Who was this man whose music is still touching all parts of the world decades after his untimely death in 1979? Van Allen Clinton McCoy was born in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 1940 (1944 incorrectly reported elsewhere). He was the younger of two very talented sons of Lillian (Ray) and Norman S. McCoy, Sr. He grew up on Columbia Road, Northwest, in a loving Christian home that included his beloved “Dar Dar,” maternal grandmother, Mrs. Mary Lindsay Ray. His parents were very active members of the, now historical, Metropolitan Baptist Church which became a central part of Van’s life also.
He attended neighborhood public schools, Monroe Elementary, Banneker Jr, High, and then Dunbar High School. Van was an excellent student who loved mathematics and worked hard to bring home “A’s.” Washington, DC had to integrate its racially segregated schools and Van was transferred to all white, Roosevelt High School. His musical talent along with his friendly and easy going manner soon made him a hit with all of his schoolmates. Though apprehensive about the school change, Van made a quick adjustment, was an honor student the two years he spent at Roosevelt. He graduated and promptly entered Howard University to major in Psychology.
Van enjoyed his happy and fun filled childhood and adolescent days. He sang in the church and school choirs, performed on local programs with his brother, Norman, Jr. and spent every leisure minute at the family piano. Music was all around him; his mother and God-mother sang in local choirs and were always rehearsing at his house. The McCoy boys spent many summers in Florence, South Carolina with paternal grandparents, Rev. Clinton and Mrs. Mary McCoy; a small church pastor whose wife played the piano, sang and taught music.
Van and his piano and brother, Norman, Jr., who played the violin, were family treasures and the boys delighted in performing for all who visited the home. They attended a Saturday music class for children at Howard University, under the tutelage of Dr. A. H. Johnson. There Van learned to read music and discovered it had its own unique language of notes. He found how to use the notes to create his very own music. Once Van got started, he just kept going.
This pleasant, patient, easygoing kid got along well with people of every
age. He loved his family and was a homebody. Van seemed to breeze along with
no particular problems other than recurring skin eruptions that later kept
him out of military service. He had a great sense of humor and could be a
“cut-up” with his brother. Van’s music ability made him very popular with
an ever increasing number of his peers and the McCoy home became youth "headquarters".
In 1954 the McCoy’s met a young woman, Mattie Goodrum (Taylor), who had recently relocated from Atlanta Georgia. Her father, a long time family friend, was in town and brought her with him on a dinner invitation to the McCoy home. The boys were very curious as she was the first "lady cop" they had known. But as she continued to come around, there was always fun and laughter and they looked forward to her visits. They quickly decided she was the perfect "big sister." She had the right credentials to chaperone their basement parties, and could take them to the beach and amusement park. Soon he had a doting older sister and brother as his sounding boards and buddies, and the fun was on. With his mother Lillian as chief supporter and advisor, Van made bigger and bigger strides in his music career.
Van never married; his songs were his “children.” He was at one time, engaged to marry Kendra Spottswood, the “girl next door” sweetheart, whom he met in 1961 when he first moved to Englewood New Jersey. She loved to sing and was soon harmonizing in the studio with Van and Norman. For the next five years they were inseparable. Van recorded her as Kenny Woods and later as Sandi Sheldon. They had big fun in the studio turning out singles together with such names as Jack & Jill and The Fantastic Vantastics. Their engagement and music ventures ended when Van delayed wedding plans to take the contract with Columbia Records.
His brother was twice married and had four children who became Van’s pride and delight. They visited him often and remained close to him until his death. He treasured his role as “Uncle Van” to all of children in the family and showered them with handpicked gifts from his travels.
The first crushing blow in Van’s life was the sudden death of his mother, from a brain hemorrhage, in October 1973. Shaken and dazed, Van tried to tune out his sorrow with more work. He picked up the plans Lillian had begun for Dar Dar’s 100th birthday celebration and in August 1974 gave his grandmother a gigantic party on the grounds of his beautiful Washington, D.C. residence. In August 1975 he gave her an even bigger 101st birthday party and she presented him with the certified gold record for the Hustle. Mrs. Ray got to her feet and danced a few bars of the Hustle with Van and then with distinguished guest, D.C. Mayor, the late Walter Washington. This sent the media, cameras and guests wild with excitement.
In August 1976 Mrs. Ray, died peacefully at Van’s home, where she lived. Norman, Sr., joined the Van McCoy staff and traveled with his famous son to help comfort him. However, grief and despair carried him downhill physically and emotionally until the end. His funeral was held at his beloved home church and he is buried at Lincoln Cemetery, Suitland, Maryland.