Photo: Robert Ector

Level Q

How Ronald Isley Became a Multigenerational Sex Symbol

Fresh off ‘Verzuz’, the R&B legend discusses everything from prison concerts to his pandemic beard to a disgraced collaborator


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Don’t be fooled by the saccharine lyrics and melodies that ooze from Isley Brothers classics. The songs’ authors are gladiator competitive. Their iconic lead, Ronald Isley, is nothing short of loquacious when addressing this fact.

The man formerly known as Mr. Biggs admits that since the 1950s, he and his brothers studied the best with the clear intention of besting them. When Marvin Gaye made “Sexual Healing,” the Isleys birthed “Between the Sheets.” When Teddy Pendergrass released “Close the Door,” they followed with “Don’t Say Goodnight.”

Ronald wouldn’t even oblige Michael Jackson’s request to be produced by him — he felt the future King of Pop had already mastered too much of his style. Michael was 10.

Maintaining an edge was such catnip for Ron and his brothers that they once moved their new guitar player into their home to prevent anyone from stealing him. That guitarist’s name was Jimi Hendrix.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that for Ron Isley, April’s Verzuz matchup between the Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire wasn’t as Easter pure as it appeared. Ron told me this during an hour-long phone call, 33 days after the epic night that saw his fervor from women of all ages receive a spike, thanks largely to his newly unveiled platinum beard. An uptick in lady lust is an incredible feat when you consider our convo took place two weeks before his 80th birthday.

While Ronald Isley’s legend has long been solidified, he’s got no intention of resting his incomparable vocal cords. Shortly after Verzuz thrust the Isleys back into the public consciousness, the storied siblings dropped a spanking-new Snoop Dogg-featured track called “Friends & Family,” which is destined to soundtrack some two-stepping this summer.

In a career-spanning conversation, Ron Isley speaks about his showdown with the IRS, his…



Bonsu Thompson
Writer for

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.