Willie “Sugar Bear” Ford Jr., one of the earliest members of The Dramatics, passed away May 28 in Detroit at the age of 68. Known for his outstanding bass voice, Ford joined The Dramatics in 1968. His hero was another well-known bass singer of the time, Melvin Franklin of The Temptations.
“He was one the greatest bass singers of all-time, along with Melvin Franklin of The Temptations,” said Michael Henderson, who produced songs for The Dramatics.
Ford was born July 10, 1950 in LaGrange, Georgia. He migrated north to Detroit when he was a child and lived around the corner from Smokey Robinson of The Miracles, in the predominately Black North End neighborhood. Like many in his community, including Robinson, Ford attended Northern High School, graduating in 1967. At Northern, he played the saxophone in the school band, baseball, and ran track.
Prior to joining The Dramatics, Ford sang with the Capitols. He became a Dramatic in 1968, before the group was signed by Stax Records of Memphis. Ford used his deep voice on many songs for The Dramatics, including, “Me And Mrs. Jones”, “Love is Here”, ”Don’t Go There”, “Love is About to Start”, “Let’s Make Luv Forever, “Be My Girl” and “I’m so Alone”, among others.
While the group had various compositions, once L.J. Reynolds replaced William “Wee Gee” Howard in 1973, the core of the group was set for several decades. With Reynolds’ gruff baritone and Ron Banks’ soaring falsetto, Willie Ford’s bass sound, the smooth Lenny Mayes and singer and group choreographer Larry “Squirrel” Demps, a unique group harmony and stage show was created and that kept The Dramatics at the top of the charts for the remainder of the 1970s and early 80s. The Dramatics were inducted into National Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2013.
The group was depicted in the 2017 film “Detroit.” Former member Larry Reed was caught up in the events of the riot, taking refuge at the former Algiers Motel off Woodward Avenue. The city of Detroit also named a street after The Dramatics in the Woodbridge Estates.
Ford’s viewing is set for Tuesday, June 11 from 10 a.m. until closing at the Swanson Funeral Home (14751 West McNichols Road). Home going services for Ford are set for Wednesday, June 12 at the Detroit World Outreach (23800 West Chicago) at 11 a.m. Following the home going services, a repast for Ford will be held at Bert’s Warehouse (2727 Russell).