Ron Townson, the portly centerpiece singer for the Grammy-winning pop group the 5th Dimension, died Thursday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 68.
Cause was renal failure after a four-year battle with kidney disease. Declining health had forced Townson to retire from the reconstituted 5th Dimension in 1997, bringing to an end a career that saw him tour with such music legends as Nat “King” Cole and Dorothy Dandridge, appear in operas and direct choirs.
He helped front the 5th Dimension when the group’s smooth mixture of pop, jazz, gospel, and rhythm and blues won it four Grammys in 1968 for the Jimmy Webb song “Up Up and Away.” Other hits included “One Less Bell to Answer,” “Sweet Blindness,” “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In,” “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Stoned Soul Picnic.”
Townson, who was born and raised in St. Louis, began singing at age 6 in school and church choirs. After high school, he attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., where he directed school and church choirs. He moved to Los Angeles in 1957.
In 1965, he and a childhood friend, LaMonte McLemore, formed a singing group called the Versatiles that they soon renamed the 5th Dimension at the suggestion of Townson’s wife. Other original members were Florence LaRue, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis.
As various members left the 5th Dimension in the 1970s to pursue solo projects, Townson formed the group Ron Townson and Wild Honey. Later, he reunited with McLemore and LaRue in a new version of the 5th Dimension that included Phyllis Battle and Greg Walker.
He also appeared on television and in films, including the 1992 movie “The Mambo Kings.”
He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Bobette.