Bernard Wilson, 64, who helped define the Sound of Philadelphia as an original member of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, died early Sunday.
Mr. Wilson, a North Philadelphia native, was part of the group's classic lineup during the early and mid-1970s that was responsible for such hits as "If You Don't Know Me by Now," "The Love I Lost," "Don't Leave Me This Way," and "Bad Luck."
He was the flashiest member, recalled Lloyd Parks, 61, the last surviving member of the group that rose to fame under legendary producers Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff.
"He wore the best clothes, mink coats, diamonds - and Cadillacs," Parks said Monday night.
Mr. Wilson died at the Kresson View Center nursing home in Voorhees, said his cousin Faith Peace-Mazzccua of Bensalem. He had suffered a major stroke last year and a heart attack this year, she said.
He grew up around 16th and Berks Streets in North Philadelphia, and 30th and Norris Streets in Strawberry Mansion, Peace-Mazzccua said. His parents died when he was young so he lived his later childhood years with his grandmother.
Mr. Wilson attended the Bok Vo-Tech High School, but at age 16, he left home to seek fame, she said. He dreamed of being an entertainer and wanted to impress girls.
"He was always singing and getting papers and writing down stuff ..." she said.
"We used to say, 'He left home a pauper, and came home a millionaire,'" she said.
The first incarnation of the group emerged in the 1950s and featured Harold Melvin, another Philadelphia native. At some point, Wilson became part of an evolving lineup.
But it wasn't until 1972, when the group reformed with Teddy Pendergrass as the lead vocalist, and signed to Gamble and Huff's Philadelphia International label that Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes shot to stardom.
The sound was soulful, yet lush with orchestral string arrangements that were the trademark of the Sound of Philadelphia, which foreshadowed the age of disco.
Wilson was the second tenor and baritone for the group, said Parks, who was first tenor.
During this period, the group also recorded the hits "I Miss You," and "Wake Up Everybody."
Two albums reached the top of the Rhythm and Blues chart and four songs hit No. 1, including "Hope That We Can Be Together Soon," which was recorded with Sharon Paige.
Pendergrass quit the group and had a successful solo career cut short when he was paralyzed in a car accident. He died in January. Harold Melvin died in 1997.
"Me and Bernie were the only two left," Parks said.
Wilson had hoped to recover from his illnesses and sing gospel, Peace-Mazzccua said.
The last time he performed was during the 1990s at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Parks said.
Wilson was once married and had an adopted son, Parks said.
Funeral services had yet to be finalized Monday night, but Peace-Mazzccua said the arrangements were being handled by the Keene & Carney Funeral Home at 1939 W. Diamond St., Philadelphia, 19121, 215-763-7265.
Services likely would be held Jan. 7 at Morris Brown AME Church 1756 N. 25th St., Peace-Mazzccua said.