Rudolph Isley, one of the co-founding members of the Isley Brothers, has died at the age of 84. An attorney for Isley, Brian D. Caplan, confirmed the news to Pitchfork and shared the following statement from the musician’s daughter:
Rudolph Isley, a founding member of the world famous Isley Brothers, died peacefully in his sleep on the morning of October 11, 2023. He died at his home, with his devoted wife Elaine by his side. They had been married for 68 years. Rudolph was a deeply religious man who loved Jesus.
Isley was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1939. By his teenage years, he was singing with his brothers O’Kelly, Ronald, and Vernon in the family band, but the boys briefly quit performing after Vernon was killed while riding his bicycle. In 1957, the three surviving Isley Brothers moved to New York to seek a recording contract, and, by 1959, they landed a deal with RCA and a hit single in “Shout!” After “Shout!” and an album of the same name, the group covered Phil Medley and Bert Berns’ “Twist & Shout,” turning it into a bona fide hit a year before the Beatles also struck gold with the pop single.
In the early 1960s, the Isley Brothers crossed paths with numerous musical legends, including Jimi Hendrix, who briefly played in their backing band, and Elton John, who played with the band in the United Kingdom. And, as was the case with many successful R&B acts at the time, the group met Berry Gordy and signed with one of his Motown labels, Tamla. In 1966, the band released its biggest Tamla single “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You),” featuring lead vocals from Ronald Isley and backing vocals from Rudolph and O’Kelly.
The Isley Brothers released just two albums via Tamla, finding greater success releasing their music through their own T-Neck Records. The label was responsible for Rudolph and the band’s first Grammy-winning song, 1969’s “It’s Your Thing,” and first No. 1 album, 1975’s The Heat Is On.
At its most expansive in the early 1980s, the Isley Brothers’ lineup included Rudolph, O’Kelly, Ronald, Ernie, and Marvin Isley, as well as Chris Jasper. In 1984, Ernie, Marvin, and Chris Jasper broke off from the Isley Brothers to form Isley-Jasper-Isley. Two years later, O’Kelly Isley Jr. died at the age of 48.
When Rudolph Isley left the band in 1989 to become a Christian minister, the only remaining Isley Brothers were Ronald and Ernie. Marvin Isley briefly returned to the group in the 1990s, and he died in 2010.
Ronald and Ernie Isley continue to perform as the Isley Brothers. At the time of his death, Rudolph Isley was involved in a legal battle with Ronald over the trademark of the Isley Brothers name.
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