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Joe Billingslea
Second Tenor, Baritone and Lead

Joseph Billingslea, Jr. was born in Hamtramck, Michigan on November 14, 1937. Before his first birthday, his parents moved to Detroit, where Joe grew up and attended school. He sang with the boys' choir while attending Chadsey High School. After graduation, Joe enlisted in the United States Air Force. While stationed in Maine, Joe formed a vocal group with four other airmen called the Revere Tone Five. (The name was taken from the brand of tape recorder that they used for recording). After receiving an honorable discharge following his four-year stint, Joe returned to Detroit.

Joe Billingslea

Upon his return, Joe was invited by an old high school friend, Billy Gordon, to join his singing group, The Majestics. In 1958, the group disbanded, so Joe and Billy decided to form a new vocal group. Joe placed a want-ad in the local newspaper looking for singers. Billy Hoggs responded to the ad and became the group's third member. At Hoggs' recommendation, his friend Billy Rollins, became the fourth member of a group they named The Blenders. Within weeks, Rollins was replaced with another friend of Hoggs, Leroy Fair. In 1959, Hubert Johnson was added, making the group a quintet. At Joe's suggestion, the group renamed itself "THE CONTOURS."

Within days of the name change, THE CONTOURS signed a recording contract with Motown Records. The group's first two records in 1960 and 1961 on the Motown label didn't get much airplay outside the Midwest. However, in 1962 the group made music history with the million-seller, "Do You Love Me", recorded on Motown's newest label, Gordy. Joe continued to sing with THE CONTOURS for two more years, racking up a number of chart hits on the way. In 1964, Joe (and every other member except Billy Gordon) left the group over creative differences with Motown.

Joe took a job for Chrysler Corporation at the Dodge Truck Plant in Warren, Michigan. A year later, he was elected UAW Chief Steward; a position he held until he resigned in 1968 to join the Wayne County Sheriff's Department. In 1977, he put his years of law enforcement experience to work by joining the Detroit Correctional Department (DeHoCo), eventually reaching the rank of Sergeant.

In the early seventies, Joe reconstituted THE CONTOURS and the group began playing weekends in the greater Detroit area, with occasional dates outside Michigan, including a few international dates. While leading The Contours, he continued to work his day job and in November 1985 he was assigned to the Detroit Police Department, 9th Floor Lockup.

In 1987, the release of the movie, "Dirty Dancing" created an interest in THE CONTOURS' music from a new generation. The 1988 re-release of "Do You Love Me" from the movie's soundtrack soared on the charts, eventually going multi-platinum at level 4.0. The movie's success prompted the "Dirty Dancing Tour," originally scheduled to be three months long. Joe took a leave of absence from the Detroit Police Department to participate. However, the tour became so popular that promoters expanded it to ten months. THE CONTOURS traveled around the country, through Europe and to Joe's favorite place on the tour, Australia.

In 1989, Joe decided to resign from the Detroit Police Department to devote all of his time to THE CONTOURS and his singing career. He continues to perform to this day. He is married and has eight children - five boys and three girls.

Joe is grateful for his long musical career and he never forgets those responsible for making him a successful entertainer. He thanks:

  • The late original members of THE CONTOURS, Billy Gordon, Hubert Johnson & Leroy Fair.
  • The other living original member - Billy Hoggs,
  • Berry Gordy, Jr., for giving THE CONTOURS the opportunity to record "the best song he ever wrote" and for Joe's early success,
  • Other long-time current members Charles Davis (since 1984), Gary Grier (since 1993) and Al Chisholm (since 1993),
  • New member Odell Jones (since 2006), who can sing all harmony parts plus lead,
  • His manager, Paul Loeber, who stepped in during trying times, and
  • The Fans for remembering and loving THE CONTOURS and supporting their music over the years.

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Last updated Friday, September 21, 2012.
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