O'Kelly Isley, Jr.
Kelly Isley
Born Cincinnati, Ohio
December 25, 1937(1937-12-25)
Origin Teaneck, New Jersey
Died Alpine, New Jersey
March 31, 1986(1986-03-31) (aged 48)
Genres R&B, soul, doo-wop, funk, rock
Occupations Singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1954–1986
Associated acts The Isley Brothers
Jimi Hendrix

O'Kelly Isley, Jr. (December 25, 1937 – March 31, 1986), better known as Kelly Isley, was an American singer and one of the founding members of the legendary family group, The Isley Brothers.


Born the eldest of six boys to Sally and O'Kelly Isley, Sr. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Kelly, started singing in church at an early age. By the time he was in teens, he was singing regularly with his younger brothers Rudy Isley and Ron Isley. In 1957, following the death of fourth brother Vernon, the 19-year-old Kelly, and his two brothers Rudy, 18, and Ron, 16, moved from Cincinnati to New York finding deals with local labels cutting regional doo-wop singles. Their regional success eventually landed the group a deal with the established RCA label in 1959. By the summer of 1959, the Isley family had moved from Cincinnati to a home in Englewood, New Jersey.[1]

Following a concert tour where they had opened for R&B legend Jackie Wilson, Kelly and his brothers wrote "Shout". Mixing gospel with rhythm and blues, the song became an early signature hit for the trio. Three years later, the group's frenetic cover of "Twist & Shout" established the trio. After a brief run with Motown Records, the brothers reformed their own T-Neck Records label in 1969. Kelly served as an executive of the label along with Rudy while Ron was the label's president. The trio's next big hit was 1969's "It's Your Thing".

The group didn't hit their strides commercially however until 1973 when the group reformed with a new lineup featuring younger brothers Ernie Isley and Marvin Isley and in-law Chris Jasper. The new lineup spanned more than eleven gold and six platinum albums between 1973 and 1983. Throughout this period, records by the Isleys were created by Kelly's younger brothers for he, Rudy and Ron's vocal harmonies. Kelly had brief chances at lead vocals throughout the group's career singing on "Black Berries", in which according to Ron, it was Kelly who made up the saying, "the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice". Kelly also sang on the Isleys' 1976 ballad track "Let Me Down Easy" showing vocal similarities between him and his younger brother Ron. In 1985, the group's lineup shrunk back to a trio following the younger thirds' departure from the group following the release of 1983's Between the Sheets.

A heavyset man, Kelly contracted cancer and lost weight, which was shown on the group's album cover of Masterpiece. In March 1986, Kelly suddenly died of a heart attack at the age of 48 in his Alpine, New Jersey home leaving behind two sons, Frank and Doug.[2][3] He is buried in George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus, New Jersey.[4]

The Isley Brothers' follow-up record following Kelly's death, Smooth Sailin', was dedicated to him and featured their tribute song, "Send a Message".


  1. ^ Wilner, Paul. "Isley Brothers: A Family Affair", The New York Times, March 13, 1977. Accessed September 18, 2011. "WHEN Sallye Isley moved her brood of children from Cincinnati to Englewood in the summer of 1959, she was participating in a show-business phenomenon.... While their older brothers toured America, the younger Isley boys enrolled successively in Englewood Junior High and Dwight Morrow High School.... Right now, the brothers reside near enough to each other to keep in close touch. Ronald lives in Teaneck, Kelly Jr. in Alpine, Rudolph in Haworth and Ernie in Englewood."
  2. ^ O'Kelly Isley, 48, Of The Isley Bros. Dies In N.J.. http://books.google.com/books?id=qbADAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA52&lpg=PA52&dq=O%27Kelly+Isley,+Jr.+obituary&source=bl&ots=XwoI_MA6Nu&sig=GBwiaAM3prl6jrRju3aoRYCaLQk&hl=en&ei=YN90S--uLcGQtgf52smaCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CA0Q6AEwAjgK#v=onepage&q=&f=false. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  3. ^ Associated Press. "O'KELLY ISLEY", The New York Times, April 3, 1986. Accessed October 8, 2007. "He was 48 years old and lived in Alpine. Born Dec. 25, 1937, Mr. Isley grew up in Cincinnati and began his musical career singing gospel with his brothers, who performed with their mother accompanying on piano."
  4. ^ Browse by Cemetery: George Washington Memorial Park, Find A Grave, accessed April 6, 2007

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