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George Overton: A Judge With Soul.

March 16, 2012

Judge George Overton, of the Court of Common Pleas, used to perform with The Stylistics. He speaks with our G.W. Miller III about his transition from the stage to the law. Image by G.W. Miller III.

When did you start getting into music?

At age 7. One Saturday, a piano showed up at the house. My mother said, “Start studying the piano.” That started a seven year period where I studied classical piano. Hearing the Motown Sound and all of musical groups in the area, I kind of always heard the guitar. I couldn’t switch, according to my mother, until I finished elementary school, which was 8th grade. At that point, I got my first guitar.

Did you start performing while in high school?

Yes. A good friend of mine, a guy named Ed Moore, lived around the corner. He’s a couple years older. He had already been performing locally with artists like Garnett Mimms. Through my association with him, and my total devotion to the instrument, I started playing with a group of friends. We were picked up as a back up group by a singing group, which eventually became Chapter One. We were all about 14 or 15 when we started playing the clubs and playing college events.

At that time were you thinking, “This is my career, this is what I want to do with my life?”

No, because I had already decided that I wanted to be a lawyer. I knew as early as probably five. Through my father (who worked in the federal government), I met some of the local standouts in the legal community. I just had a sense that I wanted to be a lawyer. So this was kind of a detour for me.

Was music then a way for you to generate money or was it a passion?

I think it was something about the instrument. At that point, Wes Montgomery had hit it big with some of his commercial songs like “Windy.” I just loved the sound of his guitar. Also at that point, I started going to the Uptown Theater and I saw the top R&B acts of the day. I just fell in love. I think intrinsically, there isn’t any greater satisfaction than getting in front of an instrument or some art form or anything that you love. It just seems to fill you out. Guitar seemed to do that. I don’t know if I can necessarily put it into words. Not to be cliche but it struck a chord in me.

So what was your path to performing with The Stylistics?

I came up with people like George Howard, who was the protege of Grover Washington. I dabbled in jazz. I was fortunate early on to meet people like George Benson, Earl Klugh and other guitarists who were kind enough to share their art form with me. Eventually I played with a guitarist named Jeff Lee Johnson, who was a guitarist for people like Rachelle Ferrell. He was playing with a group named Blue Magic but he was leaving. I auditioned for the guitarist position. I played with them a number of years, toured with them, basically in the States. And from there I ended up going with The Stylistics.

When you were touring, this must have been the early ’70s?

No. I started with Blue Magic in the late ’70s. And I started playing with The Stylistics in the early ’80s.

What was the Philadelphia music scene like at that time?

It was so vibrant. Both of those groups came out of The Sound of Philadelphia. Philadelphia music has remained vibrant. It hasn’t changed. Both groups that I’ve played with, they’re still active. They’ve made changes and split into a number of different configurations but  they still continue to perform. The good thing about it and a lot of the music of that era, is that it’s timeless. I think Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, being the prime innovators of the Philly sound, they created what basically has remained a timeless collection of music.

What was the best part of being on the road?

The camaraderie with the fellow musicians. The opportunity to play quality music and also to play what I would consider – and what I think most would consider – at the top levels of music. And to see the world.

How did you make the transition from music to the legal practice?

At the higher levels of music, there is a business aspect to it. Often times, people don’t realize that music is a business. Seeing the business people, it reminded me that I originally planned to go into the legal realm.

So you left the band and went to law school?

Actually, my first year of law school, I was still traveling with The Stylistics. Talk to any of the singers or the band members and they’ll tell you they remember me studying on the plane or the bus, wherever we were traveling.

Are people surprised when they see you in the court and they learn about your past?

A lot of people are surprised because they don’t equate the two.

The type of music you guys were performing was so powerful, soulful. And the law is …

The law is very powerful too. Just like you couldn’t have a world without music. You couldn’t have a world without law.

  1. the wrongly convicted permalink
    December 13, 2012 2:39 am

    How r u doin cuz I’m not doing well at all after being wrongly convicted by this judge. No dna test on a gun I never held,, but its the law is it the law to listen to lying cops on just to make ur way to the supreme court.. you people mess up people lives with no hesitation.. guess what judge overton your mistake has not landed me back in jail. Instead unemployed for three years plus I hope u sleep good at night considering I slept on the street for two years plus and having nothing but my ambitions to see the light. God should be the judge on you and I wish nothing bad on u because that would block my blessing but just pay more attention to the evidence and the evidence is you like convicting young black men same …

    • redz permalink
      May 26, 2014 3:37 pm

      I hope you can forgive, reading the way you speak, I believe you can,

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