Lee Andrews, 79, of Sharon Hill, the former leader of Lee Andrews and the Hearts and the father of Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, drummer for the Roots, died Wednesday, March 16.
Mr. Andrews, born Arthur Lee Andrew Thompson in Goldsboro, N.C., in 1936, came from a performing family. His father, Beechie Thompson, was a member of the Dixie Hummingbirds. When Mr. Andrews was young, the Thompsons moved to Philadelphia, where he would form with the Dreamers, his first musical group, at Bartram High School.
The Dreamers would later change their name to the Hearts, releasing "Long Lonely Nights" via Main Line Record Distributing in 1957. It was the group's first hit, reaching No. 11 on the R&B charts.
"He represented the true sound of rhythm and blues and street-corner harmony," said the disc jockey Jerry Blavat, a longtime friend. "He opened up the door for the street-corner harmony groups that came out of Philadelphia. Before everyone, it was Lee Andrews and the Hearts."
The Hearts released two more hits in 1958, with "Tear Drops" and "Try the Impossible."
Following those releases, Mr. Andrews left the group and signed with Jordan Records as a solo artist.
"He patterned himself after Nat King Cole and that style," said the concert promoter Larry Magid, who met Mr. Andrews in 1961. "Like a lot of acts, he was the victim and at the will of the record companies. He never really got his due."
The Hearts were one of the first acts Magid booked as a student at Temple University. "If it wasn't for people wanting to see Lee Andrews, I'd probably still be trying to get out of college," Magid said.
As a solo artist, Mr. Andrews released "A Wise Man Said" before getting the Hearts back together. Mr. Andrews re-formed the group several times with a rotating roster of players throughout the 1960s. The group issued its final single in 1968.
Mr. Andrews' daughter, Dawn, a singer-songwriter who performs as Donn T., was born in 1962. Ahmir Khalib Thompson came along in 1971.
Mr. Andrews' final recording was released in 1973, when he joined with then-wife Jacqui to form Congress Alley.
By that time, Mr. Andrews was reportedly "disillusioned" with the music industry, Blavat said, eventually going into semiretirement, opening a dress shop in West Philadelphia.
"I always maintained that if he had proper management and the right record company behind him, he could have been a major, major star," Blavat said.
Mr. Andrews brought back the Hearts moniker for a final time in the 1970s, replacing former band members with wife Jacqui, son Ahmir, and daughter Dawn for a series of performances.
In 1992, the Philadelphia Music Alliance inducted Lee Andrews and the Hearts into the organization's Walk of Fame, with the ceremony taking place on the same day as the recording of the first Roots demo. In 2015, when the Roots were similarly inducted, Mr. Andrews and his son became the first father-son duo to be included on the Walk.
Following Mr. Andrews' death on Wednesday, Ahmir Thompson remembered him fondly on social media.
"I understand why you were so hard on me praying I didn't succumb to a fate not meant for a teenager in West Philly in the mid-80s," he wrote Wednesday on Instagram. "I didn't understand it at the time. But I appreciate it now."
Funeral arrangements were pending.