As a member of the singing group Tavares, Chubby Tavares was R&B royalty. In the 1970s and ’80s, this group of five brothers who grew up in New Bedford was responsible for multiple chart-topping songs and sold-out shows throughout the United States and beyond, becoming international ambassadors for their Cape Verdean roots.

Born Antone Lawrence Tavares in Providence, Tavares received the nickname “Chubby” from his grandmother, Olympia Vieira, for his size at birth — almost 11 pounds. After relocating with his family to New Bedford at the age of 16, he would go on to be the lead vocalist on such hits as “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel,” “It Only Takes A Minute,” “Remember What I Told You To Forget,” and “More Than A Woman.” Tavares would also win a Grammy Award in 1978 for Album of the Year thanks to their version of “More Than A Woman” on the soundtrack for “Saturday Night Fever.” The group would eventually notch eight singles on the Billboard Top 40 and three Number One songs on the R&B Charts. In 2006, Tavares was inducted into the Cape Verdean Hall of Fame and in 2014 the group was inducted into the Rhode Island Hall of Fame.

But after more than 70 years of singing and entertaining, Chubby will be making his final performances with Tavares (featuring brothers Tiny and Butch) with two shows at the Zeiterion Performing Arts Center — a sold-out show on Friday, May 12, and a nearly sold-out show on Sunday, May 14. At the age of 78, this Florida resident will be stepping down from his singing role due to a pulmonary illness, capping an illustrious career that includes the solo albums “Jealousy,” “Can’t Knock Me Down,” “Unlikely Hero,” and “Amazing Ride,” that were released between 2012 and 2018.

In a conversation with the New Bedford Light, Chubby spoke about growing up with very little, the hard work that went into becoming successful, his reflections on the group’s notoriety, and the pride he takes from being an iconic Cape Verdean musician.

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New Bedford Light: What was your introduction to music and what role did it play in your family growing up?

Chubby Tavares: When you have seven brothers, and all of us sang, it was like a gift from God and a gift from our dad. We all carried great voices. I used to go on little trips with my dad (Flash Vieira Tavares), who played in certain clubs. He played almost all Cape Verdean music and some English. I started singing at the age of 7, so it’s been a long, long time.

My number one man was Marvin Gaye. He was my mentor. I also liked the O’Jays, The Four Tops, and The Temptations.

When we started, we were singing doo-wop, no musicians, just vocal harmonies. We did well but never went anywhere with it until 1963. I moved to New Bedford in 1959 at the age of 16 and formed my own group, Chubby & The Realities. We worked all the small clubs in New Bedford — the old United Social Club, the Verdean Vets Hall, Salt & Pepper, the Orchid Room, and Pier 14 in Fall River.

NBL: In retrospect, what was the appeal of Tavares? Why were you successful?

CT: It was our great harmony. We wanted to sing like the Flamingos, the Harptones, and the Cadillacs. Tight harmony. No one could touch our harmony.

In the 15 years after we became Tavares, we traveled all around the United States, city to city to city. This is how we built up the name. We traveled to every place we could to build up the name.

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NBL: What was it like to hear your songs on the radio?

CT: Especially in the early 1970s it was like ‘Wow!’ People were listening to our songs back and forth, it was great.

When I was at Roger Williams Junior High School, I failed music for what reason I do not know. But I went back to that school after our first album was out and I brought a copy of our album and presented it to my music director at that school and said, “So much for me not being able to sing.”

I was always the kind of kid that wasn’t going to give up. I’ve always been a leader and I wasn’t going to let that bother me. I just continued on working, and when we finally came out and got recognized, I brought him that album. He was amazed.

NBL: How much time and effort went into putting a show together?

CT: It took a lot of time. Early on, our brother, Butch, was our choreographer. He taught us all the dance steps. And later down the line with Capitol, we had Charlie Atkins out of New York City, who came in and cleaned us up and made it look professional. It was great because he did all the entertainers — The O’Jays, the Temptations. He did everybody.

At nine o’clock in the morning we’d be working on our dance steps after doing three shows the night before. It was grueling on the throat. Charlie put the foundation of the group together. I always gave him that credit. He put our steps in the right order. He made us better.

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NBL: Tavares are ambassadors of the Cape Verdean people and culture in the U.S. and around the world. What kind of pride do you take in that role and how important is your heritage to you?

CT: My heritage is number one to me. It’s nice to know after all these years we just received an award from the President of Cabo Verde — a beautiful pin that goes on your lapel. It is gorgeous. He said that Tavares put the Cape Verdean community on the map. It was very, very nice to receive this. Cape Verde has always been my number one pride and joy. I love the people.

When people go to these last two shows you’ll see how much the people love Chubby, because they know this is my final goodbye to them. I want to give back and thank people for all the years that they stood by us. We have so many friends in New Bedford that it’s unbelievable. We’ve always been a group that loved its people.

NBL: You’ve performed around the world. What is special and unique about performing in your hometown of New Bedford?

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CT: It’s difficult sometimes because people know you and they say: “He was good in the younger days but not so good now.” But I beg to differ. Tavares has lots and lots of hits, and we put the Cape Verdean community on the map. My mother had a saying that whether you’re playing to a hundred people or a thousand people, when you go on that stage you make those people become one, and that’s what we do.

NBL: You’re going to conclude your music career by playing two sold-out shows in your hometown. How fulfilling is that?

CT: It’s going to be very fulfilling for me because it’s my last. My brothers will probably continue on. I can’t go anymore. I wish that I could, but I’m taking it in stride. Everybody lives to die, and that’s the way it is. Everybody has a turn and when that turn is for me, it’s all up to the good lord.

NBL: What would you like Tavares to be remembered for?

CT: Everyone has a chance to do something. We weren’t brought up with silver spoons in our mouths. We didn’t have much. When we were kids we used to receive a box from the City of Providence with little toys in it for our Christmas gifts from Santa. But we never had any problems. People loved us for everything we’ve done. We made a lot of friends through our music.

My doctors are telling me that I could live another eight to 10 years. I’m going to go when the good lord says it’s time. We’ve been together for 70-plus years, and nobody knows when it’s your turn to go.

Sean McCarthy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The New Bedford Light.

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