Chapel Hill-based party band Liquid Pleasure performs globally and gives back locally
By Anna-Rhesa Versola / Photography by John Michael Simpson
“We like to say we’re older than The Jackson 5, and we grew up one block from here,” says Kenneth “Kenny” Mann Jr.
of his band, Liquid Pleasure, as he sits inside a booth at Mama Dip’s Kitchen. The comparison to the Motown-pop band from Indiana is an apt one as three of the six original members are cousins, though they all consider themselves as brothers. At the next street corner is the band’s headquarters, where a few flashy dinner jackets are draped over boxes and equipment inside the modest office.
Liquid Pleasure is back on the show circuit this summer after losing one of its founding members – Melvin C. Farrington Jr. – to COVID-19 in March. Kenny says after he was vaccinated in January, he was surprised by his cousin’s hesitation to be protected against the virus. “That’s messed up,” Kenny recalls. “We’re both diabetic. [If] we get this thing, we don’t stand a chance.” A month later, Melvin was hospitalized. “‘Tell everybody to get the vaccine.’ And that’s the last words I heard from him,” Kenny says.
Melvin’s final words encouraged other band members, family and friends to get their vaccines. “So, he saved some lives,” Kenny adds.
KEEPING IT LOCAL
Melvin, who was a renowned bass guitarist, would set the thumping groove for every performance. His spirit will live on in a scholarship fund created by Al Bowers, owner of Al’s Burger Shack.
“I just wanted to do something,” Al says. “Melvin was such a nice guy. You know those people who don’t have to say a lot, but they’re solid guys – he was that guy. His name should be remembered forever.” Al organized a benefit concert at Southern Village in April to raise money in Melvin’s name to send kids to summer camp at the Hargraves Community Center, close to the area where many band members grew up.
Donations from concertgoers were paired with Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation funding to support eight kids to attend nine weeks of summer camps, according to John French, supervisor at the community center.
“It meant a lot to me to be a part of this,” John says, adding that he coached Melvin’s youngest son, Melvin Farrington III, in basketball at Chapel Hill High School and continues to mentor him. John says the kids who receive the scholarship are selected on a financial need basis and will have the opportunity to explore their interests through arts and crafts, STEM projects and sports and recreational activities.
“We actually got to make that scholarship; [Melvin] would have loved that,” Kenny says, adding that Melvin knew his quiet strengths by age 14. “He was like that guy in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ the man behind the curtain. He liked working with the machinery and doing the sounds and gadgets. I mean, we worked so well together. I wake up now and say, ‘I gotta call Melvin.’ I do it almost every week.”
Tonya Williamson of Raleigh joined Liquid Pleasure in October 2010 as a singer. Only Gwendolyn “Gwen” Farrington, Melvin’s wife, has been a singer with the band longer. Tonya describes the band as part of her extended family.
“Melvin was like the daddy of the [singers], and I felt like I was the kid he was hardest on,” Tonya says. “He was a perfectionist. When it’s showtime, he doesn’t want any B.S. He wore many hats. He did the sound. He serviced the van. He managed the [singers]. We hadn’t had a show since December 2020. Melvin was very afraid of COVID. He would have his mask on, even in the van. He would drive five hours with his mask on.”
At the end of February, Tonya picked up her phone thinking that Melvin was calling to speak with her. She kept saying hello but heard no voice at the other end of the line. “I didn’t know he had been sick until two days before he died,” she says. “He called me on his dying bed, and I guess he just wanted to hear my voice. It was his way of saying goodbye. It was dying grace. He had a sweetness about him toward the end.”
Melvin Farrington’s Letter
A poem written by lifelong family friend Pat “Toosie” Jenkins James
My Dear Gwen and Family, If this is being read, then you already know.
My work here is done, so I had to go.
For three weeks, I fought with all my might,
Before I took my final flight.
Gwen, I sure missed you when I was gone
And wanted so badly to return to our home.
I did everything a husband should do,
And that was take good care of you.
Lo-K-Shun and Liquid Pleasure bands, I know this is hard for you to understand. Now one of you needs to make sure everything is all right before y’all take the stage each night.
I can only imagine the pain everyone must feel
Now that COVID-19 has become painfully real. Gwen, we lived our dream of singing in a band
Along with Archie, Charles, Leonard and Kenny Mann. Musicians make the world a much better place,
For music can surely put a smile on your face.
Bishop, there is only one thing left to say: Thanks for taking care of my family while I’m away.
To all my children, grands, sisters and family, too, Please know I love and miss all of you. Remember I am just a memory away
And that memory will make you smile one day.