This summer, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary. While that’s a testament to the enduring power of love for any couple, it’s even more impressive because these spouses have also been working together since their days as founding members of the 5th Dimension in the mid-1960s. “Of course we sometimes bicker,” Marilyn exclusively tells Closer Weekly, on newsstands now. “But there is such joy that comes from performing on stage together.”
Marilyn, 77, and Billy, 82, whose smash hits include “Up, Up and Away,” “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” and “Worst That Could Happen” with the 5th Dimension, and “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (to Be in My Show)” as a duet, recently released “Silly Love Songs,” their remake of the Paul McCartney hit. It’s the first release from the Grammy-winning, multiplatinum-selling pair’s upcoming album Blackbird: Lennon- McCartney Icons. Look for it on all music platforms this spring.
What drew you to record “Silly Love Songs?”
Billy: We wanted to talk about love. It’s a perfect thing because it’s so uplifting. Marilyn: We felt like everyone could use something uplifting these days.
You first recorded together as part of the 5th Dimension. Was it love at first sight when you met?
Billy: Actually, no, it wasn’t! The friendship blossomed first. We became very good friends and then the love bug hit later.
Marilyn: We had a similar passion for music. After rehearsal was over, Billy and I found ourselves spending a lot of time talking to each other at parties.
The huge hit that everyone always remembers from the 5th Dimension is “Up, Up and Away.”
Billy: Our beautiful friend Jimmy Webb gave us “Up, Up and Away” to record, and it changed everything.
Marilyn: That song made us win four Grammy Awards. It was so funny because we didn’t even know what a Grammy Award was. In 1967, the Grammy Awards weren’t on television yet!
What do you remember most about that time?
Billy: We were working so much! We were on the road probably eight months of the year.
Marilyn: We went to the Monterey Jazz Festival. We worked with Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jimi Hendrix. But we weren’t major partiers because we were so busy working. You can’t hang out until 5 a.m. and then get on stage at night and hit your notes!
The 5th Dimension was a crossover act that was popular with Black and white audiences. Were you proud to be breaking down barriers?
Marilyn: Yes, because it was a time when people of color were not seen on television a lot. We always felt a responsibility. We realized that if we did a good job that we could help make other opportunities available to people of color. We took it very seriously.
Billy: We were proud to be in that position.
The 5th Dimension won six Grammys over the years. Was it hard to leave the group?
Billy: We always knew we wanted solo careers. After about 10 years, everybody wanted to do more.
Marilyn: We’re really happy that we all remained friends. In 1990, we were asked to consider a reunion tour. We got together and were standing around the piano and started singing “Up, Up and Away.” The sound and the blend — I always get emotional — the sound was exactly the same. We had not ever realized how magical our five voices were together until that day. We went back out on tour doing some reunion performances. It’s been a highlight in our lives.
Billy: After 15 years of not singing together, it was amazing.
You also had great success in the late 1970s as a musical duo. What made you decide to record together?
Marilyn: Billy and I were going to go different ways in our solo careers, but then we realized we didn’t want that. We were afraid that it might split us up. We decided that it was more important to keep our relationship alive. We have always been very committed to our marriage.
Isn’t it hard to work with your spouse?
Billy: We enjoy working together so much. Through the years, we’ve had to learn how to deal with a mistake or something. You learn the proper time to tell one another. Now everything runs pretty smooth.
Marilyn: One of the most important things is realizing that this is your best friend. You wouldn’t want to hurt your best friend’s feelings. And you don’t want to lose your best friend, so you find ways to make things work.
Do you have any tips for keeping the love alive?
Billy: We’re both very strong Christians. We love the Lord and practice life lessons like being kind to one another. You can’t condemn cruelty if you’re practicing it. So we say, just relax and breathe. Everything’s going to be all right.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Billy: I would tell my younger self that I didn’t have to drink all that alcohol! I had to learn the hard way that it wasn’t the way to go. I had to admit I had a problem and go to the places where I needed help. I think that the Lord was with me every day on that.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
Marilyn: I think one of mine is our 51 years of marriage. And learning how to support each other and be kind. Ultimately, that’s what it is all about.
Billy: I would agree. Marriage is hard for every couple, but especially for people who stay together all day, every day. And I am also proud of where we are at our lives right now. God has been so good to us that he’s allowed us to keep our voices for so many years. When you get to your 70s and 80s, your voice often loses something, but it seems that the Lord is keeping us strong. I think that’s a great achievement.
—Reporting by Natalie Posner
For more on this story, pick up the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now.