the MU
Combined Theatrical Charities
The organisation behind many of the bucket collections for good causes which take place after shows in the West End and elsewhere. Sheila has long been a supporter of this charity and took part in the launch of it’s ‘Acting for Others’ campaign in 2003.
PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd) and PRS
PPL are music services companies working on behalf of performers and record company members. PPL licenses sound recordings and music videos for use in broadcast, public performance and new media. PRS collects royalties. Sheila has been active in both organisations for many years and is currently a Performer Guardian.
PAMRA (Performing Artists Media Rights Association)
Sheila is a founder director of PAMRA-
Sheila has been a patron of the national parenting charity since 1997. She has raised over 70K for the charity via appearances on shows such as I’m a Celebrity and Celebrity Who wants to be a Millionaire
Sheila was invited to become an Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust in 2008
Sheila has been a judge at the organisation’s ‘Race in The Media’ awards on several occasions.
Ethnic Minority Business Foundation
Sheila was awarded a national achievement award by the Bank of England and it’s Governor Eddie George in 1999
City of Compton California Book Award
Sheila proudly accepted this award for her book, ‘Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South’
Albums with The Three Degrees (UK & USA)
- 1970: Maybe (Roulette) [ also released as The Three Degrees (Mojo) ]
- 1971: Englebert Humperdinck Live at the Riviera, Las Vegas [Backing group] (Decca/Parrot))
- 1972: So Much Love (Roulette/Pye International))
- 1973: The Three Degrees (Philadelphia International)
- 1974: The Three Degrees Live (Philadelphia International)
- 1975: Take Good Care Of Yourself (Philadelphia International)
- 1975: The Three Degrees International (Philadelphia International)
- 1976: Diamonds (Film Soundtrack)
- 1976: A Toast Of Love (CBS/Sony)
- 1977: Standing Up for Love (Epic)
- 1978: New Dimensions (Ariola)
- 1979: The Golden Lady (Film Soundtrack)
- 1979: 3D (Ariola)
- 1908: Gold (K-Tel/Ariola)
- 1982: Album of Love (3Degrees)
- 1984: Live In The UK (3Degrees)
- 1994: Complete Swan Recordings (Sequel)
- 1996: Roulette Years (Sequel)
Albums with The Anti-Heroin Project
- 1986: It’s A Live-In World
Albums with Matt Bianco (Backing vocals)
- 1988: Indigo (WEA / Atlantic)
- 1990: The Best Of Matt Bianco (East West)
- 1992: Samba In Your Casa (East West)
Albums – Sheila Ferguson
- 1997: Always (Original Cast Recording)
- 2000: Misty Blue…And More
- 2002: Songs From Oh! What A Night
- 2006: A New Kind Of Medicine
Singles with The Kittens
- 1961: Count Every Star / I’m Worried (Chestnut)
Singles with The In Crowd
- 1965: Let’s Shindig / You’re Gonna Miss Me (Swan)
Singles – Sheila Ferguson
- 1964: How Did That Happen / Little Red Riding Hood (That’s What They Call Me (Landa)
- 1965: I Weep For You / Don’t (Leave Me Lover) (Swan)
- 1965: Are You Satisfied / And In Return (Swan)
- 1965: Heartbroken Memories / Signs of Love (Swan)
- 1994: When Will I See You Again ’94 (5 mixes) (XSRhythm)
- 2004: New Kind Of Medicine / Please Don’t Take… (D-Group)
- 2007: Fool Of The Year [Unreleased: Available on 2007 CD & DVD set Disco 2008 (City Centre) ]
Singles with The Three Degrees
- 1966: Love Of My Life/Are You Satisfied (Swan)
- 1968: Contact/No No Not Again (Warner Bros)
- 1968: If That Guy Walks Out Of My Life (Loma) [ Unreleased: Available on 1995 CD Best Of Loma Records (Warner Bros)
- 1969: Down in The Boondocks/Warm Weather Music (Metromedia)
- 1969: The Feeling Of Love/Warm Weather Music (Metromedia)
- 1970: What I See / Reflections Of Yesterday (Instrumental) (Neptune)
- 1970: Melting Pot / The Grass Will Sing For You (Roulette)
- 1970: Maybe / Collage (Roulette)
- 1970: Maybe / Sugar On Sunday (Roulette)
- 1970: I Do Take You / You’re The Fool
- 1971: You're The One / Stardust (Roulette)
- 1971: You’re The One / Rose Garden (Roulette & Mojo)
- 1971: There's So Much Love All Around Me /Yours (Roulette)
- 1971: Ebb Tide / Low Down (Roulette)
- 1972: Trade Winds / I Turn To You (Roulette)
- 1972: I Wanna Be Your Baby / Find My Way (Roulette)
- 1972: I Won’t Let You Go / Through Misty Eyes (Roulette)
- 1973: Dirty Ol' Man / Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me (PIR)
- 1974: Year Of Decision / A Woman Needs A Good Man (PIR)
- 1974: TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) / Something For Nothing (MFSB) (PIR)
- 1974: Love Is The Message / My One And Only Love (MFSB) (PIR)
- 1974: When Will I See You Again / I Didn’t Know (PIR)
- 1974: When Will I See You Again / Year Of Decision (US only) (PIR)
- 1975: Get Your Love Back / I Like Being A Woman (PIR)
- 1975: I Didn’t Know / Dirty Ol’ Man (PIR)
- 1975: Take Good Care Of Yourself / If & When (PIR)
- 1975: Take Good Care Of Yourself / Here I Am (Europe) (PIR)
- 1975: La Chanson Populaire / I Like Being A Woman (France) (PIR)
- 1975: Long Lost Lover / Lonelier Are Fools (PIR)
- 1976: Free Ride / Loving Cup (PIR)
- 1976: Toast Of Love / Do It (Use Your Mind) Epic)
- 1976: What I Did For Love / Macaroni Man (Epic)
- 1977: Standing Up For Love / In Love We Grow (Epic)
- 1977: We’re All Alone / In Love We Grow (Epic)
- 1978: Giving Up, Giving In / Giving Up, Giving In (Long Versin (Ariola)
- 1978: Giving Up, Giving In / Woman In Love (US only) (Ariola)
- 1979: Woman In Love / Out Of Love Again (Ariola)
- 1979: The Runner / Out Of Love Again (Ariola)
- 1979: The Runner / Woman In Love (NL)
- 1979: The Golden Lady / Sophisticated Like You (Instrumental) (Ariola)
- 1979: Jump The Gun / Falling In Love Again (Ariola)
- 1980: My Simple Heart / Hot Summer Night (Ariola)
- 1980: Without You / Magic In The Air (Ariola)
- 1980: Starlight / Set Me Free (Ariola)
- 1984: Liar / Hamba Gashle (3D)
- 1985: The Heaven I Need / Gimme Gimme Gimme (Supreme)
- 1985: This Is The House (Supreme)
Single with Disco Aid
- 1986: Give Give Give / Give Give Give (Instrumental) (Total Control)
Single with Anti-Heroin Project
- 1986: Live-In World / Something Better (EMI)
Single with Lana Pellay (Backing vocals)
- 1986: Pistol In My Pocket (5 mixes) (Sublime / TSR)
Single with Dance Aid
- 1987: Give Give Give / Give Give Give (Instrumental) (Supreme)
Singles with Matt Bianco (Backing vocals)
- 1988: Don't Blame It On That Girl (3 mixes) (WEA / Atlantic)
- 1988: Say It's Not Too Late (WEA)
- 1990: Fire In The Blood (2 mixes) (East West)
- 1991: Samba In Your Casa (Extra track of 12" and CDS) (East West)
Single with The Star Alliance
- 2006: He's A Runner (Sporting Riff Raff) (Unreleased: Avilable on several compilation CDs)
Albums with The Three Degrees
- 1975: International (Japanese edition 12 tracks) (PIR)
- 1975: Maybe (2 extra tracks) (Roulette)
- 1975: The Three Degrees Live In Japan (PIR)
- 1976: A Toast Of Love (CBS/SONY)
Singles with The Three Degrees
- 1974: When Will I See You Again (Japanese) / A Woman Needs A Good Man (PIR) 1974: Midnight Train / I Didn't Know (PIR)
- 1975: Nigai Namida / I Like Being A Woman (PIR)
- 1975: La Chanson Populaire / La Chanson Populaire (Instrumental) (PIR)
- 1976: Do It (Use Your Mind) / Do It (Use Your Mind) (Long) (CBS/SONY) 1976: A Toast Of Love / Stop In Nevada (CBS/SONY)
Recordingｓ (France & Canada)
Single with The Three Degrees
- 1974: La Chanson Populaire (Live) / I Like Being A Woman (PIR) (South Africa)
Album with The Three Degrees
- 1976: The Three Degrees Live (2 extra tracks) (PIR)
Album with The Three degrees
- 1994: It's Cliff Richard / Show No.5 (Live from 1974 TV show) (Various artists) (Quality Music)
- 1970: THE FRENCH CONNECTION with The Three Degrees
TV CREDITS (UK, USA & South Africa)
As an actress
- 1992: BROOKSIDE as Susan Robinson
- 1992: DESMONDS as Rochelle Jackson
- 1992: LAND OF HOPE AND GLORIA as Gloria Hepburn
- 1970: The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with The Three Degrees
- 1970: The Ed Sullivan Show with The Three Degrees
- 1972: Soul Train with The Three Degrees
- 1973: Sanford & Son (‘Presenting The Three Degrees’)
- 1973: Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club
- 1974: It’s Cliff Richard
- 1974-1979: Top of The Pops
- 1974: Musical Time Machine
- 1974: Sunday Night At The London Palladium
- 1974: The Golden Shot
- 1975: The Les Dawson Show
- 1975: The Three Degrees (BBC TV special)
- 1975: They Sold A Million
- 1976: Seaside Special
- 1976: Saturday Night At The Mill
- 1976: The Shirley Bassey Show
- 1976: Bring On The Girls
- 1976: Wednesday At Eight
- 1976: The Tommy Cooper Show
- 1977: The Marti Caine Show
- 1977: Supersonic
- 1977: Saturday Banana
- 1977: The Bernard Manning Show
- 1978: Ronnie Corbett’s Sunday Special
- 1978: Mike Yarwood In Persons
- 1979: The Des O’Connor Show
- 1979: An Evening With The Three Degrees (Live at the Royal Albert Hall)
- 1979: The Shirley Bassey Show
- 1982: There’s Something Wrong In Paradise
- 1982: Take Three Degrees (BBC TV special)
- 1984: Sunday Sunday (with Gloria Hunniford)
- 1984: Cannon & Ball
- 1985/86: Blankety Blank
- 1985: Tonight With Des O’Connor
- 1985: Wogan
- 1985: Soul Train (UK)
- 1987: Hudson & Halls
- 1992: Live At Her Majesty’s
- 1992: The Brian Conley Show
- 1994: Blue Peter
- 1994: London Tonight
- 1994: GMTV
- 1996: Happy Birthday Shirley
- 1996: An Audience With Freddie Starr
- 1997: Countdown
- 2000: Night Fever
- 2002: The Weakest Link
- 2003: The Royal Variety Performance
- 2004: This Morning
- 2004: Discomania
- 2005: I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here
- 2005: An Audience With Joe Pasquale
- 2005: Comic Relief In Da Bungalow
- 2005: An Audience With Al Murray
- 2005: Hell’s Kitchen
- 2005: Avenue of The Stars
- 2005: Brainiac
- 2002/4/6: Never Mind The Buzzcocks
- 2006: Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
- 2006: Be My Baby (The Girl Group Story)
- 2006: Celebrity Masterchef
- 2007: Loose Women
- 2008: Grumpy Old Women
- 2008: GMTV
- 2011: Celebrity Five to Go
- 2011: Sing if you can
- 2012: Hotel GB and David Gest
TV CREDITS (JAPAN)
- 1974: 3rd Tokyo Music Festival
- 1974: Music Fair ‘74
- 1974: Memories of Tokyo Music Festival
- 1975: TV Jockey
- 1975: Yoruno Hit Studio
- 1975: Kin-Lemo Kayoukyoku Maitta Tanukino Daihousou
- 1975: Best 30 Kayoukyoku
- 1975: Uwasano Channel
- 1975: Yumeno Yakata
- 1975: Music Fair ‘75
- 1975: 4th Tokyo Music Festival
- 1975: Ginza Now
- 1975: Star Sen-Ichiya
- 1975: Kayou Hit Plaza
- 1975: Yoruno Hit Studio
- 1976: Big Show
- 1976: Utano Golden Stage
- 1976: Muhammad Ali vs Antonio Inoki
- 1977: Yoruno Hit Studio
- 1977: Ginza Now
( Reseach : Takamitsu Sakurai and Ryuji Iijima )
- 1992: Bobby Davro – Summer season
- 1996: Rock With Laughter (with Cannon & Ball)
- 1997: Always
- 2000/1: Soul Train
- 2002/3: Oh! What A Night
- 2003/4: Thoroughly Modern Millie
- 2005: Behind The Iron Mask
- 2006: Cinderella – Panto
- 2007: Hot Flush
- 2007: The Songs of Sister Act
- 2007: Snow White – Panto
- 2008: Alladin - Panto
- 2009: Panto Dick Whittington as Fairy Oatcakes - Stoke-On-Trent
- 2010: Fame the Musical as Esther Sherman - touring Ireland
- 2011: The Hot 100 - Dubai
- 2011: West End Musical celebration Respect la Diva - London
- 2011: Panto Cinderella as The Fairy Godmother – Cambridge
- 2012: Daddy Cool as Pearl – Palma de Mallorca
- 2012: The Music & Magic Ball - London
- 2012: Panto Cinderella as the Fairy Godmother – Nottingham
- 2013: Legends of Soul spectacular – touring England