The Isley Brothers Biography

One of R&B's Most Iconic Groups

The Isley Brothers
Jesse Grant/WireImage/Getty Images

The Isley Brothers is a group synonymous with R&B music. They are responsible for producing some of the most iconic, recognizable and enduring R&B hits, like "It's Your Thing," "That Lady, Pts. 1 & 2," "Twist and Shout," and "Summer Breeze." 

In total, The Isley Brothers have produced 14 Billboard Top 100 singles and seven No. 1 Billboard R&B hit singles. Ten of their albums have landed in the Billboard 200.

The group was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance for "It's Your Thing" in 1970. They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and into the Grammy Awards Hall of Fame in 1999.

The Isley Brothers Members

Who made up the Isley Brothers? True to their name, the R&B group included the Isley brothers as well as their father, "Kelly" Isley, and Chris Jasper:

  • Ronald "Ronnie" Isley: vocals (1954-present)
  • Ernie Isley: guitar and percussion (1973-1984, 1991-present)
  • Rudolph "Rudy" Isley: backing vocals (1954-1989, 2004)
  • O'Kelly "Kelly" Isley, Jr.: backing vocals (1954-1986)
  • Marvin Isley: bass (1973-1984, 1991-1997)
  • Chris Jasper: keyboard (1973-1984)
  • Vernon Isley: vocals (1954-1955)

Origins of the Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers are an R&B, soul and funk group that formed in Cincinnati in 1954. The group was originally made up of brothers Kelly, Rudy, Ronnie, and Vernon Isley. Father O'Kelly Isley, Sr., who served in the United States Navy, was a former gospel singer who envisioned his children following the same path. He started training his children to sing and perform from an early age.

Similarly to their father, the quartet initially focused on gospel music, with Ronnie serving as lead singer. But tragedy struck the group in 1955 when Vernon was struck and killed in a hit-and-run while riding his bicycle. He was just 13 years old. The group took a few years off and regrouped in 1957. The family moved to New York to further their career, and they switched their style to secular, non-religious music.

The Isley Brothers Early Career

By 1959 The Isley Brothers had scored a recording contract with RCA Records. Now a trio, they recorded their first successful single, "Shout," which eventually went gold. After failing to follow up the success of "Shout" with another hit, the group left RCA in 1962. They signed with Wand Records and produced their second pop hit: a remake of "Twist and Shout." After failing to generate a successful follow-up, the trio left Wand Records and founded their own label, T-Neck Records, in 1964.

The Group Grows

In 1968 the group produced their first Top 5 single: "It's Your Thing". This song marks bassist Ernie Isley's debut recording. The platinum-selling single also results in the group's first Grammy Award. In 1973 the group expanded musically, adding bassist Marvin Isley and keyboardist and brother-in-law Chris Jasper.

Their first album with all six members in 3+3, which was released under T-Neck in 1973. The album, like much of the group's early '70s releases, was a huge hit and spawned songs that would go on to become legendary, including "That Lady, Pts. 1 & 2" and a remake of the Seals & Crofts song "Summer Breeze".

Later Career

In 1984 Ernie and Marvin Isley and Chris Jasper left to form their own group, Isley-Jasper-Isley. Two years later original member O'Kelly Isley died of a heart attack. In 1989 Rudy Isley announced he was retiring from the group to become a minister.

The Isley Brothers remained musically dormant for quite some time, with Ronnie Isley and his wife, singer Angela Winbush, acting as caretakers of the group's name and legacy.

In 1991 Ronnie, Ernie and Marvin reformed the group, which had been renamed "The Isley Brothers featuring Ronald Isley." The group has carried this title ever since. In 1997 Marvin left the group due to diabetes-related complications. Ronnie and Ernie, however, still record under The Isley Brothers name.

Their most recent studio album, Baby Makin' Music, was released in 2006 under Def Soul. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B albums chart and No. 5 on Top 200.

Recommended Discography

  • It's Our Thing (1969)
  • 3+3 (1973)
  • The Heat Is On (1975)
  • Go for Your Guns (1977)
  • Between the Sheets (1983)
  • Eternal (2001)