It was one of those breaks that bands dream of. One fateful night in 1987, the Rude Boys were performing at the Reason Why club in their hometown of Cleveland. What set that performance apart from any other was that fact that award-winning R&B and soul singer Gerald Levert was in the audience. “I called him up to sing with us,” says Rude Boys’ lead vocalist Joe Little III, aka Joey Beanz. “After the show, he said, ‘Meet me tomorrow, I want to hear more.’ The rest is history.”
For the Rude Boys, who are headlining the inaugural Autumnfest Saturday, Nov. 7, at The Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, that chance meeting with Levert led to an introduction and, later, a signing with Atlantic Records in 1988. Their 1990 debut album, Rude Awakening, went on to be a gold record with two No. 1 singles on the Billboard R&B charts. One of those, “Written All Over Your Face,” won the 1991 Billboard Music Award for R&B single of the year. “All my life I’d wanted to win a big award,” says Little, a performer since childhood. “And my dream came true.”
Following that big success, in 1992 “My Kinda Girl,” a single off the Rude Boys’ second album, Rude House, was remixed by hip-hop DJ Clark Kent. The remix featured a then-unknown rapper. “We were the first national act that Jay-Z performed with,” says Little. The megastar-in-the-making also shared the stage with the Rude Boys that same year at an underground New York hip-hop club.
The rise of hip-hop acts like Jay-Z led to shifts in popular music, which, according to Little, meant “mainstream radio stopped playing R&B and threw it over to adult contemporary radio.” Faced with this change in climate, the Rude Boys disbanded.
Little stayed in the music business and built a dynamic solo career. “I got into writing and producing, and I found my niche,” he says. “I’ve worked with a lot of who’s who in the music industry.” That list includes Aretha Franklin, Men at Large, Wyclef Jean, Snoop Dogg, Charlie Wilson, the O’Jays and many more. With Levert, Little co-wrote two songs on the Temptations’ Grammy Award-winning 2000 album, Ear-Resistible.
Levert passed away in 2006, inspiring the Rude Boys to reunite in order to pay tribute to his legacy. Since then, the band has continued to be embraced by fans of R&B, soul and urban-contemporary music. Now based out of Atlanta, Kenny Myles and Gee Labeaud have replaced founding members Larry Marcus, Melvin Sephus and Edward Lee Banks. A new album, Rude 20/20, is coming out soon. The Rude Boys will be playing new songs as well as old favorites at Autumnfest. “It is going to be an explosive show with great singing,” Little says. “We’re known for putting on great shows. The crowd will be entertained, believe me.”
Autumnfest is a fundraiser for radio station WRES 100.7 FM, whose tagline is “The Urban Sounds of Asheville.” As station director John Hayes explains, “WRES was created so that we could empower people of low wealth with information that is necessary to build wealth.” In addition to educational programming, the station primarily plays R&B and soul music. Fans of the station will hear many of their favorite songs at the Nov. 7 concert — the lineup includes We Are One Tribute X-Perience Band (featuring the music of Frankie Beverly), Romonta & Friends with The Sounds of Motown, Ghetto Cowboy and local favorites Lyric and Westsound. The emcee will be Atlanta-based comedian T-Ray Saunders, who has appeared on “Comic View” and “Late Night Laugh Off.”
“Autumnfest is for everybody who listens to WRES,” says Hayes. “This will be a night for you to come out to enjoy great music and each other.”
WHERE: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, ticketmaster.com
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. $25 general/$45 VIP. Tickets are available at WRES, Venus Beauty Supply, New York Fashions and the U.S. Cellular Center box office.