5th Dimension couple sings Beatles songs with civil rights twist

As two-fifths of the 5th Dimension, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. helped to let the sunshine in after the darkest times of the civil rights movement.

So the husband-and-wife duo, who have been married for 52 years, can’t believe just how far we haven’t come since the ’60s.

“It’s come back with a vengeance,” Davis, 82, told The Post about the racial injustice that has arisen from George Floyd to Daunte Wright. “In 2021, you would think that we had moved on so much farther past that . . . It hurts us. It’s like they’re our own sons and daughters that are being killed.”

As their new album “Blackbird: Lennon-McCartney Icons,” a collection of Beatles covers, arrives on Friday, the “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” couple is still fighting the good fight for the black struggle.

Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.
Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.
Getty Images

“You think about the blackbirds being the babies that leave their mother’s nest, and they go out to discover the world and to find out what life is about,” said McCoo, 77. “And sometimes they don’t come back. That’s [why] so many of these young people that have been killed recently, they’re our blackbirds.”

With such ’60s and early ’70s classics as “Up, Up and Away,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “One Less Bell To Answer” and, of course, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” the pioneering pair that made flower-power pop something that crossed the color lines in the midst of racial divisiveness still feels that there is so much work to be done in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I mean, my wife is scared for me to go out after all these years,” said Davis.

And, McCoo added, “I’m always glad when he walks through the door.” 

On “Blackbird,” Beatles gems such as “Help!” and “Ticket to Ride” take on a whole new meaning. Of the latter, McCoo said, “It kind of lent itself to Rosa Parks’ story and the bus boycott back in the ’50s as a result of her refusing to give up her seat.”

The 5th Dimension
The 5th Dimension
Michael Ochs Archives

In 1968, the 5th Dimension won four of their six Grammys for “Up, Up and Away,” which took home Record of the Year the same night that The Beatles picked up Album of the Year for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

“At that time, there was no Grammy Awards on television,” said McCoo. “So the first time we find out that we were nominated . . . we’re saying, ‘What’s a Grammy?’ ”

Surprisingly, though, the 5th Dimension got rejected by Motown before their Grammy-winning glory. “We had gone to Motown hoping to get a record deal, which didn’t come together,” said McCoo. “Because we were up against the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops. So we never stood out enough.”

The cover of "Blackbird: Lennon-McCartney Icons" the new album from Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.
“Blackbird: Lennon-McCartney Icons” is the new album from Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.

But funnily enough, added McCoo, “We’ve run into Berry [Gordy] many times through the years, and he says, ‘You guys got away from me!’ ”

For McCoo and Davis, playing alongside B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson and Stevie Wonder at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival — which is the subject of the upcoming Questlove-directed documentary “Summer of Soul (…Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” — was a memorable moment with the 5th Dimension.

Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.
Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.
CBS via Getty Images

“We were so excited, because we were going to be performing in front of our own people,” said McCoo. “They weren’t rowdy; you didn’t need to have any police there.”

And 52 years after Marilyn sealed the deal with her Bill, they still love each other so.

They always will.

“We’re still best friends,” said Davis. “We’re together all day, every day. We don’t know how not to be together.”


New York Post

The New York Post is a daily tabloid newspaper in New York City. The Post also operates NYPost.com, the celebrity gossip site PageSix.com and the entertainment site Decider.com.

Related Articles

Back to top button