Joe Coleman is busy with so many projects that he ties himself up in knots. But he has such smooth dance moves that he can untie himself just as quickly.
As the lead singer of The Platters for 23 years, Joe was a regular in Vegas, performing number-one hits like “Only You,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” om the regular. He performed with Barbra Streisand, Ben E. King, Smokey Robinson, B.B. King, Lou Rawls and the list goes on.
Today, at 75, he sings – and shows off those dance moves – with a group called Voices of Classic Soul. The group originally included Joe’s childhood friends Glenn Leonard and Joe Blunt, lead singers with The Temptations and Drifters. Currently, Voices of Classic Soul features Joe Coleman, Joe Blunt and Theo Peoples, who sang with the Temptations and Four Tops.
Before joining The Platters, Joe was a successful studio vocalist, songwriter, playwright, theatrical producer, and international soloist. Before Covid hit, he was performing an average of two shows per month around the country.
“We came off a very successful week of shows,” Joe recalls. “We had packed houses every day and we had bookings for Memphis, West Virginia, LA, Ohio, DC and Pennsylvania.” That was March 2020, and we all know what happened next.
“Opportunities are different now,” Joe says of the realities of Covid. “You have to be ready and available to do whatever God calls you to do.” God definitely has Joe’s number. Joe contributed a chapter called “When the Music Stopped” to the October 2020 anthology “Voices from the Pandemic.” “I talk about the trauma of not being able to work. It culminates with my belief that things would get better and we’d get back to work,” he explains. For now, Joe is moving with great caution. As of December, he was not accepting all gigs.
Pre-Covid Joe began collaborating on a children’s book that was released toward the end of 2021. Told in rhyme, “The DanSing Pancakes' Healthy Choices Musical Story” features Pablo and Priscilla Pancake who address the importance of being good friends, studying hard, eating healthy food, and avoiding cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. A QR code in the book launches a recording of the book’s theme song written by Joe and performed by him and a group of young singers. A portion of the book sales will be donated to the Boys and Girls Clubs of greater Washington, DC.
In November, Joe had a chance to read the book aloud at the Boys and Girls Club in Alexandria. “I was terrified,” he laughs. “Kids are so brutally honest.” He got some good advice on how to engage the kids and then admitted, “It went so well. It shocked me.”
In addition to writing and producing songs with Joe and Theo, Joe collaborates with his wife, Dr. Vanessa Weaver, to present workplace-related media content and video podcasts through their company Diversity and Inclusion Television (DITV). The Working it Out podcast features guest experts sharing stories about overcoming diversity challenges. They’re available on the couple's YouTube channel and also on DKN, the District Knowledge Network, a service of the District of Columbia’s public cable channel.
Joe is also working with a European record company to reissue one of his records from the 1980s. He’s planning a jazz performance in Savannah, Georgia in March with a friend from his days in the U.S. Airforce. And as a board member of the McLean Project for the Arts, Joe encourages young people of color to appreciate artwork of all kinds.
“I did a lot of talking about kids not doing the right thing,” Joe says. “I realized I was talking and not doing anything. So now I work with Mary’s Center (a community health Center serving the DC area) and with the Crohn’s and Colitis foundation. Those organizations and the Boys and Girls Clubs are the ones I centered on.”
All of his endeavors, Joe says, add different things to his life “but nothing can top the energy you get from the interaction with an audience when you’re on stage.”
Today, Joe has homes in New York and Potomac. “I love New York but there’s no place like DC and Potomac,” he says. “I live in an area with lots of trees and I get to regenerate and it allows me to pull everything together and be creative as a songwriter and producer. I will keep going as long as I can maintain my curiosity and my interest in new stuff. I’ll keep the ball bouncing as long as I can.”