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Chloe x Halle x Ronald x Ernie on the Past, Present, and Future of R&B

The Bailey sisters and the Isley Brothers — two of pop's great sibling acts — talk about finding inspiration and trying not to annoy each other
Gioncarlo Valentine for Rolling Stone

S oon after she meets Ronald and Ernie Isley one sweltering afternoon in downtown L.A., Chloe Bailey tells them a quick, impossibly cute story: As kids, she and her sister Halle used to perform the Isleys’ “Who’s That Lady,” serving as backup singers while their baby brother took the lead. The Isley Brothers’ mix of muscular funk and buttery soul was the bedrock for much of the music Chloe and Halle grew up on, and the brothers have the staggering sample credits to support that claim — a list that Ernie is happy to run down at any time. (It includes Chloe x Halle’s mentor Beyoncé, whose group Destiny’s Child sampled the Isleys on their debut album.)

Chloe x Halle have honed their own spellbinding R&B with a blend of jazz, indie rock, trap, synth-pop, and soul, which they write and produce themselves. (Lately, they’ve been branching out: Chloe, 24, has been plotting her solo debut, as Halle, 22, prepares to make her mark in Hollywood with leading roles in the upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid and the musical film adaptation of The Color Purple.) But like the Isleys, whose new album, Make Me Say It Again, Girl, came out Sept. 30, Chloe x Halle started off as a sibling act. Today, the ladies are eager to pick the brains of Ronald, 81, and Ernie, 70, the two remaining members from the classic Isley Brothers lineup. The legends, it turns out, are more than happy to pass on what they’ve learned. 

Halle: Ronald and Ernie, you were telling us you’re 10 years apart. What was that dynamic like growing up performing together? Because I know I annoy my sister sometimes.

Chloe: No, you don’t [laughs].

Ronald: Three of us brothers started off singing — “Shout,” “This Old Heart of Mine,” all those old hits. Ernie joined in 1969. He played bass on “It’s Your Thing.” My younger brother, Marvin, joined in 1970, then [brother-in-law] Chris joined in 1970. We took a picture together on an album that we called 3+3.

Halle: That’s my favorite one. 

Chloe: I know how we are when it comes to sharing clothes and fighting over who gets to wear what, and like with certain moves we get to do. How did that work with you guys when you toured? 

Ernie: Each brother could wear more or less whatever they chose. Ronald might have on something from North Beach Leather. Marvin might have something from down Broadway. I might be somewhere between California and Texas with my fancy boots. My brother Rudolph had this chain I always thought was really cool, and he had the cane he passed on to Ronald. 

Chloe: I love that because it’s like your individuality shined through being together at the same time, which I think is so important and special. Even though there is that bond, you all are still individuals, but you shine even brighter together. I think it’s so cool how everyone had their own little style.

Chloe (L) and Halle Bailey Gioncarlo Valentine for Rolling Stone. Halle’s dress by LaQuan Smith. Chloe’s top and skirt by Monica Ivena. Choker by Shine Like Me. Bracelet by On Aura Tout Vu.

Ernie: Now, how do you all navigate [the music business as siblings]?

Halle: I don’t think I could have done this without her. She’s the brave one and kind of charges into the world. I’m a bit more shy. 

Chloe: I think if it was just the creative process —creating music, performing, rehearsing — it would be easy-peasy. No stress. But then when you [add] social media and everyone’s opinions are right in front of your face, it makes it a little more difficult. 

Ronald: We were raised in church. We started off singing gospel songs. That kept us strong. We have so much faith in God. That will keep you together.

Halle: It’s true. We have family in a place called Moncks Corner, South Carolina. When we’d visit in the summer, our grandparents would make us sing at their church. Those hymns are just so healing. 

Chloe: What I specifically love about your songs is it’s like you’re reading a book and you’re following the story as the song goes. You feel it deep in your heart. We love creating music, because it’s therapy. That’s where we get to be most vulnerable. How did you guys do it? How did you create these masterpieces of songs?

Ronald: It’s got to be from your life experiences. We went to the School of the Motown Years. You know, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson. Aretha Franklin was one of our best friends. We loved all phases of music. [To Ernie] Tell them about “Fight the Power.”

Ernie: Our family was gonna go to Disneyland for the first time. I jumped in the shower and started reciting “Time is truly wastin’/There’s no guarantee/Smile’s in the makin’/Fight the powers that be.” Soap went this way, shower curtain went that way, looking for a pencil to write it down. We went to Disneyland that day; had that in my hip pocket, but I didn’t say anything about it until two or three months later.

One that I did not write — Ronald wrote it — was “It’s Your Thing.” [He] came to the front door [and] said, “I got this idea for a song.”

[Ernie, Chloe, and Halle sing “It’s Your Thing” together.]

Ronald: I woke up one day and told the Lord, “I wanna write a big hit. I wanna write the biggest record we have.” 

Chloe: In the moment, do you realize you’re creating such a worldwide hit? 

Ernie (L) and Ronald Isley Gioncarlo Valentine for Rolling Stone. Ernie’s Suit by Alexander McQueen. Shirt by Dolce & Gabbana. Boots by Saint Laurent. Glasses by Porsche. Ronald’s Suit by Alexander McQueen. Shirt by Eton. Glasses by Cartier.

Ronald: When we created “Shout,” we knew.

Halle: I am wondering about y’all’s family history. Did your parents ever play or write? Who taught you to play these instruments, to write? 

Ronald: My mother taught music and my father sang in [Irvin C. Miller’s revue] Brown Skin Models. We sang in church, and our father taught us to sing country western, popular music, all kinds of music.

Chloe: You guys are so cool. I’m just so excited to be sitting next to you all. 

Halle: We’re dreaming. Just pinch us.

Ronald: Do you all have any brothers?

Halle: So we have a baby brother who’s 16, then an older sister who’s 28, named Skye. 

Ronald: Does she sing too? 

Halle: No, but she’s a great writer. 

Ronald: Is she writing for y’all? 

Chloe: She writes poetry. 

Halle: Our baby brother wants to be a basketball player. He has a beautiful voice, but he doesn’t want to use it because I think we’ve kind of spoiled it for him. He sees us running around touring and he’s like, “Yeah, no.”

Chloe: “I’m good on that” [laughs]. Is there any advice you have for us to just create classic music that will hold against time?

Ronald: Be inspired and do what you believe in. 

Ernie: And if there’s a little melody or lyric that comes to you, follow it. 

Musicians on Musicians is the annual franchise where two great artists come together to talk about life, music, and everything in between. We’ll be rolling out each story in this year’s series through November 2nd, and each one appears in the November issue of the magazine. You can also hear a podcast version of many of these conversations right here.

Production Credits

Baileys: Hair by Fesa Nu. Chloe’s Makeup by David Velasquez with Rare Creatives. Halle’s Makeup by Christina Cassell with Mastermind Management Group. Styling by Jennifer Udechukwu. Isleys: Grooming by Jeff Jones. Hair by Kandy Isley and Julian Payne. Styling by Bernard G. Jacobs for Katy Duds.