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This Female Vocal Group Is Suing Sony for Decades of Royalties

February 8, 2017

The Three DegreesThe Three Degrees
American female vocal group The Three Degrees performing, 6th March 1974. Left to right: Valerie Holiday, Fayette Pinkney, and Sheila Ferguson.Michael Putland — Getty Images

The Three Degrees, a female vocal group best known for the 1974 smash “When Will I See You Again,” has sued Sony Music Entertainment, seeking to recoup decades of royalties it says were withheld by a former manager and his widow.

According to a complaint filed on Tuesday night, the group has “never received one penny” of royalties under an oral agreeing it struck in the mid- to late-1970s with the former manager, producer Richard Barrett, for a 75% share.

The group said Barrett’s widow Julie and her company Three Degrees Enterprises have instead kept its royalties, including through payments from Sony.

It said these payments covered such albums as The Three Degrees, which included “When Will I See You Again,” as well as “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” a song featuring the group’s vocals that became a theme for the TV music show Soul Train.

“The group has not received one penny from the Sony-TDE royalty agreement, despite Sony’s knowledge of the group’s rights,” the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court said.

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The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Sony and Julie Barrett, including for breach of contract, and an accounting of royalties owed.

Richard Barrett died in 2006. Sony Music Entertainment is part of Sony (SNE).

Sony spokeswoman Liz Young declined to comment. Julie Barrett could not immediately be reached for comment. Earl Wilson, a lawyer for The Three Degrees, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Three Degrees was formed in 1963 in Philadelphia.

Its membership has changed over the years, but for purposes of the lawsuit includes current members Valerie Holiday and Helen Scott, and the estate of Fayette Pinkney.

“When Will I See You Again” hit No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, and reached No. 1 in the United Kingdom.