Bernard "Bernie" Wilson, baritone vocalist for the soulful R&B group Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, died Sunday at Kresson View Center in Voorhees, N.J., said his cousin, Faith Peace-Mazzccua.
Wilson, 64, had suffered a stroke in 2009 and a heart attack this year.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Wilson joined Melvin, Teddy Pendergrass, Lawrence Brown and Lloyd Parks - the last surviving member - to create the fabled lineup that was signed to Philadelphia International Records in 1972.
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes produced hit records in the 1970s, and the group played a major role in sculpting the Sound of Philadelphia. Their hit "If You Don't Know Me by Now" topped the R&B charts and made the top five on the pop charts.
That was followed by hit songs "I Miss You," "Bad Luck" and "Wake up Everybody." "The Love I Lost" has been credited as one of the first disco records, according to an All Music Guide biography on the Billboard website.
"He left home a pauper at 16 and came back home a millionaire," said Peace-Mazzccua, adding that Wilson had wanted to sing gospel once he got better.
Wilson was born in North Philadelphia to Kathlene and Edward Wilson, both of whom died by the time Wilson was 11. He lived with relatives including his aunt, Peace-Mazzccua's mother, until he got his own apartment at 16.
Wilson was described as a smart, business-savvy sharp-dresser who loved to entertain.
"[Music] was his life. It was a part of him," Peace-Mazzccua said. "He was born to do it."
Wilson also enjoyed making people smile."He was funny," said Parks. "He kept you in stitches."
"I learned a lot of what I know from Bernie," Parks said, adding that Wilson choreographed the group's dance moves in addition to making sure they wore hip outfits for their shows.
Don Williams, owner of Don's Doo Shop, a North Philly barbershop, will always remember the good times he shared with Wilson when they were teenagers. "He was a good guy," Williams said. "He was a friend in every way."
Funeral arrangements were pending last night.