Charles Pope, 76: Original member of R&B group the Tams

When it came to music, Charles Pope wanted the sound to be pitch perfect.

If he heard an off-key note, he wouldn’t let it slide, he’d make sure it got fixed, said one of his granddaughters.

“You couldn’t play around with the music,” said 17-year-old Zonnique Pullins, a member of the group OMG Girlz. “If he heard me singing and it wasn’t right, he’d say something. And he’d stay on me until it was right, but in a quiet and supportive way.”

Pope knew when it was right. The veteran entertainer was a founding member of the Atlanta-based R&B group the Tams, which he started with his brother Joe in 1959. When Joe Pope died in 1996, Charles Pope took over the role as lead singer. Later, when members of the Tams split into two singing groups, Pope led what was sometimes called the Joe Pope Tams. He performed with the group until May 2009, when his health forced him to step away from the mic.

Charles Walter Pope, 76, of Jonesboro died July 11 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. A funeral is planned for 1 p.m. Thursday at New Life Baptist Church, Decatur. Entombment will follow immediately at Sherwood Memorial Gardens. Watkins Funeral Home, Jonesboro, is in charge of arrangements.

A native of Atlanta, Pope was a performer most of his life, said his wife, Dianne Cottle-Pope.

“On street corners, in small venues, wherever he could sing, he did,” she said. “And, of course, when they got the record deal, he was ecstatic.”

The Tams had their greatest commercial success in the mid-1960s, with their biggest national hits being “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)” and “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy.”

The Tams became a central part of Pope’s life, his wife said. In fact, they named their youngest daughter, Tameka “Tiny” Cottle-Harris, after her father’s group.

“People pronounce it Ta-meka, but it is really Tam-eka,” her mother said.

Cottle-Harris and her brother, Albert “Redd” Cottle, both received guidance from Pope when pursuing their own singing careers, their mother said.

“He started really working with me when I was 15 or 16,” said Redd Cottle, who has taken his father’s place in the Tams. “I had singing in my heart, but I was shy. I’d hold my head down, and he’d always tell me to hold my head up and sing out.”

Pullins, daughter of Cottle-Harris, said she spent a lot of time with her grandfather while her mother was on the road. Watching her grandfather perform helped her see there was more to being a singer than just the vocals.

“He bought me my first guitar, and he was the first to send me to voice lessons,” she said. “He told me my singing would get better the more I worked with the notes and I played the guitar, and he was right. I am much better than I used to be,” she said. “He was proud.”

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Pope is survived by daughters Michelle Richardson, Debbie “Lady” Pope –Merritt, Sylvia Billingsley, Sybil Williams and Denise Williams; sons Bernard Harrison-Pope and Charles Pope Jr.; a brother, James Pope; 18 grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren.