In 1966, Florence LaRue was in her final year of college in Los Angeles when one of the men in The 5th Dimension asked her to join the group.
LaRue, who earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, an associate’s degree in music and had training as a classical violinist, said she was reluctant because she had aspirations of becoming an actress.
“I said, ‘No, I’m not a singer and I’m in my last year of college and getting my degree,’” she recalled. “I was working full-time and studying and didn’t have time to rehearse. I had no interest at all to be in a group, but he persisted.”
Now, she’s the lone founding member remaining in The 5th Dimension, one of the country’s most popular soul, pop and R&B groups of the Motown era.
The band performs their timeless hits from the 1960s and ‘70s at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Verona Area High School Performing Arts Center as part of the Verona Area Performing Arts Series.
Some of the group’s most recognizable hits include “Up, Up and Away,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “One Less Bell to Answer,” “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep At All” and the iconic “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.”
The group, which formed in 1966, has had five No. 1 songs and 14 gold records. It’s also won six Grammy Awards, is in the Grammy Hall of Fame, had countless television and concert performances, and 22 Top 40 hits, according to the group’s website.
The original quintet remained intact from 1966-75, with various members leaving over time. Today, LaRue is joined by singers Patrice Morris, Leonard Tucker, Sidney Jacob and Floyd Smith.
In a telephone interview with the Verona Press, LaRue said other members of the original group asked her to join after she won the Miss Bronze California talent contest (along with several other titles) in ’66.
LaRue moved with her family from a small town in Pennsylvania to Los Angeles after her high school graduation and hoped to become either an actress or a public school teacher.
After “Up, Up and Away” reached the top of pop music charts in 1967, the quintet became an overnight sensation. They appeared regularly on popular television programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
LaRue told the Press she loved being in The 5th Dimension in its heyday and still does today. She said the group’s music brings people joy and unites them, and it has a “healing power.”
“Our music has always been so positive, and I still truly enjoy singing those songs,” LaRue said. “I enjoy the harmonies and the camaraderie of the members of the group.”
She added that people’s response to the music is another reason for her to keep going after more than 50 years.
“People will say to me, ‘Aren’t you tired of singing “Up, Up and Away?’,” said LaRue.”I’m not because each time I sing it, it’s actually a new experience. I hope that I will stop performing when I no longer enjoy it. But our enthusiasm is expressed to the audience, and they’ll know when we’re tired of this.”
LaRue said her favorite song to sing is “One Less Bell to Answer,” which is one of the group’s few sad songs.
“It’s my favorite one to sing because Hal David and Burt Bacharach wrote a beautiful song and melody, and also the reaction I get from the audience,” LaRue said. “I’ve seen men cry when I sing this song. It’s something of an experience that many people have shared and can relate to.”
“Fortunately most of our other songs are happier and more upbeat,” she noted.
LaRue thinks one reason The 5th Dimension has remained popular is that it uses the same vocal arrangements as the originals, and the group’s voices are still great, especially with the harmonies.
She said she loves the way music can bring people together at a time when much of society is deeply polarized.