Through the flag twirlers and the gospel choir and the seemingly endless proclamations from local officials, Ernie Isley was able to reduce to one word the honor of having streets named after him and his famous family in the suburban towns where they once lived: “Wow.”
“It’s a ‘wow’ moment,” he exclaimed. “This is a spectacular culmination of a lot of dreams and a lot of prayers.”
Teaneck and Englewood, suburbs a few miles across the Hudson River from New York City, held dual ceremonies Thursday to honor the Isley Brothers, the legendary group that scored hits with songs including “Shout,” “Twist and Shout,” “It’s Your Thing,” “That Lady” and “Fight The Power.”
It was a local music fan, Teaneck resident Ira Buckman, who hit upon the idea of renaming part of Van Arsdale Street as Isley Brothers Way two years ago. He was inspired by watching a rerun of the movie Animal House, which features the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.”
The town’s council approved it, and after a delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, unveiled the new sign Thursday on Isley Brothers Day in front of a crowd numbering in the hundreds.
“I’ve lived in Teaneck since 1976 and I thought, ‘I’ve never really done anything to improve the town’” until making the connection that some of the Isley Brothers had lived there, Buckman joked Thursday.
Former bandmates and neighbors offered reminiscences of befriending the brothers in the 1960s and 70s. Neighbors recalled swimming in Ron Isley’s family’s backyard pool all summer long and never being turned away, or hearing the group’s new songs before they were released to the general public. They painted a picture of a close-knit neighborhood that just happened to have a world-famous band hanging out down the block.
Ron Isley was overcome with emotion after hearing all the tributes.
“It’s beyond words for me to express my level of appreciation and gratitude,” he told the crowd. “I love you people, and I thank you for loving me, for loving us and for loving the Isley Brothers.”
The Isleys originally came from Cincinnati and the group at one time included five brothers. “Shout” was their first hit, in 1959, and after being immortalized in Animal House it has been used as a rallying cry at sporting events for years.
When their song “Contagious” climbed the charts in 2001, it gave them the distinction of being the act with the longest chart span on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart at 42 years.
They have been nominated for multiple Grammy awards and are inductees of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy in 2014.
Separately or together, they have continued to perform and record with a wide range of artists including R Kelly, Lil’ Kim, Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Burt Bacharach, Santana and Bon Jovi. Recently they released the song “Friends and Family,” a collaboration with Snoop Dogg.