40 years ago: Baltimore's own Alton McClain has a disco hit with 'It Must Be Love'

The song starts off with some churning string sounds, then launches into a propulsive disco beat as the singer exults, “Something’s got me upside down/And I’ve never been like this before.”

Forty years ago, on June 9, 1979, Alton McClain & Destiny’s “It Must Be Love” reached its highest position on the Billboard music charts, peaking at No. 32. It was the height of the disco craze (the Bee Gees’ “Love You Inside Out” was No. 1, followed by Donna Summers’ “Hot Stuff” and Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”), and the Baltimore-born lead singer, who grew up in the Heritage Crossing neighborhood, was thrilled to be part of it.

“It was an awesome experience,” remembers the “diminutive lead singer with the spectacular pipes” (as a reviewer in Atlanta once referred to her), who now lives in Owings Mills and goes by her married name, Alton McClain Scarborough. “In my mind, it’s still fresh… It was the last song we recorded for our LP; we were in the studio all night recording it.”

Scarborough, now 67, was working days as a receptionist in Los Angeles when she and singers Robyrda Stiger and D'Marie Warren recorded the song. Once “It Must Be Love” charted, Alton McLain & Destiny were on the road, playing dates with Peabo Bryson, Teddy Pendergrass and others.

They even got to perform on TV’s “The Mike Douglas Show,” something Scarborough had long dreamed of. “When we were actually doing the show, I actually zoned out for a second or so. Here it was, happening.”

Although the group never had another Top 40 single, Alton McClain & Destiny recorded two more albums, the last released in 1981. McClain married Skip Scarborough, whose songs were recorded by Anita Baker, Earth, Wind & Fire, and others, in 1982. Since his death in 2003, the non-profit Scarborough Foundation that she heads has awarded more than a dozen scholarships to Maryland students showing promise in the arts.

Alton McClain Scarborough, who enjoyed a long career singing gospel, has even ventured back into the pop spotlight a bit. Last Valentine’s Day, she performed “It Must Be Love” and other songs from that period during a show at the Baltimore Museum of Art, one she hopes to repeat next Valentine’s Day. Happily for fans of the disco-era, she’s “working on getting more shows around town.”

ckaltenbach@baltsun.com

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