By Darlene Donloe
For years, people have asked Florence LaRue of The 5th Dimension how she was able to maintain a youthful glow and boundless energy.
“I remember visiting an old folks home and seeing so many of them lying in bed with no pictures or cards or loved ones around them,” said LaRue, the only original member still performing with the group. “Had they taken care of themselves, many of them wouldn’t be there.
“We have to do our part mentally, physically and spiritually. Some people remember to take care of themselves financially, but not physically. After five years of being asked the same questions, I decided to write a book.”
In the book, “Grace In Your Second Act, A Guide To Aging Gracefully,” LaRue, 81, who continues to tour with four new members of The 5th Dimension, gives the reader practical applications for staying healthy and growing old with grace.
The book is filled with lessons learned over 50 years as a performer and lead singer for the legendary group.
LaRue, a Glenside, Pennsylvania native and mother of one 50-something son named Geoffrey, and two stepchildren, reminds the reader that “it’s never too late to start being the best you that God meant you to be — happy and healthy, as well as physically, mentally and spiritually beautiful.”
The 5th Dimension, popular in the late 1960s and early 70s, earned six Grammy Awards, 14 gold records, three platinum records and has sold more than 35 million albums.
Some of the group’s hits included “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In,” “Up, Up and Away,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “One Less Bell to Answer” and “Go Where You Wanna Go.”
Original members, who were only together 10 years before disbanding, included Lamonte McLemore, Ron Townson, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., and, of course, LaRue.
I recently caught up with LaRue to talk about her career and the book, written by her with Jenny Paschall.
DD: Why did you write this book?
FL: For five years, people kept asking me what I do to keep young. I decided to share everything from what I do mentally, physically and spiritually.
DD: What did you learn about yourself while writing “Grace In Your Second Act: A Guide To Aging Gracefully?”
FL: I thank God for awakening me for preparing for my second act. I did sports and ballet. I was addicted to sugar. I couldn’t eat a jelly bean. I had to eat the bag. I realized I had to take care of my body. I learned I wanted to share the knowledge with other people. Some were doing drugs or other things that were unhealthy. I used to be a closet Christian. But I didn’t share. I didn’t want to be that Christian girl, that goodie goodie. Now, I’m proud to spread the gospel.
DD: How do you define grace?
FL: Grace is forgiveness for things when you don’t deserve it. It’s how we walk, talk and act. For me, it’s forgiveness for the mistakes you made in your first act. It’s never too late to improve yourself and exercise.
DD: When did your second act begin? Did you know it was your second act?
FL: My second act started in my 70s, which is later than most. I was so consumed with my career, I didn’t think about age. It starts earlier.
DD: What do you want people to know about the book?
FL: It’s an easy read with fun stories and recipes. It’s not preachy.
DD: What is it like being the lone original member of The 5th Dimension?
FL: I don’t think about it. It’s been 40 years since I became the only original member. The original group was only together for 10 years.
DD: Why did you stay and continue?
FL: I continue because God hasn’t told me to stop. It brings such joy to people. It’s fulfilling.
DD: Did you always want to be a singer?
FL: No, I wanted to be an actress. I didn’t want to sing. Teaching and being in the movies were the two things I wanted to do. My mom said to get a teaching degree so I’d have something to fall back on. I got the credential. At the time, I didn’t know how to go about getting into the movies.
DD: So, what happened?
FL: Friends told me about a beauty contest. Miss Coppertone and the Miss Bronze California contest. I won the talent portion of Miss Bronze California. I sang “April in Paris” – in French. I was so shy. Eartha Kitt was a judge. She said, there is the winner! There was also this guy who said he had a group and that one of the ladies had left. He asked if I was interested. I said no. He bugged me. It was Lamont McLemore. The rest is history.
DD: What sacrifices have you made in order to have the life you have?
FL: The biggest sacrifice was being away from my son when he was young. When he was born, the group was popular. At three months old he had a passport and went to Japan. When he went to school, I left him at home.
He wrote a letter to Santa that said, “Dear Santa, I want 10 expensive things. I would give them all up for more time with my mommy.” I was trying to give him things. Kids don’t need things, they need us. He’s now in his 50s and we have a great relationship.
DD: What is the most important lesson you learned over 50 years as a Black female performer?
FL: Put God first. No matter what you do. The first thing I do in the morning is sing, “I love you, Jesus.” I then ask him to let me be a blessing to someone that day. Then, I do prayers and I take a walk.
DD: At what point in your life did you fall in love with yourself?
FL: Unfortunately, I’m still doing it. About 10 years ago I began to accept myself, not fall in love. I’m still learning to forgive the mistakes I made in my life. I have to let them go.
DD: What are you most proud of aside from your son?
FL: What The 5th Dimension accomplished. We bring happiness to people. We help bring the races together. I’m proud of the fact that I’m growing closer to the Lord.
DD: How did you handle the enormous success of the Fifth Dimension?
FL: I didn’t think about it. Sometimes while doing an interview, I’m reminded of things we did. I’m so involved in doing it, I didn’t think about what I was doing.
DD: Back in the day, people thought members of The 5th Dimension were white. Did that bother you? Did it matter?
FL: It mattered. I wanted them to know they are labeling Black people. We can sing opera or country. We can sing anything. Please don’t think this is all we can do. It also bothered me, personally. I wanted to sound Blacker. I wanted to sound like Aretha [Franklin]. After everyone left the group, and I was pretty much the only original member, I put the song, “I’m Coming Home” in the show because I was trying to sound Black. It was the worst thing I could have done. Johnny Mathis did it, it sounded great. The Lord told me, there is one Aretha Franklin and one Florence LaRue.
“The Q&A” is a feature of Wave Newspapers asking provocative or engaging questions of some of L.A.’s most engaging newsmakers or celebrities.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.