John Whitehead: Age 55 | Cause Of Death: GUNSHOT

(Born 1948, Died May 11, 2004)

Posted on Wed, May. 12, 2004
Elwood P. Smith / Daily News

John Whitehead was working on this SUV when he was shot behind his home yesterday afternoon.

R&B legend Whitehead slain


JOHN WHITEHEAD, half of the duo that penned some of the most popular R&B hits of the ’60s and ’70s, was shot to death behind his West Oak Lane home last evening, police said. Sources said police were questioning potential suspects, but no arrests as of late last night. Whitehead, 55, and his partner Gene McFadden, were best known for the hit “Ain’t No Stoppin Us Now,” which sold more than 8 million copies and earned the duo a Grammy nomination. They also wrote a slew of other classics, including “Backstabbers” for the O’Jays, and “I’ll Always Love My Mamma.”  The songwriter was shot in the head and another man critically wounded about 5 p.m. on Dallas Street near 19th, several sources said. The other victim, who was rushed to Albert Einstein Medical Center, was identified by family as a mechanic who was a close friend. He was listed in stable condition this morning, police said.  Whitehead, the father of 11 children, was in the alley behind his home repairing a hose on his SUV with the mechanic, said Aaliyah Medley-Castro, 27, his step-grandaughter.  “He was fixing his car and some guys came up and opened fire,” Medley-Castro said. She said the mechanic had earlier had “an altercation” with the same men.  Family and friends, including McFadden, flocked to the brick rowhouse, where Whitehead’s wife of 15 years, Elnor, sat sobbing with relatives in a second-floor bedroom. A steady stream of mourners offered their condolences. The mood was solemn, as they talked quietly, a visitor said. Whitehead’s awards, a half-dozen gold and platinum plaques, cover a foyer wall. His living room is filled with family pictures.  “He was very lovable. He will light up a room. He made everyone laugh,” his step-grandaughter said, adding that he had no enemies.  His manager, the singer Billy Paul, said the music community heard about the slaying at the Philly Music Awards, held last night at the Electric Factory.  Whitehead was to be a presenter, but never showed up, Paul said.  “I don’t know what happened. He was always a jovial guy. We were going to take off and get McFadden tonight,” said Paul, explaining that McFadden was going through some personal problems that they hoped to help him with. He wouldn’t elaborate.   Details were sketchy, and police released little information about the shootings.  McFadden and Whitehead were natives of North Philadelphia. As young men they formed a group called the Epsilons.  They were discovered by Otis Redding, and toured with him until the late ’60s, according to their Web site. Their first hit, “Backstabbers” for the O’Jays, became No. 1 in one week.  Paul said Whitehead was still writing and touring over the past couple of years.  “He was working. They just got back from New York,” Paul said, adding that they toured London and Detroit last year.  He said he last spoke with Whitehead Monday night.  “He was worried about McFadden and like, we’re out here trying to get heads or tails what happened.  “How we left it was, we said meet you at 8:15 at Electric Factory. He never showed up and it’s not like him to not show up.”  Kenny Gamble, co-founder of Philadelphia International Records, called Whitehead a creative wonder.   “The last time I saw him was maybe about a couple of months ago. He was in my office. We were talking about the old days and also about writing some new songs… He was very optimistic about the future.”   Veteran DJ Jerry Blavat remembered Whitehead as “a nice guy, always upbeat, always happy.” McFadden & Whitehead recently performed at Atlantic City’s Borgata on a concert promoted by Blavat, who recalled Whitehead as “a creative songwriter.”  A longtime friend who asked not to be named said, “Oh, I’m devastated. He was a friend of mine. I can’t f—— believe it.”  “He was a straight-up dude. There was no reason to kill him,” said his friend of 36 years. “He’s been singing all his life.” 

Whitehead not target of gunmen, police say

By Murray Dubin and Thomas J. Gibbons Jr.

Music legend John Whitehead likely was not the intended target of gunmen who shot and killed him and wounded a close family friend behind Whitehead’s West Oak Lane home, police said today. “At this time, we do believe that Mr. Whitehead was not the intended target, and that he was just there,” said Police Capt. Richard Ross, commander of the Homicide Unit. “I certainly don’t want to say he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, because he was outside his home.”  Investigators have identified the other victim as Oemidd Johnson, 20, of the 5800 block of Stockton Road in East Germantown, who they said might have been a nephew of Whitehead’s.  Investigators believe that Johnson, who was in stable condition today at Albert Einstein Medical Center with gunshot wounds to the buttocks, “may have been the intended target,” Ross said.  Police are seeking two young men who brazenly opened fire in the driveway behind Whitehead’s two-story rowhouse in the 1900 block of Dallas Street late Tuesday afternoon as Whitehead, 55, and Johnson worked on an SUV. The shooters then ran off.  “They just came up there and started shooting, obviously without any regard for anyone else who may have been around,” Ross said.  Whitehead, who was best known for the hit he recorded with Gene McFadden, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” was pronounced dead at the scene of a bullet wound to the neck.  Speaking at a news conference just before noon at Police Headquarters, Ross said that more than 10 shots were fired by the assailants from two different-caliber handguns.  Police have discounted robbery as a motive. “There’s nothing that leads us to believe it was random at all,” Ross said. “There may have been some dispute or some altercation that took place some time ago. We haven’t firmed that up just yet. But that’s the direction we’re proceeding in.”  According to court records, Johnson has been convicted twice. On Nov. 1, 2001, he was sentenced to one year of probation for a simple-assault charge, and on Feb. 26, 2003, he was placed in a rehabilitation program for drug offenses.  Police said they hoped someone would come forward and identify the gunmen, who did not attempt to disguise themselves.  At Whitehead’s home today, friends offering condolences came and went in the bright sun and summer-like warmth.  Two women identified themselves today as Whitehead’s wife. One of them, Elnor Whitehead, said she was in the basement doing the laundry when the shots rang out Wednesday afternoon.  At the time, John Whitehead and Johnson had been behind the house, installing a radiator hose in his vehicle.  “I ran out, lifted his head, and he wasn’t breathing,” she said as she began to cry. “His memory will never die.”  Meanwhile, Anita Yvonne Whitehead, 50, of the 1700 block of East Washington Lane, maintained that she was Whitehead’s widow, a statement supported by a police report of the shootings on which she is named as next of kin.  “I am his true legal wife,” she said. Anita Whitehead said the couple were married in 1971 and had not divorced. And, although the couple lived apart, they were not separated, she said.
In front of John Whitehead’s residence, grief and laughter commingled today.
Dawn Whitehead, 33, of Warrington, one of the R&B artist’s 10 children, said her father was a laughing free spirit who loved to have his feet rubbed, and would sometimes bribe his children to do it.  “This neighborhood is going to be so quiet now,” she said.
Standing in her father’s house, with its gold and platinum records on the wall in the vestibule and family pictures in the living room, Caiya Whitehead, 19, said, “You heard him down the block when he was laughing.”  Caiya Whitehead, who lives in Mount Airy, said, “They don’t know who they killed.”  Elnor Whitehead said that John Whitehead – who in the late 1970s was part of the Philadelphia Sound associated with Leon Huff, Kenny Gamble, and their Philadelphia International Records – had talked of new music, working with HBO, and writing his autobiography.  Standing on the steps of her son’s house, Mary Whitehead talked of the song “I’ll Always Love My Mama.” The piece, which was recorded by the Intruders and penned by McFadden and Whitehead, “was written for me,” she said.
Sean Whitehead, 28, who lives in the Northeast and who resembles his father, asked: “How am I going to tell my boys? How do you break that kind of news?”
His sons, Sean Jr., 9, and Alim, 7, had seen their “Pop-Pop” on Saturday. “I always brought them over on the weekend. We’d sit back, make some crabs, have some fun. My dad was a good dude who touched people with his music and with his character. He was just an innocent bystander. How do I tell them that?”