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Passings: Sylvester Potts of the Contours

Potts, front, with the most recent version of the Contours
by VVN Music

Sylvester Potts, a member of the Motown group the Contours from almost their beginning until today, has died.

Potts joined the group in 1961, shortly after they had been signed to Motown and after the release of their first single. replacing Benny Reeves, brother of Martha Reeves, who had only been with the group a few months before being drafted.

The Contours released a second single that failed to chart before Motown founder Berry Gordy gave them a song he had written, Do You Love Me. After some initial problems with the song, the group finally found the formula of vocalist Billy Gordon practically shouting the lyrics. The song went to number 3 on the Hot 100 and 1 on the R&B Singles, earning The Contours a gold record.

A series of followup singles charted but were far less successful including Shake Sherry (1963 / #43 Pop / #21 R&B), Can You Do It (1964 / #41 Pop / #16 R&B) and Can You Jerk Like That (1964 / #47 Pop / #15 R&B) but disagreements with the label soon saw four of the five members leave Motown, leaving only vocalist Billy Gordon.

Berry Gordy hired a new version of the Contours but, a year later, Potts returned to the group. Unfortunately, they never found much chart success and, in 1967, their contract with Motown expired and the band split up.

A resurrected version of the group toured throughout the 70's and, in 1984, Potts returned to the Contours and was able to ride a new wave of popularity starting in 1987 when Do You Love Me became a hit again through the movie Dirty Dancing.

Potts stayed with the group until 2004 when he broke off and joined another local Detroit group, Upscale, changing their name to the Contours and setting off a round of lawsuits with another former member, Joseph Billingslea. The eventual settlement let Potts move forward under the name "The Contours Featuring Sylvester Potts".