Famed 60s sunshine pop band 5th Dimension’s LaMonte McLemore’s additional enduring legacy is that of a photographer.
Contributing a weekly column “Beauty of the Week” to the renowned publication of African American pop culture, JET.
Here, for the first time, is his personal selection of the column’s glory era.
JET is an American magazine focusing on news, culture, and entertainment related to the African-American community. McLemore freelanced for JET magazine for more than four decades, principally shooting for its “Beauty of the Week” feature, which encapsulated Black joy, style, and beauty. During this time, he photographed over 500 Black women, most of whom were not professional models.
The section, in which a woman was featured in a swimsuit along with her name, place of residence, profession, hobbies, and interests, became one of the most popular among the magazine’s audiences, as it showcased the everyday beauty and elegance of Black women, contributing greatly to what has been called the “first form of social media” by acclaimed contemporary visual artist, Mickalene Thomas. This photographic output serves as a living document of everyday Black fashion and elegance.
“Both the photographs and the music of LaMonte McLemore still resonate today. This book is a tip of the hat to LaMonte and his creativity, and a tribute to his marvelous photographs that document the extraordinary beauty of Black women.” – Chris Murray, from his essay “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing”
“LaMonte was a freelance photographer for JET all the way until the end of the magazine. He was shooting throughout the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, and the early ’00s. He stayed with it. He loved photography. He loved documenting. He had a great mind and a wonderful way of looking into the future. That is what I admire about him, he had so much vision. When you work with visionaries, it tells you about the person inside, it tells you about their heart. With LaMonte, it couldn’t get any better. I feel very blessed that our paths crossed.” – Sylvia Flanagan, from her essay “We Were Like a Family”
“[LaMonte] helped me to find that part of me that became an integral part of my success, and more importantly, how people related to me throughout the years, and I carried that self-assuredness into other aspects of my career. It is often said that the combination of my resilience, innocence, confidence, and strength was my way of celebrating the extraordinary majesty of the Black woman. And I owe so much of that directly to LaMonte. He had that quintessential magic and artistry, and he was and still is today a true visionary in every sense of the word!” – Jayne Kennedy, from her essay “A Storybook Life”
“LaMonte McLemore’s photography had a profound impact on Black culture and provided a much-needed space for Black women to see themselves represented as desirable. His images served as a challenge to the limiting and stereotypical beauty standards of his time, and celebrated the natural beauty and strength of Black women. As an artist, I find McLemore’s groundbreaking work to be a continued source of inspiration for me.” – Mickalene Thomas, from her essay “Black Women as Icons”
Black Is Beautiful: JET Beauties of the Week compiles, for the first time, numerous photographs from McLemore’s shoots, including never-before-seen outtakes from those sessions. This dynamic coffee table book is a tribute to McLemore’s talent and cultural impact, and is a celebration of Black women, Black beauty, and Black culture.
LaMonte McLemore was a vocalist and one of the founding members of the pop-soul group The 5th Dimension—boasting 20 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 (with “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” reaching number one), nine Grammy nominations, and six wins, including two Records of the Year—known for their versatile sound and diverse appeal that transcended race, age, and nationality. In 1991, McLemore and the original lineup of the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was also the photographer for Stevie Wonder’s first album cover, and the first African American athlete to try out for the St. Louis Cardinals, followed by a short stint playing for the LA Dodgers until an arm injury. McLemore’s work with The 5th Dimension and JET magazine left a significant impact on popular culture, one that can still be seen today.