1960sThe Three Degrees were formed around 1963 in Philadelphia. They were discovered by producer and songwriter Richard Barrett. Barrett was responsible for groups of the 1950s such as The Chantels, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and The Valentines.Barrett recorded the original line-up on their first song, entitled "Gee Baby (I'm Sorry)", for Swan Records. Turner and Porter both left the group and were replaced by Helen Scott and a variety of other ladies before Janet Harmon joined in the mid 1960s Barrett also began managing and producing Sheila Ferguson, who was a high school friend of Scott. Barrett also signed Ferguson to Swan Records in 1965. The Three Degrees released a number of singles such as "I'm Gonna Need You" and a cover version of "Maybe" in 1966 with Helen Scott taking the lead vocals on this recording.
By 1966, with many performances lined up, Scott decided to leave the group to start a family. Ferguson filled in for Scott and would remain in the group for 20 years. Ferguson sang backup on all the group's Swan recordings as did the Three Degrees for her solo singles. By 1967, Harmon left and was eventually replaced by Valerie Holiday.Barrett signed them to recording contracts over the next three years with Warner Bros., Metromedia, and Neptune record labels; the latter of which was owned by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff who would work with group five years later. Their close harmony singing made them a popular nightclub act but that hit record still eluded them.
1970sBy 1970, they were signed to Roulette Records and they released their first album, Maybe. The title song, this time with Valerie Holiday taking the lead vocals took them to #4 on the US R&B charts. Other singles like "I Do Take You" and "You're The Fool" followed, as did their second album, So Much Love. This success landed them a cameo appearance in the 1971 film, The French Connection, filmed during one of their appearances at the Copacabana nightclub in New York, and also an engagement at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada with Engelbert Humperdinck.
In 1973, with their contract with Roulette ending, Barrett signed them to Philadelphia International Records under Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, where they were to have their greatest successes. The first song they recorded there was with the studio band MFSB, entitled "TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)" which was the theme song for Soul Train. Their Philadelphia International debut (The Three Degrees) will finally be issued on CD in 2010 by UK label Big Break Records.
The first album spawned three hits. "Dirty Ol' Man" went gold in the Netherlands and Belgium. The second single was "Year Of Decision" which made it to the Top 20 in the UK Singles Chart. Their third single "When Will I See You Again" was the one that broke the trio into the mainstream. It topped the UK Chart, reached #2 in the US, and sold over two million copies, earning the trio a gold record. The R.I.A.A. made the award on December 9, 1974
The Three Degrees also recorded two live albums; one from Leicester in the UK, and the other from Tokyo in Japan, and released both in 1975. The Three Degrees International, their second studio album on Philadelphia International, was marketed internationally in various languages. In Europe, the album was called 'With Love, and it spawned the hit single "Take Good Care Of Yourself" which was a Top 10 hit in the UK. Two songs from that album were big successes in Japan: "Midnight Train" and "Nigai Namida" (にがい涙), the second which was recorded in Japanese. In 1976, they parted company with Gamble and Huff and moved to CBS Sony/Epic Records where they released the concept album, A Toast Of Love, purely for the Far East market, although a single of the title track was released all over the world.
The group also made an appearance on the television series Sanford and Son, singing their song "I Didn't Know."
In 1976, Pinkney decided to leave the group and return to full time education and was replaced by former band member Helen Scott. In 1977, they released the album, Standing Up For Love.In 1978, The Three Degrees were signed to Ariola Records in Europe and the US and began working with Giorgio Moroder who had become a famed disco producer after his work with Donna Summer. Further success was to follow, and they released two albums on Ariola which delivered four UK Top 20 hits: "The Runner," "My Simple Heart," "Giving Up Giving In," and "Woman In Love." They performed at Buckingham Palace for Prince Charles's 30th birthday party, and would later be guests at the pre-wedding party on his marriage to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Their own television program was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in London, called The Three Degrees at The Royal Albert Hall in October 1979.
1980sBetween 1982 and 1985 The Three Degrees released two albums on their own 3D label; Album of Love and Live in the UK. On that label they released one single written by Ferguson, "Liar". They returned to the charts in 1985 with "The Heaven I Need" which was produced by Stock/Aitken/Waterman on Supreme Records.A third BBC Television show was also recorded in 1982, titled Take 3 Degrees, which included performances of their greatest hits, and also songs that the group were performing in their latest show, such as "I Can't Turn You Loose" and "Celebration".
In 1986, Miquel Brown filled in for Scott whilst the latter was pregnant. That same year Ferguson decided to leave the group Scott and Holiday replaced her with Vera Brown in 1986 and then Rhea Harris in 1987. In 1989, Scott and Holiday, along with new recruit Victoria Wallace, recorded an album entitled ... And Holding on Ichiban Records A single, "A Tender Lie" was also released. Following the album, the group recorded a live CD at London's Dominion Theatre, with Billy Paul and Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes in the summer of 1989. The group followed this with another tour of the UK and Japan at the end of the year.
1990s onwardsIn December 1989, Cynthia Garrison replaced Wallace, forming the longest running line-up of the group. In 1993, they were asked to record a new version of "When Will I See You Again" with Thomas Anders (Modern Talking). He supplied three tracks for their album Out of the Past Into the Future, marking their return to Ariola Records and their most successful album for 15 years.
Scott, Holiday and Garrison continue to tour. They made their first US TV appearance in over 20 years in 2003 on the PBS show, Rhythm, Love, and Soul with Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls and Mary Wilson. They were also part of the 'Best Disco In Town 2004 Tour' with The Pointer Sisters, Chic, The Emotions, and Evelyn "Champagne" King. They also took part in the 2007 'Best Disco In Town' tour in the United Kingdom in May 2007.
The group, together with founder member Fayette Pinkney, received various honours during 2007 and 2008, through BEMA-The Black Entertainment and Music Association and the City of Philadelphia for their contribution to music over five decades, creating, for the first time, The Four Degrees.
Fayette Pinkney died on June 27, 2009 after a short illness, at the age of 61.