When sisters, Bonnie, Denise, and Delores Dunning, formed the group Skyy, they joined with songwriters and producers Solomon Roberts Jr. and Randy Muller, to add melodious balance to the coalition of men in 1973. “That was the beginning of what Skyy was supposed to be,” says Solomon. “We weren’t even Skyy. We were female singers and a band. We put it together and after the band did so well, we decided to go out and do a hard record ourselves to see if we could repeat the success of Brass [Construction Band]. At that time, we decided we needed to come up with a name that would describe what we do. We didn’t want to sound like B.T. Express [Band], we didn’t want to sound like Brass [Construction band], We wanted to sound like us. We decided to take the funk of guys and the smooth classiness of what the ladies had, and combined that to make the sound of Skyy.”
Bonnie, Denise and Delores, were already in a group, performing for the Miss Black America New York State Paget, but after Randy heard the girls sing Old Man Rivers by The Temptations in Acappella, he needed to get them on-board with their already established male-group, Brass Construction. The faction came up with the name Skyy after recording a few EP’s in Solomn’s basement, which is where they recorded many of their hits.
The group signed to Sasoul Records in 1979, and lived up to their potential as one of the hottest bands in New York. Skyy lit the disco scene up with their accumulation of vocal and instrumental arrangements by dispelling hits like Call Me, Real Love, and Start of a Romance.
“A homegrown product of Brooklyn, New York, Skyy was formed in 1973 by songwriter/guitarist Solomon Roberts Jr. and producer/songwriter Randy Muller, and joined by the fabulous Dunning sisters—Denise, Delores and Bonne—who solidified the band’s place as one of the premiere dance and funk outfits of their day. Signed by Salsoul Records in the late ’70s, Skyy became wildly popular in New York’s emerging disco scene with a series of early hits like “First Time Around,” “High” and “Here’s to You.” The band then scored its biggest success with the crossover hit “Call Me” in 1981. With the death of disco and rise of hip-hop, Skyy took a tumble in the mid ’80s and lost its record deal when Salsoul closed its doors in 1986, but years later miraculously revived with two number one hits, “Start of a Romance” and “Real Love.” Unfortunately, the band couldn’t keep up the newfound momentum and disbanded in 1992. But four years the Dunning sisters got back together as the Ladies of Skyy and continue to perform the band’s signature hits with the joy and exuberance that won them countless fans in their glory days.”
Watch The Ladies of Skyy on the Next Episode Of TV One's "UNSUNG" on Sunday, March 15 At 10 P.M./9C
Why was it important for you to share your story on TV One Unsung?
D: Well, I am really particularly happy that they felt we were relevant enough to be considered for that show. When you look at the types of artist that they’ve had, its run quite the gamit of R&B music. It’s an amazing way to showcase a little bit more intimate look and profile of us as artist. To have been chosen, to have our story by them in their fashion, is really quite an honor for us. I think one of the very unique things about us is that we reinvented oursevs by carrying on through the Ladies of Skyy, and carrying on the music and the legacy of Skyy’s Music, so I’m really, really happy that the Unsung brand decied to pick us and consider us as an unsung group.
That’s interesting that you said you’re carrying on the legacy. This interview talks about the highs and lows of your career. Since watching the episode for yourself, how did that make you feel?
B: I would have to say that watching the episode and really telling the story—it was about telling the story. It brought back a lot of memories for myself and all of us. There were things that we probably had put in the backgrounds of our minds, and then when they started to ask us things, we started to relive certain areas in our career. I believe it really brought a sense of accomplishment, and not just for me, but my sisters and to the guys, by reminding us of a really great career that we’ve had. We are actually continuing Ladies of Skyy, because if there wasn’t a Skyy, there would not be Ladies of Skyy. This is a story that we really wanted to tell.
What were one of your memorable recording moments?
D: I want to say the most memorable moment and the most torturous was, it was not you Sol—Solomon was kind, relatively kind; but Randy was a taskmaster. What many people don’t know is that [the] opening line in Call Me, “Sitting here, couldn’t help hearing you talking to your best friend…” Guess what, I must’ve sang that over five-hundred times before Randy finally said, “That’s it.” Technology was very different back then and people don’t realize that now, they can sing background vocals one time and basically place them wherever they want. Back then, we had to sing every single, solitary, moment in a song, every lyric, and every word. For that, I would say that “Call Me, was the most difficult, and on the other hand, I’d say Real Love Was a piece of Cake, right, Solomon?
S: When we recorded the demo in my basement, it was so easy. She [Denise] had the lyric sheet, and didn’t even know the song, and [she] just sang it off the lyric sheet as if she had been singing for years. The demo that we created was so good that it was then hard to duplicate once we actually went into the studio. We had to go back at it three times in the studio to top the demo because the demo kept sounding better than what we were recording in the actual professional studio.
B: I would have to say, for me, I think some of the tortuous moments were… the one thing that Solomon and Randy never did, they never gave us the song ahead of time. They would not give us the lyrics. They would not give us the melody until we got in the studio [to record]. Now, we’re in the studio with the lyrics on a stand, making little marks of where we had to go up, and where we had to go down. I think that was the worst; Not only did we need to learn to sing our notes, but also they [Solomon and Randy] were good at making us switch up, which I think leaned to the Skyy Sound.
D: Little did we know, they were geniuses in other words.
When Real Love came out, that song got me through middle school. I knew nothing about love but you couldn’t tell me I didn’t because of the song, breakups, makeup’s, whatever that meant back then. What influenced the vocals for that piece?
S: Being in the music business for as long as we had and being on the road, going through the different trials and tribulations, real life goes through different phases, and because of that, I could see that kind of relationship happen with different people in the group and with myself. At the time, I wasn’t experiencing it, but I had. I said that it was time for this type of feeling to come out. We needed a strong ballad for the record and I said, “Denise would be perfect to relay this feeling,” and she was. I couldn’t believe how it came together so easily. When it’s right, it’s right, and she made it right.
When you think about the life lessons in this, being in the music industry as long as you have, what would you have done differently? Would you keep everything the same?
D: From my perspective, the journey that we took has put us in the place that we’re at right now, and we’re in a good place. I think you only look back with regrets because you see something wrong on the tail end. I think whether it was a good situation, a bad situation, we enjoyed every minute of what we did. We got through it together. Like they said, if it aint broke, don’t fix it. I’m fully satisfied with the move that we took.
S: Well, I have one regret, if he’s listening. George, I’m sorry that we left you at the restaurant. Although it turned out okay, we met up in New York. When being on tour, things happen. When you go into a rest stop, you’re trying to make it to the next place and suddenly, you’re fifty miles down the road, and you turn around and realize, you’re missing a crew member. Other than that, everything was fine.
B: My sister, Denise, and Sol are absolutely right. If I think about the fact that if it weren’t for Skyy, many of us would not have enjoyed the friendship and [we are] still enjoying the friendship—the family atmosphere that we had on the road, in the studio, and at gigs. A lot of people would wish and want for that. We were very privileged to have done that and still do it, and still have relationships with all the guys in the band, and Solomon, we love him to death. When we get tired, we call him and tell him that we are coming to his house for the weekend. He opens his house to us. We’re just one big happy family, still. I’m so glad about that because there are so many groups out there that don’t even speak to one another anymore because of things that may have happened during their career. We were very fortunate, very fortunate that has not happened to Skyy.
With that last statement, and as far as groups go because we don’t see anymore groups the way we did back then when you guys came out, what would you say to those people who’s still beefing, who’s still got stuff going on till this day? What words of encouragement could you give them to kinda rekindle that friendship or come to a common agreement?
D: I think, first of all, some people need to humble themselves because I really believe that ego plays a part in you really separating yourself from people that you’ve had this very deep experience with of sharing music. On the other hand, sometimes you need to forgive people because most people breakup over business issues. Some of it is personal. If it’s personal, you need to look back at it especially if so much time has passed by—it’s like it’s [beef] is really over. For the sake of coming back together , you need to have some level of humility in your heart. You need to forgive that person and say, “Come on! Let’s get back together for the sake of originality and authenticity. That’s the reason some peple need to take that advice.
This is speaking to the feature airing [on Unsung], what is one of the topics that you tackle in the episode that you think audiences will love?
D: I think they are going to love the ups and downs of our career. As long as we were out, we enjoyed a thirteen year career as Skyy. It really shows the ups and downs of recognition and success. I wouldn’t consider any of it a failure. Some may see it that way. Sometimes it’s just not your time. I think that’s going to be manifested in our episode.
B: I think people are going to enjoy the continuation of the story because Skyy is still around; The Ladies of Skyy is still around. I think they’re going to enjoy that there is a continuation of the story, even though we may not have new music coming out. Even though we may not be singing with the band anymore, its still a continuation and it’s still all Skyy.
S: Anything can happen. We are not dead. We are alive and kicking. You never know.
Are you working on new projects?
D: Interesting enough, we don’t. People have approached us with various ideas. As Bonnie mentioned, we are so much more comfortable with music that suits our style. A lot of the music today is not something we want to portray in content. When we get a hold of that, we got something to show folks.
What message would you have for R&B singers today?
B: Music today—I would say that not all of the music today, but I would say, “clean it up.“ Denise and me say all the time, “Music is a message.“ If the message is positive, if the message is fun, I feel people will enjoy it more. There are times where I listen to music on the radio, then I have to turn the radio off. I think that if people start going back to the good times, going back to the basics, I think the industry would be better for it.
S: My two cents is just be authentic and be true to yourself. If you have something that’s truly different, people will respond to it. A lot of the people are looking to copy someone else's success in hopes of breaking through. I think we standout more by being different. I will always respond to something that I hear on the radio that’s different, and has a good feel to it. Being positive isn’t the only thing, but it’s a good thing to portray from time-to-time.
D: Music today, is a matter of taste. We are old school. I can’t think of anything other than who I am. Our influences were certainly very different than the influences of a lot of artist today, but I just want to see personally, a lot less negative ideas especially against women in particular. I don’t like any music that’s disrespecting women. A lot of the content for many of the songs is over the top for me. Overall, I think you might uplift the masses if we had messages that are more positive.
How was it working with the creative team for TV One behind this project?
D: All those guys who worked with us on the taping of Unsung were extremely professional, and a lot of fun. Well, we’re kinda fun people. Once they got to realize that they were dealing with some regular girls, especially going back to where we grew up, they got to see a side of us and we got to see a side of them. They were extremely professional. They are a very well oiled organization.
B: I have to say they were very accommodating. It was a long taping. They were accommodating and they were very relaxed. That was a good thing. They, being relaxed, which made us relaxed, could tell the story in a very relaxed form. I really appreciated that they were accommodating and wanted to make sure that we were okay.
S: In my experience, they were good interviewers kinda the way you are. They make you feel relaxed, and they were good at trying to get to what was the real story and they were interested. A lot of times you go in there, you are very guarded, and only put forth what you really, really, really, wanted.
They were comfortable and they were relaxed—they were good enough to allow you to get to the core of what the real story was. We were comfortable enough to let them in [our world].