Born in New York's Harlem in 1947 (some sources say 1949), Chris Bartley grew up practically in the shadow of the Apollo Theater and spent much of his childhood absorbing the sounds around him, both in his actual vicinity and on the radio.
His greatest inspiration as a teenager was reportedly Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, who came from his neighborhood and had scored huge hits in the middle/late '50s during the three years before Bartley formed his first group, the Soulful Inspirations, with William Graham, Henry Powell, Sam Nesbitt, and Ronald Marshall. The quintet underwent numerous personnel shifts and name-changes over the next six years, evolving into the Mindbenders (no relation to the U.K. group).
At one point, Bartley and Marshall were performing as a duo and their big break came when they auditioned for Van McCoy. Rather than signing the group, however, McCoy signed Bartley to his newly formed Vandor Records label. Bartley and the label scored a Top 40 pop hit and a Top Ten R&B hit their first time out with the McCoy-authored "The Sweetest Thing This Side of Heaven," an achingly beautiful soul ballad.
The song was successful enough to get Bartley national exposure and even some performing engagements in England and is one of the more findly remembered one-shot soul hits of its period, but it was only a one-shot -- he was never able to duplicate its success despite several tries, including the excellent Motown-styled "Baby It's Wonderful." He lasted long enough on Vandor to get out an entire album, which was a good tour through the Van McCoy songbag going right back to the end of the 1950s.
Bartley was signed to Buddah Records after McCoy shut down Vandor in 1968, and he cut a version of McCoy's "Baby I'm Yours" for the new label, which also failed to chart. Bartley reportedly left the music business in the mid-'70s, after his mother fell seriously ill, and hasn't been heard much from since, though "The Sweetest Thing This Side of Heaven" keeps turning up on '60s soul reissues and oldies playlists on radio and his Vandor sides have been reissued on a very good Collectables CD.