Cleveland “Bill” Bing, Baritone with Golden Gate Quartet, King Odom Four, Dies At 91
Cleveland “Bill” Bing, a vocal group harmony pioneer who sang baritone with the King Odom Four and the Golden Gate Quartet in the 1940s and early 1950s died January 23, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia. He was 91. The cause of death was influenza, complicated by pneumonia, according to his nephew, Frank McSween.
Born December 26, 1922 in Barnwell, South Carolina, Bing grew up on the Ashley Plantation and formed the Bing Brothers spiritual quintet with his siblings, Randolph, Columbus, and Isaiah Bing and a friend, Henry McCastle, performing on radio in and around Augusta, Georgia before World War II service interrupted their career. Bing served in the United States Navy during the conflict.
Relocating to New York City after the war, Bill and Isaiah Bing (1926-2008) formed a pop group with fellow South Carolina natives King David Odom (1918-1988), and bass David “Boots” Bowers (1928-1995) in late 1947. “We used to go to the Anthony Scott Studio on 47th Street and sing, and they thought we could do something,” Isaiah Bing recalled in a 2006 interview. With pianist Glenn Burgess (1918-2006) accompanying, they first recorded as the “King Odum Quartette” for Musicraft in 1948 and performed on radio and early television programs including Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and Chance of A Lifetime. Bill sang lead on both sides of their spring 1948 Musicraft 78, “I’m Livin’ Humble” and “They Put John On The Island”, and a pair of transcription recordings, “Shadrack”, and “Ring Them Bells”.
In 1950, the King Odom Four signed with Derby Records, taking on more of an R&B feel with Odom and Bowers leading songs including “Rain Is The Teardrops Of Angels” and “All Of Me”. They also cut one highly collectable disc for Abbey in 1952, “Lucky”, which featured strings.
As the group gradually dissolved, members departed for both the Golden Gate Quartet and the Larks. When Golden Gate Quartet members Eugene Mumford and Orville Brooks left to re-form Mumford’s former R&B group, the Larks in late 1953 with Burgess, Bowers, and Isaiah Bing, Brooks’ spot in the Golden Gate Quartet was filled by Bill Bing. His stint with the Gates was short-lived, however, as by the time of their next recording session in the fall of 1955, he had already moved on. Bill Bing later earned his living as a carpenter and, according to family, “loved to sing while he worked, using his hammer and saw to set the beat.”
Twice a widower, Bing’s first wife, Elizabeth, was killed while he was serving in World War II. The couple had one son, Harold, who died in 2006. Bill and his second wife, Naomi, are also survived by a son, Darryl Bing, of Raleigh, NC. Bill Bing is also survived by two granddaughters and six great-grandchildren.© 2014 Todd Baptista
R&B PIONEER HERMAN DENBY OF THE SWALLOWS DIES AT 82© 2013 – Todd Baptista firstname.lastname@example.org
Herman “Junior” Denby, whose smooth baritone and skillful songwriting helped propel the Swallows to within the ranks of the classic 1950s rhythm and blues vocal groups died at West Chester Medical Center in West Chester, Ohio on July 14, 2013. He was 82. The cause of death was pneumonia, according to his daughter, Kimberly Jones, who also explained that the singer had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for several years.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland on June 26, 1931, Herman lived in Detroit between the ages of 5 and 12 before moving back to his native city. Living on Franklin Street in West Baltimore, he and neighborhood pal Eddie Rich began singing together in a group called the Shields in the late 1940s. The emergence of Sonny Til and the Orioles in 1948 had a profound effect on teenagers all over Baltimore as well as the nation, and soon the two found themselves joining Earl Hurley in a six-man group called the Oakaleers. Eventually, the unit was whittled down to a quintet with bass Norris “Bunky” Mack and self-taught left-handed guitarist Frederick “Money” Johnson, whose mother suggested the same Swallows after browsing through an encyclopedia. “We used to sing on the street corners and people would give us money,” Denby told author Stuart L. Goosman. “What else did we have? Nothing. There were places we wanted to go, you couldn’t even go. We weren’t allowed in there. Earl had a brother-in-law that was a bass player and he allowed me to practice on his bass. That’s how I learned to play upright bass.”
Local radio announcer Jack Gale referred the Swallows to electronics shop owner Irv Goldstick who became their manager and got them an audition with King Records’ A&R director Henry Glover, who offered the group a contract if they could learn his composition, “Since You’ve Been Away”. Rich’s dynamic and expressive tenor was featured on their initial best-sellers including “Will You Be Mine”, a top 10 R&B hit in 1951, “Dearest”, “Since You’ve Been Away”, “Wishing For You”, “Eternally”, and “Tell Me Why”, into early 1952. A rapid succession of tour dates followed, with the usual R&B theater stops including the Apollo, Howard, Royal, Earle, and Regal, and countless one-nighters throughout the country, sharing stages with the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Johnnie Ray, LaVern Baker, and Pearl Bailey. Alan Freed booked them in Kentucky and Ohio in 1952.
All members took turns singing lead. Bunky was featured on Glover’s ribald “It Ain’t The Meat” and “Roll, Roll, Pretty Baby”. Money wrote and led “Pleading Blues” and “It Feels So Good”. Hurley delivered “My Baby”. But the group’s biggest chart success came with Denby fronting his own soulful ballad, “Beside You”, a #8 R&B hit in August, 1952. Denby’s ability to mimic everyone from his idol, country and western star Lefty Frizzell, to R&B headliner Charles Brown captured Glover’s attention during a recording date. “We got in the studio, and Junior was in the corner playing the bass fiddle and singing like Brown,” Rich recalls. “Glover said, ‘Eddie, we’re going to let him sing it.’ I had been rehearsing it, but I said, ‘I don’t mind. If it’s going to be a hit, it doesn’t matter to me.’ When the people started hearing it, everybody thought we had picked up Charles Brown. So we had two different styles.”
Denby and Mack eventually entered into military service, triggering a succession of replacements. With Rich and the group on tour in October of 1952, Denby returned home on leave and was rushed into the studio by Glover to record six sides without the Swallows including a fine bluesy rendition of “I Only Have Eyes For You”, “Our Love Is Dying”, “Please Baby Please”, and “Nobody’s Lovin’ Me”, all released under the Swallows name through late 1953. Two solo singles, “With This Ring” and “This Fool Has Learned”, were recorded in April of 1954 and issued on King as by Junior Denby but failed to attract national interest.
After receiving his military discharge, Denby relocated to Detroit and worked outside of music until returning to Baltimore in the 1980s. In September of 1983, Rich and Denby joined forces with Leroy Miller, Albert Smith, and Tyree Williams to perform at the now legendary filmed concert in Burlington, New Jersey.
Herman teamed with Ernest Warren in a revamped Cardinals group as well, before joining old friends, original Clovers’ bass Harold Winley and veteran vocalist Sonny Hatchett, in Jimmie Nabbie’s Ink Spots, a role he would maintain well into the 21st Century. By this point, Denby had settled in the Cincinnati, Ohio area.
Herman Denby and Eddie Rich reunited one final time in 1994 when the Swallows were inducted into the United In Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame in New York City. Choking back tears, he remembered Hurley and Mack in accepting his award before performing a spirited set with the group. Other honors followed, including one at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. of which Denby was especially proud.
“The Swallows were like this,” Herman summed, clasping two fingers together. “You had to be like this or you wouldn’t be a group. We had this feeling that we had to get along, and we didn’t argue.” The original Swallows’ lone survivor, Eddie Rich, and his current group, issued a statement that read, in part, “His talents as a songwriter and performer had- and will- continue to have a profound effect on fans of rhythm and blues vocal harmony music. To his four children, four grandchildren, two-great-grandchildren, and all of his fans, we send our sincere condolences.” Private funeral services for Herman Denby were held in Mason, Ohio.Thanks to Kimberly Jones, Eddie and Barbara Rich, Eric LeBlanc, Sonny Hatchett, and Stuart L. Goosman.
Jerome Ramos, Velours' lead, Dies At 75
Jerome W. Romeo Ramos, lead singer for the Brooklyn, New York-based rhythm and blues vocal group, the Velours, died October 21, 2012 of throat cancer. He was 75. Born to William and Pearl Ramos on May 15, 1937, Ramos was 19 when he, John Cheatdom, Donald Haywoode, Kenneth Walker, and Marvin Holland, all neighborhood friends in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, formed the original Velours and began recording for the Onyx label with My Love Come Back and Romeo. By 1957, Walker and Holland were replaced by John Pearson and Charles Moffitt. This quintet recorded the groups signature hit, the romantic ballad Can I Come Over Tonight?, which cracked Billboards pop chart in the summer of 1957. Another expressive ballad featuring Ramos lead tenor, This Could Be The Night followed in the fall. The Velours final Onyx release, the uptempo Remember alos made the charts in the spring of 1958. Singles on Orbit, Cub, Studio, Gone, Goldisc, and End were issued between 1958 and 1961. After several years away, the group toured the United Kingdom in the late 1960s, changed their name to the Fantastics, and scored a top 10 hit in England with Something Old, Something New in 1971. By the mid-1970s, Ramos had returned to the United States, settling quietly in Brooklyn. In the late 1970s, Moffitt formed a Velours group with new members and continued performing until his tragic unsolved 1986 murder. In May of 2007, Ramos, Cheatdom, Haywoode, Pearson, and Keith Williams, who joined the group in 1958, took to the stage for the first time in 45 years to perform a sparkling rendition of Can I Come Over Tonight for an installment of the successful PBS-TV Doo Wop series at the Ritz Theatre in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was Ramos' final performance.
Earl "Speedo" Carroll
Vocal group harmony pioneer Earl "Speedo" Carroll, lead singer of the Cadillacs and a long time member of the Coasters, died this morning, November 25, 2012, in a New York City skilled nursing facility after a long illness. He was 75. In recent years, Earl endured the loss of his wife, his longtime singing buddy Bobby Phillips, suffered a heart attack, struggled with uncontrolled diabetes and, ultimately, lost his vision. At his peak, he was a fantastic entertainer and comedian, a great singer, a precise dancer, and a sharp businessman. We will remember him with love.
Albert Crump, the original first tenor with the Heartbeats, the classic Jamaica, Queens, New York R&B vocal group that delivered the hits "A Thousand Miles Away", "Crazy For You", "Your Way", "Darling How Long", "I Won't Be The Fool Anymore" "Down On My Knees" beginning in 1955, died of lung and kidney cancer at a Queens, NY hospice care center on October 3, 2012. He was 75. Born October 22, 1936, Crump joined the group's other surviving originals- Robbie Tatum, Vernon Sievers, and Wally Roker- with Crump's younger brother Walter singing lead in an installment of the PBS-TV Doo Wop series. Today, Walter Crump, Roker, Sievers, Ron Bassett and Randy Reid comprise the Heartbeats touring group.
JIMMY “HANDY MAN” JONES
Singer Jimmy Jones passed away on August 2, 2012 according to his nephew, Cleophus Jones. The cause of death was a heart attack. The 82 year-old Alabama native was best known for his million-selling hits, "Handy Man" and "Good Timin'" in 1959-60 and his work with a myriad of vocal groups in the 1950s including the Sparks of Rhythm Pretenders, Jones Boys, and Savoys. No cause of death was given. He had been living in Aberdeen, North Carolina. Survivors include his wife, Mattie, two daughters, Jennifer Jones and Jilliann Jones-Hendricks, a son, James Jones Jr, a sister, Cleddie Barge, a brother, Willie Jones, four grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. The Wake will be on Thursday 8/16/2012 from 4-7 PM at Purcell Funeral Home, 953 West Pennsylvania Avenue, Southern Pines, NC 28387 The Funeral will be on Friday 8/17/2012 at 10am at Aberdeeen First Baptist Church, 700 North Sandhills Boulevard, Aberdeen, NC 28315 Todd Baptista Thanks to Steve Kahn and Cleophus Jones
REV. ERNEST WARREN
Reverend Ernest Douglas Warren, one of the the two surviving founding members of the Spaniels, the rhythm and blues vocal group who scored a national hit with the original "Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite" in 1954, has died at age 78. Reverend Warren passed away in his hometown of Gary, Indiana on Monday evening, May 7, 2012. Formed at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Gary by teenagers James "Pookie" Hudson, Gerald "Bounce" Gregory, Willie C. Jackson, Opal Courtney, Jr., and Warren, the group scored a national R&B hit with their first release, "Baby, It's You", on Vee Jay Records in 1953. A minister's son who lived a half-block from Hudson as a youngster, Warren possessed a floating falsetto tenor that shined on the quintet's early hits and collector's favorites including "Let's Make Up", "You Painted Pictures", and "The Bells Ring Out", his own personal favorite. He sang lead on "Hey, Sister Lizzie", the flip side of "You Painted Pictures", in the summer of 1955.
Ernest was drafted in March of 1956 and was honorably discharged from the United States Army. He eventually returned to the Spaniels and sang on their final charted hit for Vee Jay, "I Know", in 1960, and remained in the lineup until 1962. "As the years went on, I thought we had a certain amount of professionalism where we could be considered stars, especially when we went to the Apollo Theater and we headlined the show," Rev. Warren told researcher Richard Carter. "The Apollo was a highlight." In 1991, he and the original members of the Spaniels were honored with the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award which included a check for $20,000. "We were the first hits that they had on Vee Jay," Rev. Warren explained. "All we ever got were advances that they always put against receipts. It never did come to a point where we got any money."
In recent years, Warren, his former bandmates, and the estates of other Spaniels have received royalties for satellite and internet radio play through SoundExchange. Although Reverend Warren never performed with the Spaniels publicly after being ordained in 1976, he was understandably proud of the group's legacy. "The types of songs today, people try and stretch their range to impress people. I don't think that was what we had to do. We could stay in our natural ranges and just relax and sing. Part of it, too, was the love of just singing." Rev. Warren was preceded in death by his fellow Spaniels, Hudson, Gregory, and Courtney. Baritone Willie C. Jackson is the original group's lone survivor.
FREDDIE MILANO OF THE BELMONTS
Doo-wop singer Fred Milano, who rose to fame as a member of Dion and the Belmonts in the late 1950s, died Sunday, January 1, 2012 in New York at age 72. The Belmonts (Milano, born August 22, 1939, Angelo D'Aleo, 71, and Carlo Mastrangelo, 74) took their name from Belmont Avenue in the Bronx, the street where the members grew up. They first recorded for Mohawk Records in 1957. Paired soon after with Dion DiMucci, who became the quartet's lead singer, Dion and the Belmonts scored a series of hits with songs like "I Wonder Why", "A Teenager in Love", "Where Or When", "No One Knows", and "That's My Desire" and continued performing after Dion left in 1960. Milano recorded with the group on all their later hits including "Tell Me Why", "Come On Little Angel", "We Belong Together" and "I Confess" and the criticall7y acclaimed 1972 acappella album, Cigars, Acappella, and Candy. Dion and the original Belmonts reunited to record a studio album in 1966 and a live concert disc in 1972.
Consisting of Milano, fellow original member D'Aleo, 40 year-member Warren Gradus, and veteran Dan Elliot, the Belmonts remain active on the touring oldies circuit, frequently releasing new recordings. In 2009, they released the Christmas single "The Bell That Couldn't Jingle" and followed with the 2010 CD single, "A Hundred Pounds of Clay".
Milano's family and friends says the singer, who had participated in every one of the Belmonts' recording sessions dating back 54 years, had recently begun treatment for lung cancer, which was diagnosed just three weeks before his sudden death. with assistance from NY1-bronx and the Belmonts' longtime friend and producer Gerry Granahan.
Singer-songwriter Gene McDaniels, who enjoyed a string of successful and memorable hits in the early 1960s including “A Hundred Pounds Of Clay”, “Point Of No Return”, “Tower Of Strength”, “Spanish Lace”, “Chip Chip”, and “A Tear”, died at his home in the State of Maine on July 29, 2011 at age 76.
Born in 1935 in Kansas City, Gene grew up in Omaha, Nebraska he sang in church choirs as a youngster and attended the Omaha Conservatory of Music.Recording for Liberty Records, Gene’s first hit, “A Hundred Pounds Of Clay” went to #3 on Billboard’s pop chart in 1961, the first of 8 national hits he’d have over the next several years. He appeared in three motion pictures including “It’s Trad, Dad” in 1962, and had a minor hit in the early 1970s under the name Universal Jones.
As a producer, he worked for labels including Motown, Capitol and A&M. As a composer, he wrote Roberta Flack’s Grammy award nominated hit, the #1 1974 smash “Feel Like Makin’ Love”, and Les McCann and Eddie Harris’ 1970 favorite “Compared To What”, which was featured in a hundful of movies including “Ice Storm” and “Casino”.
Although he lived a quiet life in northern New England out of the spotlight, Gene McDaniels was always creating. At the time of his death, he was working with an up and coming singer-songwriter named Mandy Bennett. His wife Karen reported her husband went to bed full of ideas and new projects and died peacefully in his sleep.
JAZZ, R&B VOCALIST, LIL GREENWOOD, DIES AT 86
Funeral services were held July 23 in Mobile, Alabama for jazz and R&B vocalist Lil Greenwood, a veteran of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, who died early Tuesday, July 19, 2011 after a period of declining health. She was 86. An engaging and powerful contralto of African-American and Native-American descent, Lillian B. Greenwood was born in Mobile on November 18, 1923 and began singing as a soloist and in gospel choirs as a youngster. Winning a 1947 Harlem, New York Apollo Theater amateur contest with a rendition of "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter", she moved to California and was discovered by bandleader Roy Milton in 1950. Recording for Specialty Records, Roy Milton's Solid Senders had already racked up eight of their eventual 19 top 10 R&B chart hits when Milton brought Greenwood aboard. "I was living in Oakland when Roy Milton found me," she remembered in a 2002 interview. "Camille Howard had been in the band, and she was a great piano player, a great entertainer, but an average vocalist. She left for a while to form her own trio, and I came into the orchestra as a vocalist."
Almost immediately, Greenwood found herself in the recording studio with Milton's band. That spring, "Heart Full Of Pain", issued on Modern under her name, made some noise in the San Francisco area. Sides credited to Milton's Solid Senders, meanwhile, still appeared on Specialty. During the fall of 1950, the troupe logged an astounding 50,000 miles on a cost-to-coast tour. "There isn't a city or a state in the United States that I haven't seen," she recalled of her early days. "We went to every little place in Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Arkansas, around New York, New Jersey, and over to the Carolinas."
A pair of follow-up releases, "Ain't Gonna Cry" and "Dissatisfied Blues", appeared on Modern in the summer and fall. "Sitting And Wondering", Lil's final Modern disc, was issued in April 1951. That October, she signed with Specialty. "I was still with the Milton band," she explained. "We made 'Love Will Make You A Slave' (February, 1952), and it came out under my name." Ben Waller, the band’s booking agent, eventually introduced Greenwood to producer Ralph Bass. "At the time (spring, 1952), I wasn't under contract to any label. He wanted to have me record for Federal like he had Little Esther. She was popular and they wanted to do the same thing (with me)."
Paired with the Four Jacks, Greenwood was given a take-off on Wynonie Harris' 1949 hit, "Grandma Plays The Numbers". "What they did was just rewrite it to fit a female lead, ‘Grandpa Can Boogie Too’." With the Four Jacks, Lil also waxed the soulful, gospel-flavored ballad, "Never Again", which she had written with bassist Mario Delagarde. "I had begun writing songs. Since I had grown up singing in gospel choirs, most of the stuff I have written, and my performances, always have a gospel feel, a strong religious tie. Mario was fantastic. I'd go to his house and work on songs with him and he'd help me put together the music." "Monday Morning Blues" paired Greenwood with Little Willie Littlefield and the Four Jacks.
"When I first starting learning, Roy Milton taught me the blues. I worked the chitlin' circuit for a long time with a lot of the great blues singers, and I picked up things from them, too." Early in his career, Ray Charles, for whom she later recorded at Tangerine Records, was a frequent touring companion. Likewise, female singers Mahalia Jackson, Sarah Vaughan, "Big Mama" Thornton, and Mickey Champion were all friends and influences. The following year, Bass paired her with the Lamplighters for "I'll Go"/"I'm Crying" and "Mercy Me"/"All Is Forgiven", all strong efforts issued under Lil's name in 1953-54.
After Federal, Greenwood found work in nightclubs in the Oakland-San Francisco era. During a 1957 appearance at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, she was discovered by composer-bandleader Duke Ellington, who called her a week later with a job offer. In a 1960 interview with Ebony, Ellington described her as a mixture of Marian Anderson, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Mahalia Jackson. Lil’s signature recording with the Ellington band was “Walkin’ and Singin’ The Blues”. "I got to (Billy Strayhorn’s) apartment about five in the afternoon. He and Duke had already taken the song I had written to open and close my shows, 'Walkin' and Singin' the Blues', and added more lyrics and verses.” That night, Greenwood was invited to record the tune in an after hours session. “Suddenly Duke pointed at me and said, ‘Okay, that's where you come in. We did just one take and Duke said it was a wrap. That night Duke nicknamed me, 'One Take Lil'."
“Walkin’ and Singin’ the Blues” was released to critical acclaim, and for the next several years, Greenwood traveled worldwide, recording and performing with the band at venues ranging from the Apollo Theatre to the Newport Jazz Festival. In July, 1958, she was featured on the band's recordings of "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home" and "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)". "Duke Ellington taught me jazz," she proclaimed. On October 9, 1959, her performance with the band at Zurich, Switzerland's Kongresshaus was captured in the concert film, Duke Ellington In Der Schweiz. Two additional vocal sides, "I Love My Lovin' Lover", and "My Man Sends Me", were recorded in August of 1963.
While living in California, Lil began studying acting at the Inner City Cultural Center and subsequently appeared in episodes of the network television shows The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Grady during the 1970s. She made guest appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Flip Wilson Show and landed small parts in the motion pictures My Father's House (1975) and The River Niger (1976).
Greenwood eventually returned to Prichard, Alabama to care for a younger sister. In her mid-80s, she still possessed a strong voice and frequently ventured out to blues festivals throughout the South. "Wherever and whenever they want me, I go if I can," she reported. Around town, she was noted as much for her singing as for her 1965 Ford Galaxy station wagon with its antique plates.
In August of 2002, she was honored with induction into the Gulf Coast Ethnic and Heritage Festival's Hall of Fame in Mobile. "I'm still trying to keep myself going," Lil explained. "The blessed part of it is the Lord has been good to me. I'm meticulous with my voice. I don't do any smoking or drinking, and I was never into the all-night parties."
In the New Millennium, Greenwood recorded a live CD featuring several originals including "Crazy About Your Love" and "That’s The Truth", along with a pair of Ellington era classics, "Hello Little Boy" and "Walkin' and Singin' The Blues". Collaborating with composer David Amram and producer Buz Rummel, Lil recorded her final album, Back To My Roots, in 2006. Her classic R&B sides were compiled on CD by Ace Records UK in 2002.
Ms. Greenwood suffered a stroke in the fall of 2010 and had been receiving hospice care for the last six weeks of her life. Two days before her death, friends and fans gathered at the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science for a tribute concert honoring her legacy. She was laid to rest in Mobile’s historic 150-acre Catholic Cemetery. The renewed interest Greenwood enjoyed in her final years “meant a huge amount,” Rummel told the Mobile Press-Register. “It kept her going much more so than she might have done otherwise. That attention was really great for her.”
WILLIE DAVIS, LEAD OF THE JACKS
Willie Davis, the powerful gospel-influenced tenor who led a string of successful R&B vocal group records by the Jacks in the 1950s including “Why Don’t You Write Me” died in Grand Prairie, Texas on February 20, 2011 at age 78 of complications from advanced Alzheimer’s Disease.
Born in Dallas on October 30, 1932, Davis began singing in his local church choir at the age of 9, and eventually relocated to Los Angeles, California where he sang in area churches with his own gospel group. At one of these gatherings, Davis met Aaron “A. C.” Collins (1930-1997) and the duo soon formed the Santa Monica Soul Seekers with Lloyd McCraw (1915-1976), adding bass Will J. “Dub” Jones (1928-2000), Austin “Ted” Taylor (1937-1987), and Glendon Kingsby in rapid succession.
The sextet had initially planned to record spiritual music for Modern Records in Culver City until A&R director Maxwell Davis suggested they focus their attention on rock’n’roll and rhythm’n’blues. Kingsbury dissented, but the other five signed a three-year deal with the company on April 10, 1955 and were christened the Cadets by label mogul Joe Bihari. “We were going to record spirituals and got mixed up in the rock’n’roll thing,” confirmed Davis in 1999. “It didn’t make any real difference to me. When God gives you a talent, it doesn’t matter how you use it. What is important is that the love of God is in your heart.”
Initially, the Cadets were utilized to cover up-and-coming records in the R&B field. When Modern couldn’t release the records fast enough under the Cadets name, they began utilizing a second name, calling the group the Jacks, on their RPM subsidiary. Generally, Collins or Jones would lead the uptempo songs on Modern. Davis, who possessed a strong, emotional tenor, handled the bulk of the RPM ballads under the Jacks name.
In covering the Feathers’ “Why Don’t You Write Me”, the Davis-led Jacks scored their biggest chart success, hitting #3 on Billboard’s R&B list during a 14-week chart run in the summer of 1955. During their Modern/RPM run, Davis was featured on a number of additional first-class efforts including “I’m Confessin’”, “So Wrong”, “How Soon”, “Heaven Help Me”, and “Why Did I Fall in Love”.
As the Cadets, they covered the Marigolds’ “Rollin’ Stone”, jumped on the answer record bandwagon with “Annie Met Henry”, and scored their signature hit with a polished version of the Jayhawks’ novelty, “Stranded In The Jungle”, which hit #15 pop and #4 R&B in the summer of 1956.
By 1956, McCraw had retired from the road, Taylor left to pursue a solo career, and Thomas “Pete” Fox of the Flairs was added. The new lineup recorded prolifically through 1957. No further hits followed. Essentially broke, and tired of the road, the Jacks/Cadets went their separate ways when their contract expired in April of 1958. “It was a joke,” Davis remarked bitterly. “We were dumb and didn’t know any better, and they knew that. We were supposed to have gotten royalties, but we never did see any of it.” That spring, Jones embarked on a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career with the Coasters.
Davis’ next recording came as lead singer of the Rocketeers (formerly the Rhythm Aces on Vee Jay and the Rockets on Modern) on “My Reckless Heart”, for McCraw, Jones, and Collins’ own MJC label in 1958. Davis and Collins kept the Jacks/Cadets name alive into the early 1960s with new members Thomas Miller, George Hollis, and Randy Jones. “Car Crash” (Jan-Lar, 1960), featuring Davis’ frantic crying and sobs, and “A Place In My Heart”, a strong Davis-led ballad issued under the name of the Peppers (Ensign, 1961) sold lightly but are fondly recalled by R&B vocal group harmony collectors today. At one point, Davis performed under the name Willie Pepper.
By 1961, Collins was writing and occasionally recording with the Flares. That summer, Davis and Collins- singing a duet lead- were joined by Hollis and Miller to record “Foot Stompin’”, which hit #25 on the national pop chart. “I was glad to be back out there,” Davis admitted. “It brought back a lot of old memories. It was just a part-time thing. I just made ‘Foot Stompin’” with them.”
In 1962, Davis surfaced again as lead singer of the Thor-Ables, a trio that included Bobby Baker and James Lanier. “Our Love Song”, a fine ballad, was issued on the tiny Titanic label. Davis and Collins kept the Jacks/Cadets going into the mid-1960s, but with musical tastes changing, the singers eventually disbanded. With nine children to support, Davis concentrated on an auto detail shop he owned. He also went back to singing gospel music in his church.
In 1999, Davis, Pete Fox, Randy Jones, and new member Thomas Turner reformed the Jacks/Cadets to perform at the United In Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame awards in New York City. Wildly received, they began performing sporadically. In 2000, they traveled to Great Britain and appeared in PBS-TV’s successful Doo Wop 51 concert event. Despite Jones’ death in 2002, the group persevered, returning to the United Kingdom again in 2003.
Diagnosed with liver cancer in 2005, Davis subsequently developed Alzheimer’s Disease and relocated from El Monte, California to the Dallas area in 2010 to be cared for by his daughter, Sharon Davis, and her family. Funeral services for Willie Davis took place on March 2 at the Evergreen Memorial Chapel in Dallas. He was survived by nine children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his 12 siblings.
“I like entertaining,” Davis summed in 1999. “I’ve always enjoyed my fans. I love them all. They will keep me going for the rest of my life. When we were singing, if you listen to the words of the songs, it was something that was really touching. They were clean. Something like that lasts so long because it tells a story that is touching forever. I think we should go back to that, really.”
BOBBY PHILLIPS OF THE CADILLACS:
Robert W. “Bobby” Phillips, a founding member and bass singer for the Cadillacs who influenced generations of vocal group harmony fans and performers with their flashy stage presentation, soulful harmonies, and memorable recordings including “Gloria”, “Speedoo”, “Zoom”, and “Peek-A-Boo”, died in a New York hospice care facility on Sunday, March 6, 2011 at age 76.
Born January 28, 1935, Phillips, lead tenor Earl Carroll and Laverne Drake formed the original quintet as the Carnations in their 7 and 8th Avenue neighborhood between 131st and 133rd Streets in Harlem, New York. In 1953, they were referred to Shaw Artists Booking Agency secretary Esther Navarro who became their manager and secured a contract with Josie Records. Christened the Cadillacs by Navarro, the group’s initial waxing, the uptempo “I Wonder Why”, featuring Carroll and Phillips, was paired with a reworking of the old Mills Brothers’ standard, “Gloria”.
The Cadillacs’ “Gloria” became an influential benchmark for vocal groups in and beyond the early rock’n’roll era, and was followed by a series of charming ballads (“Wishing Well”, “Sympathy”, “Window Lady”, “You Are”, and “The Girl I Love”), bouncing, upbeat toe-tappers, (“No Chance”, “Zoom”, and “Woe Is Me”), and unique novelty efforts, (“Peek-A-Boo”, “Jay Walker” and “Please Mr. Johnson”). With eye-catching suits, crisp arrangements and stellar backing from Jesse Powell and his band, the Cadillacs were fan favorites and, Carroll, a born showman, infused the comedic stylings of black actor Mantan Moreland to the rock’n’roll stage.
The group’s signature hit, “Speedoo”, which opened with Phillips’ rhythmic bass run, climbed to #3 R&B and #17 pop in early 1956. Their swinging interpretation of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, which also featured stellar bass parts from the diminutive Phillips, who stood no more than five-feet-four, hit the charts in early ’57. It was followed into the Top 40 by “Peek-A-Boo” in the winter of 1959. With coaching from noted dancers and choreographers Cholly Atkins and Honi Coles, the Cadillacs were the first R&B vocal group to extensively use precision choreography in their stage routines, heavily influencing Motown’s superstars of the 1960s.
While the group’s personnel often changed- 18 different lineups recorded as the Cadillacs between 1953 and 1964- Phillips sang on more Cadillacs records and in concert performances than any other member. He appeared with them in the 1959 motion picture, “Go Johnny Go”, starring Alan Freed and Chuck Berry, and, along with long-time vocalist J. R. Bailey, kept the group going strong into the 1970s, recording “Deep In The Heart Of The Ghetto” for Polydor Records. While Carroll was with the Coasters from 1961-79, Phillips often played the part of “Mr. Earl” on stage, leading the Cadillacs’ classic hit.
In 1979, Carroll and Phillips joined forces again and, with the subsequent addition of Gary Lewis, recorded and performed worldwide for the next 30 years. Their last studio album, Mr. Lucky, was issued in 2004. Phillips suffered a minor stroke in 2008 but remained in the lineup until reportedly developing kidney problems last spring. In his absence, Carroll and Lewis added Richard Lanham, formerly of the Tempo-Tones, to the Cadillacs performing unit. Funeral services for Robert Phillips, a lifelong resident of Harlem’s St. Nicholas Park neighborhood, were held March 15 at the Unity Funeral Chapel on 8th Avenue.
CARL RAINGE, SPANIELS TENOR
Funeral services were held at the First Baptist Church in Gary, Indiana on Saturday, March 12, for Parmaley "Carl" Rainge, a first tenor who joined the Spaniels in 1956 and sang on their R&B vocal group harmony classics "You Gave Me Peace Of Mind", "Everyone's Laughing", "Stormy Weather", and "You're Gonna Cry" for Vee Jay Records.
Rainge died Sunday, March 6, 2011 in Columbia, Tennessee after a long illness. He was 74. One of seven children, Rainge and James "Dimples" Cochran were recruited into the Spaniels by bass singer Gerald Gregory after the original group broke up two years after their 1954 signature hit, "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" swept the nation. Second tenor Donald Porter was added, and the group performed for several months with Rainge singing lead.
In November of 1956, lead singer James "Pookie" Hudson returned to the lineup, initially to fill in for Rainge who was ill and unable to sing on the new Otis Blackwell song the Spaniels were slated to record, "Please Don't Tease".
Hudson wrote and led "You Gave Me Peace Of Mind", the new group's first release, which became a regional hit in late 1956 and early 1957. The infectious, upbeat "Everyone's Laughing" crossed over into the pop charts later that year and was followed by the soulful "You're Gonna Cry" and a rocking 1958 version of "Stormy Weather". The most technically proficient of the three distinct Spaniels groups to record for Vee Jay, Rainge's aggregation produced the splendid "These Three Words", "100 Years From Today", "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening", "Red Sails in the Sunset", "Heart and Soul", and "People Will Say We're In Love" between 1957 and 1959.
They also toured the country with artists including the Coasters, Fats Domino, the Dells, Ruth Brown, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Chuck Berry, Paul Anka, and others.
After leaving the group in early 1960, Rainge worked a variety of jobs in Northwest Indiana area and served as bailiff at the Lake County Courthouse in Gary. In 1974, Rainge, Porter, Hudson and bass Lester Williams, who sang with the group on "Everyone's Laughing", reunited to record for an EP for Canterbury Records, including the contemporary soul tune, "She Sang To Me". With Gregory and James Cochran soon returning, the original 1956-59 lineup of Spaniels performed frequently through the remainder of the 1970s and '80s until Hudson reorganized the original "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" unit in 1991.
Rainge remained part of the Spaniels family for the remainder of his life, and sang with his former bandmates at bass Gerald Gregory's funeral in 1999 and participated in a 2005 awards show.
Rainge suffered a stroke two years ago and moved from Gary to Columbia, Tennessee to be near his daughter, Linda. Survivors also include a son, Parmaley Keith Rainge, five siblings, four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and his fellow Spaniels Donald Porter, James "Dimples" Cochran, and original members Willie C. Jackson and Rev. Ernest Warren. Surviving members of the group sang at Rainge's funeral service.
MONTE OWENS, SANG WITH THE MELLO-MOODS, SOLITAIRES
Monteith P. "Monte" Owens, a first tenor and guitarist who recorded and performed with the Mello Moods and Solitaires in the 1950s and early 1960s on a host of vocal group harmony classics including "Where Are You", "Walking Along", and "The Angels Sang", died March 3, 2011 at a skilled nursing facility in the Bronx, New York, after a long illness. He was 75.
Born March 31, 1936, Monte and his Bronx neighborhood friends, lead singer Ray "Buddy" Wooten, bass Jimmy "Bip" Bethea, and tenors Alvin "Bobby" Baylor, and Bobby "Little Schubie" Williams formed the Mello Moods in 1949 and scored a national hit with their 1951 debut release, "Where Are You", which hit #7 on Billboard's R&B chart in February, 1952. On stage, Owens frequently led the group on the R&B chestnut, "Bewildered".
The Mello Moods appeared at the Apollo and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. They recorded three additional singles for Red Robin and Prestige Records in 1952-53 including "I Couldn't Sleep A Wink Last Night", "Call On Me", and "I'm Lost", before going their separate ways.
In 1953, Owens briefly sang and played with the Caverliers, a Brooklyn group that later evolved into the Fi-Tones, but was best known for his work with the Solitaires. Baylor brought his fellow Mello Moods Owens and Williams into the Solitaires prior to the group's first recording session in 1954. A skilled guitarist who also possessed a clear first tenor, Owens played and or sang on "Blue Valentine", "Please Remember My Heart", "South Of The Border", "Ghost of A Chance", "Later For You Baby", "The Angels Sang", "Walking Along", "Please Kiss This Letter", "Helpless", and others. Owens participated in all of the Solitaires' Old Town releases except one ("Walkin' and Talkin'"/"No More Sorrows"), often arranged their material, and served as musical director in concert appearances following the departure of Williams in 1956. His soaring high tenor anchored the background harmony in the group's signature ballad, "The Angels Sang".
In later years, Owens led his own band in Bronx area clubs and also played with Jimmy Castor. After suffering a series of strokes, Monte Owens retired on a disability from the U.S. Postal Service in the early 1990s. During his tenure with the Solitaires, Owens brought a number of gifted artists into the group including Cecil Holmes and lead singer Milton Love, who replaced the Army-bound Herman Dunham in 1955. "I knew Monte before I got in the group," Love recalls. "We lived in the same projects, and he brought me to a Solitaires rehearsal in the Harlem River Housing Projects to try out as lead singer. Monte really made me feel welcome. There was something special about him." "Monte was one hell of a nice guy," Bethea, 75, the final surviving Mello Moods member recounts. "I never remenber him having a harsh word with anyone. I spoke to him on the phone at the nursing home a few years ago and he wasn't doing too well, particularly with speaking. Even though I hadn't seen him in so long, it's sad knowing that he's gone. I will really miss him." Funeral arrangements are being planned for the Bronx, New York.
Remembering An R&B Pioneer: Robins' Magical Tenor, Grady Chapman, Dies At 81
Grady Chapman, whose expressive high tenor lead graced a host of rhythm and blues vocal group harmony records by the Robins during the mid-1950s died January 4, 2011 at a Los Angeles, California hospital, according to the singer's daughter, Tania. The 81-year old's death was attributed to congestive heart failure.
Born in Anderson County, South Carolina on October 1, 1929, Chapman came to the West Coast as a youngster and joined the already established Robins in 1952. Discovered by Johnny Otis, the Robins had begun recording in 1949 and appeared on a handful of labels including Excelsior, Aladdin, Score, Savoy, Regent, Modern, RPM, and Recorded in Hollywood, under their own name, pseudonyms including the Four Bluebirds and the Nic-Nacs, and backing other artists including Little Esther and Mickey Champion.
Chapman first recorded with the Robins- Ulysses "Bobby" Nunn, Terrell "Ty" Leonard, and Billy and Roy Richard- in Hollywood for RCA-Victor on January 21, 1953. Over the course of three sessions held between January and September, Chapman fronted the Robins on the haunting ("My Heart's The Biggest Fool" and "How Would You Know"), the humorous, ("Ten Days in Jail"), and the soulful ("Oh Why"). The group even masqueraded under the Drifters name, waxing an obscure single for Crown entitled "The World Is Changing". Chapman also shined on "Double Crossin' Baby", issued on Crown in 1954 as by the Robbins (sic).
Grady was in and out of the Robins for much of 1954, going afoul of the law- by his own admission- and also recording with another group, Grady Chapman and the Suedes ("Don't Blooper") for Money Records. Consequently, the Robins added Texas-born tenor Carl Gardner who initially shared lead vocal chores with Chapman when the act signed with Leiber and Stoller's Spark enterprise early that year. In what was likely their only session together, Gardner led "If Teardrops Were Kisses" and Chapman fronted “I Love Paris” and "Whadaya Want?"
In Chapman's absence, the Robins recorded "Riot In Cell Block #9", "Framed", and "Smokey Joe's Café", and by the end of 1955, Leiber and Stoller had sold Spark, joined Atco, and recruited Gardner and Nunn away from the Robins to form the Coasters.
Chapman rejoined Leonard, the Richard brothers, and a new member, 19 year-old H. B. Barnum, in the Robins. Signing on with disc jockey Gene Norman's Whippet label, the group recorded a number of impressive R&B and pop-flavored sides in 1956-57 including "Cherry Lips", "Since I First Met You", and "That Old Black Magic", all featuring Grady's emotive lead tenor.
Around March of 1957, Chapman's initial solo effort ("My Love Will Never Die"/"The Smiling Gondolier", backed by an uncredited female group) was issued on Zephyr and distributed by Norman. With Grady still in the fold, the Robins moved to Imperial's Knight subsidiary label in 1958, waxing "A Quarter To Twelve", but by year's end, Chapman had gone solo full-time, leaving 17 year-old Bobby Sheen to take over the lead vocal chores.
A 1958 solo disc on Knight, "Say You Will Be Mine"/"Starlight, Starbright", was followed by two 1959 Imperial 45s, including the splendid "Tell Me That You Care", again with a female group backing. Three additional singles were recorded and issued on Mercury in 1960-61 but, despite some stellar material, Chapman was never able to build a strong solo career. From 1963 to 1966, he toured in the Coasters Mark II with Bobby Nunn, Bobby Sheen, and Billy Richards, Jr. (sic).
After the members went their separate ways, Chapman and Nunn joined forces to form their own touring unit. At various times he performed as the leader or a member of Grady Chapman's Coasters, The Bobby Nunn Tribute Coasters Group, the Word Famous Coasters and the Fabulous Coasters. Often, Chapman was joined by ex-Coasters alumni including Leon Hughes, Billy Guy, and Will "Dub" Jones. In 1977, Guy, Chapman, and Evans recorded background vocals for Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. Old friends Billy Richards, Jr., Jerome Evans, formerly of the Cyclones and the Furys, Randy Jones of the Penguins, and Bobby Sheen, (who was working with Chapman just before his death in 2000), all shared the stage with Grady at various times from the '70s into the 2000s. In 2000, Chapman, Evans, Jones, and Robert Baker toured Germany as the Fabulous Coasters. When demand arose, he was also willing to resurrect the Robins, and did so on numerous occasions - sometimes with 1950s members Leonard, the Richard brothers, and H. B. Barnum, frequently with Randy Jones, Bobby Johnson and Billy Foster, and, most recently, with Bobby Baker and J. D. Hall.
In the fall of 1993, while he was recovering from throat cancer treatment, Coasters founder and lead singer Carl Gardner asked his old friend to take his place in the group until he was well enough to return to the stage, which Chapman did with pleasure. "We were very saddened to learn of the passing of Grady Chapman," 82 year-old Carl Gardner and his wife, Veta, said in a joint statement from their Florida residence. "We worked together in both the Robins and the Coasters and remained friends over these many years. We send our deepest sympathies to his family. Grady, we will miss you."
Subsequently, I learned from Grady’s daughter, Tania, that it was his wish to be buried next to his mother at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Cypress, CA. I sent out some e-mails and after contacting a number of industry folks, a number of friends and associates came forth to offer financial assistance including Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Grady’s wish was honored. He was laid to rest at Forest Lawn on January 28.
NICK SANTO OF THE CAPRIS
Nick J. "Santo" Santamaria, 69, lead singer of the Ozone Park, New York doo wop quintet, the Capris, died December 30, of mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer usually caused by asbestos exposure. Born November 10, 1941, Santo wrote and led the group's signature ballad, "There's A Moon Out Tonight", which was first issued on Planet Records in 1958. Two years later, when demand for the record resulted in its reissue on Lost Nite, Old Town picked it up, the disbanded Capris reunited, and, by early 1961, "There's A Moon Out Tonight" was a #3 hit on the national pop chart. Santo left the group in 1963 for a career as a New York City police officer. In 1982, he reformed the Capris and scored a regional hit with another original, the bouncing "Morse Code Of Love", later covered by the Manhattan Transfer. Santo and the Capris remained active until his illness forced retirement in late 2007.
MELVIN LEWIS OF THE JESTERS
Charles "Melvin" Lewis, a baritone singer who joined the Jesters in 1959 and sang on their 1960-61 Winley label sides including the group's remake of "The Wind", died in Bronx, new York on Tuesday, May 4, 2010. He was 70 years old. Born July 17, 1939, Lewis began his recording career in 1957 with Joe Rivers, who was half of the duo Johnnie and Joe who later hit with "Over The Mountain, Across The Sea". Both were part of the Climbers, who recorded two singles for J&S Records in 1957. Lewis joined original members Adam Jackson and Anthony "Jimmy" Smith after the original quintet disbanded and, after adding Melvin's late brother, Donald Lewis on bass, began recording and performing on the strength of the Paragons Meet The Jesters album. The act recorded one additional single for Starlight Records in 1986 and, with Adam's brother Ronald, who joined in 1974, continued performing live into the 1990s. Adam Jackson died in 1994, Donald Lewis died several years later, and Melvin continued the Jesters into the 21st Century with Ronald Jackson, Marshall Cherry, and newer members. Before retiring, Melvin was also employed as a photo shop manager.
NORMAN WRIGHT, DELL-VIKINGS LEAD
Norman Anthony Wright Sr.,-lead tenor in the Dell-Vikings, Born October 21, 1937, died of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease on April 23, 2010 in a skilled nursing facility in Morristown, New Jersey.
A Philadelphia native, Wright, 72, was the baritone lead who helped catapult the Del Vikings onto the national charts with the #2 R&B doo wop classic, “Come Go With Me” in 1957. bOne of a group of U. S. Air Force servicemen who formed the act in 1956, Wright also led the racially integrated group on “Down In Bermuda”, “Come Along With Me”, and “A Sunday Kind Of Love”, among others, sang baritone on the Kripp Johnson-led smash “Whispering Bells”, appeared with them on the Ed Sullivan Show and in the motion picture, “The Big Beat”.
Residing in Brooklyn, New York, Wright maintained an active presence on the revival circuit in later years, often working with fellow originals Clarence Quick, Kripp Johnson, David Lerchey and others from the 1960s into the 2000s until ill health forced his retirement. He and Lerchey performed together in the 1999 PBS blockbuster, Doo Wop 50. Today, guitarist/second tenor/baritone Joe Lopes, longtime German resident Gus Backus, who led “Jitterbug Mary” and “Cool Shake”, and R&B star Chuck Jackson are the Fee Bee/Mercury Del Vikings’ survivors. Wright is survived by his sons who had performed with him since the 1990s, Anthony and Norman “Skip” Wright, Jr.
MAC WEST OF THE SPIDERS
Matthew "Mac" West- one of the two surviving members of the Spiders, who hit nationally with "I Didn't Want To Do It", "You're The One", "I'm Slippin' In" and "Witchcraft" in 1953-55, died July 29, 2009 in Inglewood, California at age 83. Born March 8, 1926, the Louisiana native left the group when lead singer Chuck Carbo struck out on his own as a soloist in late 1955, left music altogether and settled on the West Coast. He was predeceased by his fellow original members Hayward "Chuck" and Leonard "Chick" Carbo and bass Oliver Howard. The Spiders' lone survivor is now Joseph J. Maxon, 85, of Kenner, LA.
RALPH MARTIN OF THE 5 WILLOWS
Ralph Martin, an original member of the Willows, the 1950s rhythm and blues vocal group who hit the national charts with "Church Bells May Ring" in 1956, died at Bronx Lebanon Hospital Center in Bronx, New York, March 23, 2010 of complications from colon cancer. He was 75.
Born in Harlem, New York on February 12, 1935, second tenor Ralph Martin and his twin brother, baritone Joe Martin, joined forces with Richie Davis, Tony Middleton, and John Thomas "Scooter" Steele to form the original Five Willows in their West 115th Street neighborhood in 1952. “We used to call ourselves the Dovers,” Ralph recalled in a 1993 interview.
The Five Willows signed with Peter Doraine's Allen label the following year and scored a regional hit with their original composition, "My Dear Dearest Darling". "Pete Doraine got the band for us,” Ralph explained. “We rehearsed in a nightclub with saxophonist Don Archer and his band. We rehearsed our brains off with the band (before the recording)."
The Five Willows recorded collectors' prizes in "Dolores", featuring Ralph’s floating falsetto tenor, "White Cliffs of Dover", and "Love Bells" for Doraine into 1954 before waxing a pair of unsuccessful discs for Herald.
Signing with Morty Craft's Melba firm in early 1956, the Willows (they had dropped the "Five" after Joe had overslept and missed a matinee show during an Apollo engagement) brought "Church Bells May Ring", a song that Herald had rejected, to their first session. Craft had budding songwriter Neil Sedaka overdub chimes on the doo-wop rocker, which sold over 4,000 copies around New York in the first two days after it was released. The song peaked at #14 on the R&B chart and #62 on Billboard's pop list, eclipsed by a cover version by the Diamonds on Mercury. "I liked it by the Diamonds," admitted Ralph. "But I still felt I'd been robbed." The Willows ultimately sued Craft for non-payment of royalties and were awarded a lump sum of $1200 after the label owner declared bankruptcy.
At Easter, 1956, the Willows appeared with Alan Freed at the famed Brooklyn Paramount Theater, along with the Platters, Flamingos, Cleftones, and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, among others. "At the Paramount, they'd rip your clothes," remembered Ralph. "They'd tear your clothes off or rip them off your back. We couldn't leave to go out and get lunch the block was so filled up. They'd want to tear your clothes off."
Although the Willows never hit the national charts again, they performed and recorded regularly for Melba, Club, El Dorado, Gone, Warwick, and Heidi, into 1964. The Martin twins appeared on every record and recruited Joe's wife, Dottie, to replace Tony Middleton after he left to embark on a solo career in 1959. After a one-off performance in 1972, Middleton, Davis, the Martin twins, and Steele reformed the group for personal appearances in 1983. They worked sporadically until 1989.
In 1998, the four surviving original members reunited, playing various concert venues on the East Coast, appeared in the successful PBS-TV event, “Red White and Rock” in 2002, and performed in England in May, 2005. After Joe Martin suffered a stroke in 2003, his place in the group was taken by Desi Edwards, Tony Middleton’s son. The quartet last performed together in 2009. “Ralph had cancer that had spread through his body,” first tenor Richie Davis relates. “A couple of days before he died he just collapsed coming out of the building where he lived building in the Bronx and they brought him to the hospital. He was on a respirator until he died. We were together more than 50 years, and we had some really good times. I’ve known Ralph since we were 10 years old. When he was young, he had a voice like Clyde McPhatter. I will certainly miss him.”
Martin was preceded in death by his twin brother, Joe, who died in 2005, and fellow Willows John Thomas Steele (1934-1997), Richard Simon (1936-1995) and Freddy Donovan (1939-1986). Survivors include one daughter, one granddaughter, and his fellow Willows, Tony Middleton, now 73, and Richie Davis, 74.
In their Harlem neighborhood, the Bop Chords, Channels, Ladders, Laddins, and Harptones were all inspired by the early successes of the Five Willows and the Five Crowns. Today, original copies of their records can sell for hundreds of dollars and their national hit, "Church Bells May Ring", remains a doo-wop era favorite. "It was the sound," Ralph summed in 1993. "It was different. It was our sound. It was original and it felt good singing it. I don't mind saying I wish I was up there singing."
R&B PIONEER WITH THE VOCALEERS, SOLITAIRES, DIES AT 73 Herman P. Dunham, whose pristine tenor graced a host of classic R&B vocal group sides in the 1950s as a founding member of both the Solitaires and the Vocaleers, died Sunday night, January 31, 2010 at the Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, New York. The 73 year-old had been suffering from cancer.
Born in New York on February 8, 1936, he began singing at the age of 16 with a pair of his 142nd Street softball teammates, first tenor and lead Joe Duncan (born Alfred John Martinez, 1934-2002) and second tenor-baritone Melvin Walton. They were joined by tenor William Walker and bass Teddy Williams and called themselves the Rainbows. After winning an Apollo Amateur Night contest, the quintet recorded a demo of an original Duncan ballad, “Be True”, which made its way to Bobby Robinson’s 125th Street record shop. Eventually, a contract with Robinson’s Red Robin label was tendered, and the newly-named Vocaleers, recorded “Be True” in December of 1952 with Dunham echoing Duncan’s primary lead. The record became a regional hit in early 1953.
Lamar Cooper replaced Williams on the group’s follow-up Red Robin releases, “Is It A Dream”, a #4 R&B chart hit in the summer of 1953, “I Walk Alone”, featuring Dunham’s echoing tenor, and “Love You”, with Herman delivering the smooth opening line.
In late 1953, Dunham left the Vocaleers- varying accounts are given for his departure- and quickly joined the Solitaires, a neighborhood group on 142nd Street. The new sextet- including second tenor Winston “Buzzy” Willis, bass Pat Gaston, and former Mello Moods- tenor-guitarist Monte Owens, second tenor-baritone Alvin “Bobby” Baylor, and tenor-pianist Bobby Williams- successfully auditioned for Hy Weiss’ Old Town label around Christmastime and waxed their first single, “Blue Valentine”/“Wonder Why” in January of 1954.
Herman, who occasionally used his wife’s maiden name, billing himself “Herman Curtis”, was the featured lead on the bulk of the early Solitaires’ sides, including the ethereal 1954 ballad “Please Remember My Heart”, “My Dear”, “Lonely”, “Girl Of Mine”, the bouncing “What Did She Say”, issued in April of 1955, and “Please Kiss This Letter”, first issued as the flip of “Walking Along” in early 1957. That spring, however, Dunham was drafted, and the group brought in Milton Love to serve as principal lead and songwriter, a position he still maintains today. Love was featured on many of the group’s best-known recordings including his composition, “Walking Along”, “The Angels Sang”, “Later For You Baby”, and as a co-lead with Baylor, “The Wedding”.
After completing his military obligation, Dunham returned to the Solitaires in 1957, fronting “I Really Love You So”, “Walkin’ and Talkin’”, and sharing the lead with Love on “Thrill of Love”. Within a year, however, Dunham had gone from the Solitaires amid a flurry of personnel changes, opting to reform the Vocaleers with Joe Duncan, Paul Roland Martinez, and Dubs’ lead Richard Blandon, eventually re-adding Cooper and Walton in 1958. The group recorded the Dunham-led “I Need Your Love So Bad” and “Have You Ever Loved Someone”, featuring Dunham, for Weiss’ Paradise subsidiary in 1959. Dunham, Duncan, Walton, and new member Tiny Fuller recorded “Love and Devotion” and the Dunham-led “This Is The Night” for Old Town in 1960.
Herman recorded a handful of sides for Old Town as a soloist in 1962, but no records were released at the time. The elusive singer drifted south, and was spotted in Washington, D.C. and the Carolinas in later years. By 2008, he was living in Queens, New York and, at Love’s invitation, returned to the Solitaires touring unit alongside Ray Goodwin, Al Grant, Frank Morrow, and Don Cruz. His performances included the filmed Burlington 2008 concert in New Jersey that October, reuniting the current group with former members Fred Barksdale and Pat Gaston, and a tribute to UGHA founder Ronnie I. in November of 2009, an event which ultimately marked Dunham’s last stage appearance.
“Herman was a fun guy, but also a private guy,” longtime Solitaires tenor Don Cruz explains. “We knew he had some health issues and had been going to doctors, but he was still singing and sounding great. He had a lot of soul. Sometimes he missed rehearsal because he was going for treatments, but he never complained about anything, and he never lost his hair, either. He was supposed to perform with the Solitaires at the next gig in Red Bank (New Jersey on February 13). He had been in the hospital for a week or two before he died. He never told us he had cancer. But, I’ll tell you, it was great having him back in the group. So many people got to see him and meet him, and he got to see them and meet them, too. He got to get back on the stage at the end of his life.”
Dunham’s wake was held in East Harlem, New York on the anniversary of his birth. In tribute to their founding member, the Solitaires sang acappella renditions of “Please Remember My Heart” and “Blue Valentine” during Herman’s home-going services. Former Vocaleer Paul Roland Martinez was among the attendees. Dunham was laid to rest- wearing his Solitaires stage tuxedo- alongside his wife in Bay View Cemetery in Hudson County, New Jersey on February 9.
DELROYS’ “BERMUDA SHORTS” LEAD, ARMY VETERAN, RETIRED TRANSIT POLICE OFFICER, DIES AT 68.
Reggie Walker, the baritone-bass singer who led the Delroys on their regional doo wop favorite, “Bermuda Shorts” in 1957, died unexpectedly on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at the University of Nassau Hospital in East Meadow, New York. Family and friends reported the cause of death as a massive heart attack. He was 68 years old.
Born in New York City on August 7, 1941, Reginald Allan Walker grew up in the Queensbridge Housing Project, overlooking the East River and the 59th Street Bridge in Queens, New York. The original group was formed when Walker joined forces with the members of another street corner group led by two brothers, first tenor Ronald, and baritone-singing Robert Coleman. A fourth member, tenor John Blount, was added from a rival unit.
Taking their name from a 1950s acrobatic team, the Delroys were brought to Apollo Records by manager Ernest Kelly, who got the label to sign the quartet, along with his protégé, singer Milton Sparks. In the spring of 1957, they recorded “Bermuda Shorts”, an original song about the current fashion craze, and backed Sparks on “Time”, which the label coupled in July. Walker’s lead was stylistically similar to Apollo’s recent success story, the Cellos’ “Rang Tang Ding Dong (I Am The Japanese Sandman”).
“Bermuda Shorts” sold well in various regions around the country in the summer of 1957, earning the Delroys trips to Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington’s Howard Theater, and Harlem’s Apollo, among others. Along the way, the 14 to 16 year-old Delroys shared stages with the Dominoes, Clovers, Del Vikings, Fats Domino, the Chantels, and Bobby Darin.
Apollo Records never paid the group for their hit, and the members’ parents forbid them from recording for the label again. Blount left in 1958 after the quartet was left stranded and broke in Washington. Junior Talbot and Bobby Taylor of the Uniques joined, making the Delroys second record, 1959’s “Wise Old Owl”, on Kelly and Sparks’ tiny Sparkell label a quintet effort.
Walker graduated from Long Island City High and joined the United States Army in 1959, serving overseas and earning an honorable discharge in 1962. Ron Coleman formed a subsequent Delroys group with all new members in 1961, recording one single for the local Carol label. Coleman and Walker teamed with Walter Pope to record as the Delroys once again in 1964, waxing an album track, “Alimony” for Al Browne’s Moon Records.
Lifelong friends, the Colemans and Walker formed The First Three in 1970 and recorded “Don’t Get Caught Faking” and “Life Goes On” for Deep Records with Walker singing lead. The trio resurrected the Delroys name for live performances in the 1980s and released one additional single, a version of Little Willie John’s “Talk To Me”, on their own RSVP imprint in 1987.
A graduate of John Jay College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice, Reggie served as a Transit Police Department officer for 21 years (1967-1988) and often sang the National Anthem at official department ceremonies. After his retirement, he worked part-time as a bus driver and for the United States Postal Service in New York City.
The Delroys disbanded in 1996, but Ron Coleman and Reggie Walker would later share the stage again. In 2001, Reggie joined Clarence Quick’s (1937-1983) Del Vikings, formerly led by Dickie Harmon, and the late Frank Ayers and Lou Velez. Ron Coleman was also brought on board, and the group remained a staple on the doo wop touring circuit.
Survivors include his mother, Iris C. Walker of Carson, Virginia, a daughter, Tammy, and one granddaughter, both of Wilmington, North Carolina, and a sister and a brother. For the past five years, Walker had been making monthly trips from his East Elmhurst, New York home to Virginia to help care for his elderly, invalid mother. Funeral services for Reggie Walker were held on February 1 at the Little Zion Baptist Church in Carson, VA with interment at Dinwiddie Memorial Park. A New York memorial service is also being planned.
Harmon "The Masked Man" Bethea, 86, of the Cap-Tans and Maskman and the Agents has died. Mr. Bethea, who could sing tenor, baritone, and bass, succumbed after a period of declining health in Washington, D. C., on December 18, 2009. A World War II veteran born January 1, 1923, he recorded and performed gospel and rhythm and blues with the Progressive Four and the Corinthian Singers for Lillian Claiborne's D.C. label in 1947-48. Some of the group's spiritual sides were licensed for release by Herman Lubinsky's Savoy label.
In late 1949, Claiborne paired Bethea with another of her local acts, the Cap-Tans. In early 1950, the Cap-Tans- Bethea, first tenor Floyd Bennett, second tenor Alfred "Buddy" Slaughter, baritone/guitarist Lester Fountain, and primary tenor lead Sherman Buckner, began a series of recordings for Ms. Claiborne which would be released on an array of labels including Gotham, Dot, Coral, and D. C. through 1954. Buckner's floating tenor was featured on "I'm So Crazy For Love" (covered by the Ravens), which was issued on Dot in the summer of 1950. Bethea sang lead on the flip, "Crazy 'Bout My Honey Dip", and "My, My Ain't She Pretty" (Gotham, 1950, with Slaughter), "Chief, Turn The Hose On Me" (Dot, 1950, with Slaughter), Waiting At The Station (Gotham, 1951), and "Yes" (Gotham, 1951, with Buckner). Baritone/guitarist Raymond Reader replaced Fountain during his military obligation from mid-1951 through mid-1953. By late 1953, the Cap-Tans had broken up and Bethea formed a new group for D. C., recording gospel as the Progressiveaires and R&B as the Octaves. A trove of unreleased sides by these and other D. C. groups were first released to the collector's market in the 1970s.
In 1958, Bethea organized a new Cap-Tans group. Using the name "L' Cap-Tans", they recorded one single for Hollywood with Lester Britton fronting "The Bells Ring Out" and Bethea leading the B-side remake of "Chief, Turn The Hose On Me". New lead "Baby Jim" Belt was featured on both sides of their 1959 release, "Homework"/"Say Yes", which was licensed to Savoy in the spring of 1959.
/Bethea and Belt organized a new Cap-Tans with Tippie Hubbard and James "Toy" Walton, both of whom later became members of Hal Lucas' Clovers. Bethea led their 1960 Anna single, "Tight Skirts And Crazy Sweaters". Through the early 1960s, occasional singles trickled out of Claiborne's subsidiary labels including Hawkeye, Loop, and Sabu under names like Wailing Bethea and the Cap-Tans, and Bethea and the Cap-Tans.
In the midst of the British Invasion and the surge of Motown Records, Bethea took on the persona of "The Maskman". His backing group evolved from the Cap-Tans to the Agents. Between 1964 and 1985, Bethea recorded a plethora of solo and vocal group sides, in a decidely Northern Soul and Funk vein, for labels including Loop, Dynamo, and Musicor. Tenor Johnny Hood was a longtime member of Bethea's various Agents lineups.
In 1968-69, Maskman & the Agents' "One Eye Open" and "My Wife, My Dog, My Cat", both featuring Bethea, cracked Billboard's national R&B charts on Dynamo Records with distribution assistance from Musicor. The Mask Man continued recording and performing well into his 60s.
Harmon Bethea is survived by three brothers and one sister. He was preceded in death by his fellow Cap-Tans lead singers Alfred Slaughter (1927-1996) and Sherman Buckner (1923-1981). Mr. Bethea's family will receive friends on Tuesday, December 29, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the John T. Rhines Funeral Home, 3005 12th St., NE. Funeral service will be held on Wednesday, December 30, 2009, 10 a.m. at St. Anthony's Catholic Church, 12th & amp; Monroe St., NE. Bethea will be buried at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood, Maryland, the final resting palce of NFL star Fritz Pollard, jazz sax great Sonmny Stitt, and baseball Hall of Famer Clark Griffith. with thanks to Eric LeBlanc, Marv Goldberg, Jay Bruder, and the Washington Post
RIP SPENCER, L.A. R&B VETERAN
Veteran Los Angeles area rhythm and blues singer Sheridan "Rip" Spencer, who recorded with a multitude of vocal groups dating back to the mid-1950s, was shot and killed Wednesday, December 9, 2009 in Compton, California. He was 70 years old. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reported that Spencer was shot just after 1:30 PM local time in the 1600 block of West Caldwell Street, a residential area in the city of Compton which is located just southeast of downtown Los Angeles. Spencer was pronounced dead at the scene. No further details were released by the Sheriff's Department due to the ongoing investigation. Homicide detectives have not made any arrests in the case, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A second tenor, Rip Spencer was born in Compton, Califoornia on December 16, 1938, grew up in Los Angeles, and attended Jordan High School on East 103rd Street, and began singing with his cousin, baritone Brice Coefield in the mid-1950s. The two formed a quartet called the Sabers and made their debut for local entrepeneur Hite Morgan's tiny Cal-West label in 1955, with the Spencer-led "Always, Forever". Within a year, the group had changed their name to the Chavelles, added a fifth member in Billy Spicer, later known professionally as Billy Storm, and, through an association with songwriter-arranger-producer Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, scored a single release on Vita Records in 1956.
In 1957, Spencer, Coefield, Storm, and former Squires' tenor-guitarist Chester Pipkin formed the Valiants and Blackwell struck a deal for the act with the Keen label, where he also placed Sam Cooke. Storm led the group's debut for the firm, the flowing ballad "This Is The Night", which became a national hit following its November, 1957 release, hitting #69 on the Pop chart and #43 on Billboard's R&B list. Six additional Valiants singles followed into 1959 on Keen, two subsidiary imprints, Andex and Ensign, and Shar-Dee (with Don Trotter taking the place of the solo-bound Storm and bass Ed Wallace aboard).
Rechristened the Untouchables, the group teamed with former Keen producers Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, recording four singles for Madison and two for Liberty in 1960-61 including the collector's favorite, "Lovely Dee", featuring Coefield. Gary Pipkin and Billy Storm were in and out of the group at various times as well. A later release by the unit was credited to the Happy Tones.
The Untouchables broke up in late 1961. The Pipkins formed the Electras with two other members and Storm recorded with the Nuggets, Charades, and as a soloist. In the fall of 1962, Adler brought a group of singers to producer Phil Spector to record "Puddin N' Tain" as the Alley Cats. The group consisted of Rip Spencer, Brice Coefield, Gary Pipkin, bass James Barker, and Bobby Sheen (later known as Bob B. Soxx). Released on Philles, the record climbed to #21 on the R&B charts in early 1963. In 1966, Spencer, Storm, Coefield, Chester Pipkin, Billy Mann, and Warren Joyner recorded as the Electras for Ruby-Doo. Although he did not record with the act, Spencer also performed with a contemporary late '60s act called Africa.
In 1963, Rip Spencer took over the Marvin & Johnny name from his uncle, Marvin Phillips, and kept the duo active into the 21st Century in live concert appearances. One one occasion in 1993, he even teamed with Phillips himself for a concert appearance. In 1990, Spencer and Coefield reunited with two others to perform as the Valiants/Alley Cats for producer Mark del Costello at L. A.'s Greek Theater. In later years, he remained active as a booking agent and music publisher in addition to concert performances. with thanks to Marv Goldberg, Mark del Costello and the Los Angeles Times.
Eddie Jasper Daye, founder and bass lead of the R&B and soul vocal group the Four Bars, died after a long illness in Washington, D. C. on August 6, 2009. He was 79 years old. Born July 26, 1930 in Durham, North Carolina, Daye and second tenor Melvin Butler began singing together in the United States Army's Special Services division. After being discharged, they teamed up with first tenor Alfonso Feemster and baritone Francis Henry to form the 4 Bars.
Through an association with Orioles' manager and songwriter Deborah Chessler, the 4 Bars signed a contract with Jerry Blaine's Josie label, a Jubilee subsidiary, and made their debut with the Daye-led "Grief By Day, Grief By Night" in the spring of 1954. Daye and Feemster were featured on their second of three releases for Josie, a cover of Doris Day's "If I Give My Heart To You", that fall.
After a hiatus of several years, the group returned to the scene in 1958, recording a full sixteen 45s through 1969 which were sold or leased to a host of small independent labels in New York, Washington, and Philadelphia or issued on Daye's own Dayco label. Daye's soulful bass was featured on nearly all of the group's sides, including the powerful "Just Bid Me Farewell", released on Len in 1961, and "Try Me One More Time", which was issued three different times in the early 1960s.
The 4 Bars dissolved in the late 1960s, but Daye and his late wife, performing as Eddie and Denise and the Good Time Band, were a popular draw in the '80s, '90s, and beyond, frequenting D. C. area venues including the Gold Room, Gee's 4400 Club, and Chuck and Billy's Lounge. In his later years, Eddie's signature tune, "(I'm Not A Dirty Old Man, I'm Just A) Sexy Senior Citizen" gained frequent airplay on Washington's WPFW radio. with thanks to Marv Goldberg, Eric LeBlanc, and Steve Kiviat
Tom Jameson, who wrote the perennial doo-wop favorite, "Summertime Summertime" and recorded it with his group, the Jamies, died of cancer Sunday July 19, 2009 at age 72, according to his sister, Serena McKenney, who sang with him in the 1950s quartet.
Born in Boston on April 24, 1937, Thomas Earl Jameson was singing tenor in the Boy’s Choir at Boston’s Trinity Church, when he came up with an idea for a song. “We lived in my grandmother’s house, and I remember being upstairs and my poor grandmother laying down for her rest on the couch in the dining room, and Tom was in the living room where the piano was, playing that over and over as he wrote it, because he was a perfectionist,” Serena laughed in a 2008 interview. “I thought, ‘Is it ever going to end?’ When he finished it, he asked Jeannie (Roy, who sang with Serena in Dorchester's First Baptist Church Choir) and me if we would sing it.”
“It’s Summertime”, a classic ode to school vacation, featured four distinct harmony parts, from soprano to bass, painstakingly written and arranged by Jameson. Arthur Blair, a bass in the Baptist Church choir rounded out the quartet. “The harmony, everything was totally and completely his,” Serena adds. “He was a tough taskmaster. Everything had to be perfect.”
For months, the unnamed group would gather- often three times a week- to rehearse the song. On May 24, 1958, a demo of “It’s Summertime” was recorded at the Roy Nelson Studio on Boylston Street in Boston. “Tom paid,” Jeannie remembers. “He had a couple of copies made, and he and Arthur took them around to several disc jockeys in the Boston area.”
Two local DJs showed interest. Jameson decided to go with Sherman Feller (1918-1994), a popular fixture on WEEI and WEZE who had been in the medium for some 17 years, and had rubbed shoulders with everyone from Nat “King” Cole to Frank Sinatra. “Tom chose Sherm because he had contacts,” Serena explained. "Tom also signed something which gave Sherm half the writer’s compensation and allowed Sherm’s name to be printed on each record as co-writer. Sherm also got manager’s percentage and the publishing.”
Feller interested Cadence Records' Archie Bleyer in his protégés and brought them to New York to record the song on July 2 and subsequently suggested naming them the Jamies, from Tom and Serena’s last name.
The group’s bouncing lyrics and tight harmonies were augmented nicely by a harpsichord, which stood out among the sparse accompaniment. Blair’s bass intro was followed by a cascade of voices, from Tom’s tenor and Serena’s alto, to Jeannie’s clear soprano. “When we went to record, they said ‘Stop and let us know if you want any changes,” Serena recounted, “and Tom did stop it several times because it wasn’t the way he had it in his mind. It had to be exactly the way we had practiced.”
When Bleyer passed on the finished master, Feller brought it across the street to Epic Records which released the record on July 18. “Summertime, Summertime” cracked the pop chart on August 11, peaking at #26 in an 11-week stint. A winter follow-up, “Snow Train” never caught on. In 1959, Feller arranged a deal with United Artists by which time Rosalind Dever and Robert Paolucci (1935-2004) had replaced Serena and Arthur. The bouncing “Don’t Darken My Door” was issued in November, 1959 but failed to draw a national audience. In early 1960, the Jamies quietly dissolved.
Tom Jameson, who also composed the group’s B sides, “Searching For You”, “When The Sun Goes Down”, and “The Evening Star”, worked as a computer programmer and as an analyst in the banking and insurance industries, making his home in the Boston suburb of Braintree.
Through the years, “Summertime, Summertime” has taken on a life of its own. In 1960, it sold another quarter of a million copies, and when it was released for the third time in 1962, it spent eight weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 and hit #38. Jameson’s composition was also recorded by the Fortunes, the Doodletown Pipers, Hobby Horse, Jan & Dean, Mongo Jerry, and Sha Na Na. Buick, Applebee’s Restaurants, and Coca-Cola have used re-recordings in commercials.
CASTELLES’ TENOR, BILLY TAYLOR
Vocal group harmony veteran William “Billy” Taylor, whose graceful floating tenor was featured on a multitude of rhythm and blues collector’s favorites by the Castelles, died Tuesday night, August 4, 2009 in Washington, D. C. in his sleep after a period of declining health.
Born March 29, 1937 and raised in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Billy was influenced by the Orioles and the Dominoes, and sang in the choir at Sulzberger Junior High with fellow students who would go on to form the Castelles, Dreams, Angels, and Cherokees, among others.
Consisting of lead George “Pepe” Grant, first tenor Octavius Anthony, second tenor Frank Vance, bass Ron Everett, and Taylor, who could sing everything from baritone to falsetto tenor and second lead, the Castelles performed on the local Parisian Kiddie Hour radio talent program before taking a dub of “My Girl Awaits Me”, an original song written by Vance, to local record shop owner Herb Slotkin who, along with his 18 year-old associate Jerry Ragovoy, formed Grand Records, recording and managing the group.
“My Girl Awaits Me” sold well in many Eastern cities but a lack of national distribution made breakout success difficult. Taylor’s soaring falsetto was featured on a string of stirring romantic ballads including “This Silver Ring”, “Do You Remember?”, “If You Were The Only Girl”, and “Over A Cup Of Coffee” in 1953-54. Walt Miller replaced Taylor on the equally appealing “Marcella”. Taylor sang on lead on “Wonder Why”.
Filling in with the Dreams, he sang baritone behind George Tindley on their 1954 debut for Savoy, “Darlene” and “A Letter To My Girl” and their 1956-57 sides for Ember under the name Kenny Esquire and the Starlites (“They Call Me A Dreamer”, “Tears Are Just For Fools”).
In 1964, Taylor joined with members of the Cherokees, Dreams, and Majors to record “La La” and “Goodbye Molly” for Swan Records under the name of the Cobras. In 1966, he was paired with old friends George Tindley and George Grant, along with Twig Smith in the Modern Red Caps, recording “Golden Teardrops” for Swan.
Taylor’s versatility and ability to imitate others led to stints in other groups including the Spaniels, Billy Ward and his Dominoes (with whom he toured the Far East in the late 1960s), Hideaways, Hal Lucas’s Clovers, and Sonny Til and the Orioles, where he ably filled the second tenor role once held by George Nelson and could easily mimic Alex Sharp’s floating tenor runs. In the fall of 1962, Til, Taylor, former Dreams member Delton McCall and Spaniels bass Gerald Gregory recorded a dozen tunes for the Charlie Parker label which were released on six singles and an album into 1963. Taylor performed with Til frequently until the singer’s death in late 1981.
Humble, shy, always well-dressed, and deeply religious, Billy Taylor last performed on October 4, 2008 at Mark del Costello’s Black Swan Burlington, New Jersey concert with Grant, the Dreams’ Wes Hayes, Blue Notes’ pioneer Ron Kennedy, and veteran vocalist Matt Atkinson. By this time, Billy was walking slowly and with a cane, but his definitive falsetto was still strong and soaring, untouched by time. Billy Taylor is survived by two daughters, Jackie and Diane, an aunt, Ann Johnson, and one grandchild. with thanks to Charlie and Pam Horner, Mark del Costello, and Marv Goldberg
WARREN SUTTLES OF THE RAVENS
Warren "Birdland" Suttles, the last surviving member of the original Ravens, died in New York on July 24, 2009 at the age of 84 after a long bout with Parkinson's Disease. Born in Fairfield, Alabama on February 20, 1925, Suttles served in the United States Army during World War II and settled in New York after being discharged, eager to escape the prejudices of the deep South and follow his Negro League ball-playing uncle "Mule" Suttles into, if not the limelight, at least a steady job. Working as a waiter in a bar at the 400 Tavern on 148th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem, the baritone singer and fellow waiter Jimmy Ricks, a basso profundo, began their own singing group in 1945. Joined by Leonard Puzey, Ollie Jones, and pianist/arranger Howard Biggs, the Ravens began recording for Hub Records in 1946 (the recordings were later sold to King Records).
Jones was replaced by soaring tenor Maithe Marshall in early 1947 and the group soon signed with National Records, where they enjoyed a string of national hits including "Write Me A Letter", "Ol' Man River", "Send For Me If You Need Me", "Be On Your Merry Way", "Ricky's Blues", and the original R&B bass-led version of "White Christmas".
Despite a series of hits, the members found money extremely tight and both Suttles and Marshall left in the fall of 1948 with Joe Medlin and Richie Cannon taking over short-term. Marshall was back by November. Suttles returned in January of 1949. Biggs left that year to pursure other opportunities and was replaced by Bill Sanford. Louis Heyward (lead of "Count Every Star") took over for Suttles after his second departure in the spring of 1950.
By 1951, Suttles had formed a new group, the Dreamers with Harriet Calander, Percy Green, and Freddy Francis, and were recording for Jubilee Records. Suttles sang lead on their debut, "These Things I Miss". With Joe Van Loan standing in for Harriet, the Dreamers became Wini Brown's Boyfriends, backing her on "Be Anything - Be Mine" for Mercury in 1952. They also waxed a pair of their own discs for the firm and accompanied Arnett Cobb's band on Okeh. But by late 1952, the Dreamers had broken up and Suttles was back with the Ravens.
Despite a multitude of personnel changes, by mid-1953, Ricks, Puzey, Suttles and high tenor Joe Van Loan comprised the act. They recorded a handful of sparkling sides including "Rough Ridin'", a second version of their National 78 release "September Song", and "Goin' Home". Ricks was replaced by soundalike Tommy Evans in '54. He returned that fall, leaving Evans out of work and, at that time, Suttles left the Ravens for good.
Warren later worked as a taxi driver and valet parking attendant but continued to dabble in music with his own Warren Suttles Trio. From 1961-1972, he managed a Harlem establishment called Gene's Bar. In the '70s and '80s, the Ravens occasionally performed in the New York area at various venues- sometimes with Ricks- sometimes with Evans- in the bass lead role. Although their lineup would occasionally change, Suttles was rarely absent from a latter-day Ravens performance. Tough as nails and unafraid to speak his mind, Suttles was respected by his peers and members of the community alike.
In April of 1987, Jones, Suttles, Marshall, and Puzey performed as the Ravens at a Ronnie I.-produced concert in the Bronx, NY. In 1991, the Ravens were inducted into the United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame and were similarly honored by the Pennsylvania-based Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. In June of 1999, Suttles participated in the "Great Day in Harlem" photo shoot honoring the pioneers of rhythm and blues and doo wop. In July of 2006, New York City Mayor Bloomberg presented Suttles with the Harlem Jazz & Music Festival Rhythm and Blues Award for the Ravens at Gracie Mansion.Mr. Suttles was preceded in death by his fellow Ravens Jimmy Ricks (1924-1974), Maithe Marshall (1924-1989), Joe Van Loan (1922-1976), Ollie Jones (1923-1990), Leonard Puzey (1926-2007), Tommy Evans (1927-1984), and Howard Biggs (1916-1999), among others.
A Memorial services for Warren Suttles is scheduled for Monday, August 3, 2009 at 6 PM at Bill's Place, located at 148 West 133rd Street in Harlem, NY.
RUDY ANDERSON OF THE WHEELS
Rudolph "Rudy" Anderson, the lead singer for the 1950s rhythm and blues vocal group, the Wheels, died in Jersey City, New Jersey on March 7, 2009 at age 71. He had been ill with chronic kidney disease. Born November 22, 1937, Anderson formed the Wheels in Brooklyn, New York with tenor James Pender, baritone Kenneth Fox, and bass Lorenzo Cook and was discovered by Allen Bunn, formerly of the Larks, who became their manager and brought them to the attention of Joe Liebowitz at Premium Records in 1955.
The group's initial release, "My Heart's Desire", featuring the-then 18 year-old Anderson's expressive tenor lead, became a local hit and the group's signature tune. Two additional releases followed on Premium, and the quartet was also used by Liebowitz to back Gloria Lynne, Vicki Carr, and Arthur Lake on his Linden, New Jersey-based label. After Liebowitz' untimely death, the Wheels renamed themselves the Federals and, with the addition of the Fi-Tones' Reggie Barnes, recorded a pair of discs for Bobby Robinson's Fury label ("While Our Hearts Are Young", "Dear Lorraine") and one for DeLuxe, all in 1957.
In 1958, with Barnes moving on to the Solitaires and the Cadillacs, Anderson and his group reclaimed the Wheels name and recorded single releases for Time, Roulette, Curtis, and Folly Records, into 1959.
A United States Army veteran who served in the Korean theater of operations, Rudy Anderson later became a music teacher and had resided in Jersey City for the past 23 years. Survivors include five children and 11 grandchildren.
“The Last Of The Good Rocking Men” Dies At 88
Ellison Bishop White, the resonant bass singer who toured worldwide in the 1940s with the Wings Over Jordan Choir and recorded in the 1950s with rhythm and blues vocal groups the Four Jacks and the Bombers, died December 23, 2008 at Burlington Convalescent Hospital in Los Angeles, California at the age of 88. Mr. White had been ill for several months with lung and colon cancer.
Born in Cairo, Georgia on September 25, 1920 to Elder Samuel White and Leavy Belle Haynes, Mr. White was drawn to the Golden Gate Quartet and the Wings Over Jordan Choir heard over the radio and began singing in a quartet while attending Florida Normal College outside St. Augustine in the early days of World War II. During a Wings Over Jordan visit to the college, Reverend Glynn T. Settle heard the tall, thin basso profundo and offered him a spot in the famed Choir in late 1942 or early 1943. White was often featured during the group’s radio broadcasts and stage performances on songs including “Little David Play On Your Harp” and “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”. Traveling coast to coast, White recalled being paid $22.50 every two weeks with meals and lodging included.
White, Cecil Dandy, Clarence Small, and Emory Barnes also formed a quartet within the Choir called the Wingmen. In 1945, the State Department arranged for the Choir, which fluctuated between 14 and 18 members, to travel to Europe to entertain U. S. troops. “We went to Italy, France, Germany, and Belgium before D-Day,” White recalled. “We were there anywhere from seven to eight months.”
After World War II, the Choir returned to their touring and broadcast schedule but when Settle balked at the members’ request for a pay increase, the group dissolved in the Los Angeles area. The Wingmen stayed together and recorded four spirituals for Down Beat in 1948.
Eventually taking a job with the County of Los Angeles as a pharmacy technician, White continued to dabble in music, joining Jester Hairston’s choir, which often provided background voices for movie soundtracks. In early 1952, Federal A&R director Ralph Bass contacted one of White’s fellow choir mates, second tenor Buell Thomas, about forming a quartet to back a pair of his recent signings, Shirley Haven and Cora Williams. Thomas recruited first tenor Bowling Mansfield, baritone George Comfort, and bass Ellison White.
Bass christened them the Four Jacks and had them back Haven, Williams, Lil Greenwood, and Little Willie Littlefield. White shared the spotlight with Haven on “Sure Cure For The Blues”, in a fashion similar to Little Esther’s early work with the Dominoes. The Four Jacks also recorded by themselves in 1952. White’s powerful bass was featured on “The Last Of The Good Rocking Men”, “You Met A Fool”, and “Goodbye Baby”. They also backed Lil Greenwood on “Grandpa Can Boogie Too.”
In late 1955, White, Comfort, Mansfield, and Cecil Dandy from the Wingmen formed the Bombers and recorded a pair of singles for Los Angeles’ tiny Orpheus label. White was featured on the uptempo “Malena” and “Two-Time Heart”. Like the Four Jacks, the Bombers were only a recording studio group and never performed in public. During the mid-to-late ‘50s, White joined the Exciting Voices, singing on their Didn’t It Rain album, and often did background work for Peggy Lee in Las Vegas. In 1958, White recorded one ultra-rare solo single, “Silver Satin”/“Sleepy Head” for Rip Records.
In the 1960s, White and Mansfield joined Hall Johnson’s Workshop, another of the prestigious L.A.-based choirs, and studied music with Johnny Otis bassist Mario Delagarde, recording engineer Austin McCoy, and composer-arranger Spud Murphy. Through his friendship with Combo Records owner and bandleader Jake Porter, White obtained some bit parts singing and performing on television in Here Comes The Brides, The Incredible Hulk, The First Family, and in various commercials. In the early 1970s, he recorded a pair of R&B singles and released them on his own White Line label.
In his later years, Mr. White and I formed a friendship that led to the publication of his biography, The Last Of The Good Rocking Men, a journey through the worlds of gospel and rhythm and blues, in 2002. A widower with no children, Mr. White enjoyed the company of devoted friends in his final years including Mildred Pollard, who traveled overseas with him in the Wings Over Jordan Choir 60 years earlier.
Diabetes and glaucoma robbed Ellison White of most of his vision in his last years. In one of our final conversations, he told me, “When I go to sleep, I dream in vivid color, and I see trees, and flowers, and the faces of the people I knew so clearly. When I wake up, I can’t see much of anything. Sometimes I wish I could go right back to sleep to see it all again.” Mr. White kind and appreciative, enjoyed reminiscing, was an enthusiastic conversationalist on a multitude of subjects, and still possessed a strong bass voice.
Taking stock of his life and career, Ellison White was most proud of his service overseas, entertaining troops with Wings Over Jordan, and the lifestyle that he led, allowing him to enjoy a long life and secure retirement, unlike many of his show business contemporaries. "I'm happy to say I've never been in jail in my life,” he told me when we were working on his biography. “None of the groups I was in, even with all those people in Wings Over Jordan, were ever sent to jail, either. Singing was a lot of fun. I enjoyed every minute of it. But a lot of guys that sang didn't know how to do anything else and they didn't work. I thank God that I was able to get a good job and work for 31 years and retire comfortably. I am a very lucky person." Ellison White’s quiet passing went unnoticed by all by a few close friends, and sadly no obituary or death notice was published. He was buried on January 3, 2009, in Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California, the final resting place of fellow pioneers Ray Charles, Richard Berry, Pee Wee Crayton, Lowell Fulson, Ella Fitzgerald, Cornell Gunter, Percy Mayfield, T-Bone Walker, Billy Preston, and Jester Hairston, among others.
JAMES O. JOHNSON OF THE WHISPERS
James Odell Johnson, Sr., bass singer with the 1950s rhythm and blues vocal group, the Whispers, died January 1, 2009 at the Perring Parkway Genesis Elder Care Nursing Facility in Baltimore, Maryland after a lengthy illness. He was 73. Mr. Johnson and his roommate, high tenor Bill Mills, second tenor Eugene “Lump” Lewis, Billy Thompson, and Thompson’s Douglass High classmate Isaiah “Terry” Johnson (no relation) formed the original group, then known as Terry Johnson and the Rhythm Kings, in early 1954.
“The girls always loved us. We were ladies’ guys,” recalls Terry Johnson, who served as principal lead singer, songwriter and guitarist. “I remember girls were saying, ‘You sound so good, you could even whisper and sound good’, and that kind of stuck.”
The Whispers practiced songs popularized by the Swallows, Orioles, Dominoes and Drifters in addition to writing and arranging original material. Mills wrote “Don’t Fool With Lizzie”. Thompson authored another up-tempo song, “We’re Getting Married”. In addition to arranging their harmony and writing music, Terry authored and led two ethereal ballads, “Are You Sorry?” and “Fool Heart”. “We had done quite a few local talent shows, and we won every show,” Terry recounts. “We had sky-blue suits with white shirts and blood-red ties and puffs in the pocket of the suit and white shoes. We sounded good.”
In late 1954, Lewis arranged an audition for the Whispers with Philadelphia’s Gotham Records. Impressed with their harmony and original songs, label owner Ivin Ballen recorded their four originals in one three-hour session immediately. The haunting arrangements and harmonies that 16 year-old Terry created for “Fool Heart” and “Are You Sorry?” were direct precursors of his later work with the Flamingos on End.
Bass James O. Johnson, inspired greatly by the Ravens’ Jimmy Ricks and the Drifters’ Bill Pinkney, complemented Terry’s recitation with a bass lead segment on “Are You Sorry”. Ballen released the songs on two singles in April and June, 1955. Although the records are held in high esteem by collectors today, Ballen’s meager promotional effort and limited distribution doomed the group and their records to obscurity in the 1950s. The group occasionally worked at local hotspots like Sparrow’s Beach and Carr’s Beach, but their activities were limited since both Terry and Billy Thompson were still in high school. Eventually, the Whispers disbanded in late 1955.
James Johnson was born in Sumpter, South Carolina on November 18, 1935, the only child of Rosalee Allen and William Johnson. Settling in Baltimore as a young man, he attended Baltimore public schools and furthered his education at Dundalk Community College. He received numerous awards for his volunteer work and was recognized as having the largest number of volunteer hours in the State of Maryland. At age 21, James married the love of his life, the late Gertrude B. Haywood. Throughout his life, James was employed at various companies including Black and Decker, Kopper’s Steel Plant and Bethlehem Steel. An avid pool player, he loved to entertain, and was a skilled dancer. Mr. Johnson served as a deacon in the United House of Prayer until his health declined, and also sang with the Mass Choir and the Male Chorus. Funeral services for James O. Johnson Sr. were held in Baltimore on January 10. The singer is survived by four daughters, Cecelia, Joyce, Kim, Yvette, and one son, James, 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
LOWE MURRAY, FI-TONES, HARPTONES VETERAN VOICE
Vocal group harmony pioneer Marlowe "Lowe" Murray, who recorded and performed with the Fi-Tones and Harptones in a career that spanned six decades, died of lung cancer on Thursday night, December 11, 2008 in Brooklyn, New York. A tenor, Murray began his career in the Fort Greene housing project in Brooklyn around 1952 when he formed the Cavaliers with Leroy Randolph, Ron Mosely, Ron Anderson, and Lester Gardner. The group began recording for Atlas Records in the spring of 1953. A year later, Lloyd Davis and Gene Redd replaced Randolph and Gardner and renamed themselves the Fi-Tones. Five singles were released on Atlas in 1955-56 by the quintet, including the smooth ballad, "It Wasn't A Lie". Murray sang lead on "I Belong To You" and "My Tired Feet" and dueted with Redd on "I Call To You".
Moving to Old Town in the summer of 1957, Murray sang lead on one side of the group's lone single for the label, "My Heart". Several old Atlas masters were issued on the Angle Tone subsidiary in 1958-59, including the Murray-led "Deep In My Heart" and "What Am I Goin' To Do".
In October of 1972, Willie Winfield and Raoul J. Cita recruited Murray to sing in the Harptones, a role he cherished for over 36 years. Along with Linda Champion, Murray recorded with the group for Ambient Sound Records in 1981, producing the album, Love Needs The Harptones. A true utility singer, Murray sang everything from second tenor and second lead to bass, and appeared with the group in the 1980s PBS television show, Soundstage, the highly-successful PBS Doo Wop series, and toured internationally with the act. On and off-stage, Murray was noted for his broad and ever-present smile, and was featured on songs including "Only You", "Wonderful One", "Hitch Hike", and "I Don't Want To Cry" in concert performances. A long-time smoker, Mr. Murray had been performing with the group until becoming ill in recent months and had been hospitalized for several weeks.
"He was a good friend and an important part of the Harptones family for many, many years," group founder-songwriter-arranger and pianist Raoul Cita remarked. "We will all certainly miss him." The Harptones, which still include original members Willie Winfield, Cita, William Dempsey James, and longtime friend and former Joytones' lead Vicki Burgess, have added veteran tenor Don Cruz to their lineup to complete the quintet. Mr. Cruz, who sang with the Metros/Crystals in the late 1950s and later worked with the Vocaleers, also records and performs with the Solitaires.
JIMMY MOORE, LAST OF THE 5 ROYALES
James E. "Jimmy" Moore, the last surviving member of the powerhouse 1950s rhythm and blues vocal group The 5 Royales, died at Cedar Manor Nursing Home in Ossining, New York on August 16, 2008 after a long illness. Born March 7, 1926, he was 82 years old.
Formed in Winston-Salem, North Carolina as the Royal Sons gospel quintet in the 1940s, the group began recording for New York's Apollo Records. Carl LeBow of Apollo renamed them the 5 Royales and brought them into the R&B market where they flourished with bluesy, soulful sides including "Baby Don't Do It", "Help Me Somebody", and the ribald "Laundromat Blues" between 1952 and 1954.
“Baby, Don’t Do It”, their third release as the Five Royales, spent three weeks on Billboard’s R&B chart in the #1 spot in early 1953, and was soon followed by “Help Me Somebody”, a number one record for five weeks. “Crazy, Crazy, Crazy”, “Too Much Lovin’”, and “I Do” all reached the national charts in the mid-1950s, by which time the Royales consisted of Johnny Tanner, his brother, Eugene Tanner, Jr., Jimmy Moore, Obadiah Carter, and principal songwriter Lowman Pauling. LeBow helped the Five Royales leave Apollo for King in late 1954. Two additional top 10 R&B hits, “Tears of Joy”, and “Think”, came in 1957. The group toured the country regularly during their heyday, working the famed theater and one-nighter stops that became known as the “chitlin’ circuit”.
Their second and final pop chart hit, “Dedicated To The One I Love”, was first issued in December of 1957, and cracked the Pop Hot 100 in early 1961 following the success of the Shirelles’ cover version. Mr. Moore, who sang tenor, also sang lead on "Courage To Love", "Let Me Come Back Home", "I Like It Like That", and the Royal Sons Quintet's 1951 release of "I Want To Rest".
The Five Royales were inductees into the R&B Hall of Fame in Raleigh and the United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame. They were honored by their hometown of Winston-Salem with the naming of “Five Royales Drive”. Resisting offers to perform R&B in their later years, the surviving members reunited one final time in 1992 when they received the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award, and sang "I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say" and "Amen". Mr. Moore was preceded in death by his former bandmates Lowman Pauling (1926-1973), Clarence Pauling (1928-1995), Eugene Tanner (1936-1994), Otto Jefferies (1912-1975), Eudell Graham (1933-1995), Obadiah Carter (1925-1994), Johnny Tanner (1926-2005), and pianist Royal Abbit (1932-1995).
R&B singer Nathaniel Mayer, who scored a top 40 hit with the soulful "Village of Love" in 1962, died of complications from a stroke at a Detroit, Michigan hospital on November 1, 2008. He was 64. Born in the city on February 10, 1944, Mayer was just 18 when he and his band, the Fabulous Twilights, cut their signature tune for Jack and Devora's Brown seminal Fortune label. That spring, the record climbed to #16 on the R&B charts and #22 on Billboard's Pop Hot 100. Mayer had several regionally successful follow-ups, including "Leave Me Alone" (like 'Village', it was leased to United Artists), "I Had A Dream", and "I Want Love And Affection (Not The House Of Correction)", blending R&B, soul, and funk into a style all his own.
After leaving Fortune, Mayer dropped off the radar screen for decades before staging a successful comeback in his later years. Returning to the stages of nightclubs and international festivals, Mayer gained a whole new audience with his rough-hewn vocals and high-energy performances. The singer signed with Fat Possum Records in 2004 and recorded his first full-length CD, I Just Want To Be Held. His most recent CD, Why Don't You Give To Me?, was issued on the Alive label in the summer of 2007. Nathaniel had been working steadily until suffering a debilitating stroke on April 13 of this year. With his speech and movement affected, Mayer spent several weeks in intensive care and had been fighting various infections ever since. A tribute show in Mayer's memory is currently in the works in his hometown.
Isaiah Samuel Bing, Jr., a tenor singer with R&B vocal group pioneers the King Odom Four and the Larks, died September 3, 2008, in Metter, Georgia, at age 82.
Born in Barnwell County, South Carolina on January 27, 1926, Bing grew up on the Ashley Plantation and began his career on radio with the Ashley Plantation Singers. In 1943, he followed several of his brothers to New York and joined the Southern Trumpeteers. His brother-in-law, bass singer David “Boots” Bowers, joined in 1945. Later that year, Bing formed the Bing Brothers spiritual quartet with his siblings, Randolph, Columbus, and Cleveland “Bill” Bing.
In late 1947, Bing formed a pop group with fellow South Carolina natives King David Odom (1918-1988), brother Bill (now 85 and living in Augusta, GA), and Bowers (1928-1995). “We used to go to the Anthony Scott Studio on 47th Street and sing, and they thought we could do something,” Bing recalled in a 2006 interview. With pianist Glenn Burgess (1918-2006) accompanying, they first recorded as the “King Odum Quartette” for Musicraft in 1948. “We got some television shows like Arthur Godfrey and Chance of A Lifetime,” Bing recalled. In 1950, they signed with Derby, taking on more of an R&B feel with Odom and Bowers leading songs including “Rain Is The Teardrops Of Angels” and “All Of Me”. They also cut one highly collectable disc for Abbey in 1952, “Lucky”, which featured strings.
In early 1954, Bing, Bowers, and Burgess joined forces with Eugene Mumford (1925-1977) and Orville Brooks (1919-1997) in the reorganized Larks. “Strangely enough, they adapted more to our songs,” Bing recalled. “Plus, we sang a few old standards. We rehearsed for one week, and then we were on the road.” A jazzy rendition of “Margie”, the stellar “If It’s A Crime”, “The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise”, which they performed on national television, and a four-song session backing white pop singer Barbara Gale, kept them active but didn’t translate into financial success.
In September of 1955, they were filmed performing several songs, including “Danny Boy” and “Without A Song”, on a New York soundstage with the Paul Williams band for Studio Films’ Rhythm and Blues Revue. “Helen King, from the Anthony Scott Studio, made the contact for the movie,” Bing explained. A Christmastime snafu at the Apollo Theatre brought the group to an untimely end and the Larks scattered. Mumford earned his biggest successes with the Dominoes later in the decade and relocated to Los Angeles. Brooks moved to the Bronx and sang with various Ink Spots groups through the years. Bowers sang with the Ravens from 1956-59 and settled in Brooklyn. Burgess returned to the Golden Gate Quartet and moved to Stockholm, Sweden.
Isaiah Bing later worked for the Housing Authority in New York before moving to the Fort Lauderdale, Florida area where he worked as a house painter. In the late 1980s, he retired to Georgia. “I’m glad there are people who remember, because it keeps us alive,” he explained in 2006. “With the Larks, we had a good group and did some good work. Some of the best work we did was in nightclubs and concerts and we didn’t even record it. If you had heard the real group, I think you would have been impressed.” Funeral services for Isaiah Bing were held on September 13 at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Metter, Georgia. He is survived by three children, Patricia, Isaiah, Jr. and Shirley Bing, six grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
CHUCK CARBO, “THE VOICE OF NEW ORLEANS”
Hayward “Chuck” Carbo, “The Voice of New Orleans” and original lead singer of the 1950s R&B vocal group, the Spiders, died in New Orleans, Louisiana on Friday, July 11, 2008 at age 82. The cause of death was bone cancer, according to Patricia Sorina, the singer’s granddaughter. Carbo had also recently begun suffering the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Born in Houma, Louisiana on January 11, 1926, one of eight children born to Baptist Church pastor Henry and Anna Carbo, Chuck grew up in New Orleans and was influenced by the Golden Gate Quartet and the King Cole Trio. In early 1943, he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard, and served in the invasions at Anzio and Normany during World War II. After spending three years living in Indianapolis, he returned to New Orleans in 1948 and formed the Veteran Gospel Singers. In 1950, he joined the local Zion City Harmonizers.
Carbo, his brother, Leonard “Chick” Carbo (1927-1998), Joe Maxon, Matthew West, and pianist Henry Wicks, eventually changed their name to the Delta Southernaires and landed a regular radio slot on WWEZ in the city in 1952. Referred by a local talent scout to Cosimo Matassa’s seminal J&M Studio in the fall of 1953, the group- minus Wicks- was offered an opportunity to record for the Los Angeles-based Imperial label under the supervision of noted bandleader, songwriter, and producer Dave Bartholomew, who had played a crucial role in Fats Domino’s success.
Taking the name the Spiders, a moniker suggested by Chuck’s wife, Gloria, their initial release, pairing the rocking “I Didn’t Want To Do It” with the bluesy ballad, “You’re The One”, brought the group national fame, with both sides hitting Billboard’s R&B chart in early 1954. The group toured the country on the strength of their debut hit, headlining at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater in May, 1954. “The place was packed,” Carbo recalled in a 1997 interview. “They had people lined up all around the corner. I remember Joe Turner came on before us and was singing ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’. The crowd was hollering, ‘We want the Spiders!’ When we finally came on stage and were doing ‘I Didn’t Want To Do It’, they were standing in the aisles and the police were carrying them away. In the window, where they had our pictures, people broke the glass and took the pictures. That was a show!”
The group’s third release, “I’m Slippin’ In”, reached #6 on the R&B chart in the summer of 1954. Soon after, dissention set in, and several members left. After the death of his young son in late 1954, Carbo left to pursue a solo career while Chuck’s brother, Leonard, became the group’s new lead. Chuck and the original group reunited to record “Witchcraft”, a #5 R&B hit, in 1955. The reunion was short-lived, and later Spiders’ discs, including “That’s My Desire”, featured just Chuck singing with Joe Gaines of the Hawks.
After a pair of solo singles for Imperial in 1957, Chuck teamed with Mac Rebennack, who later took the stage name Dr. John, and recorded a half-dozen singles for Rex, Ace, and Teem between 1959 and 1963. After a couple of additional singles for small labels including one with Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns, he retired to focus his attention on his family of ten children, working as a dump truck driver.
In 1982, Chuck appeared at a WWOZ benefit concert in New Orleans and began performing again, cutting his first solo LP, Life’s Ups and Downs, for the 504 label in 1989. “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On” became a regional hit for the then 63 year-old, and a contract with Rounder Records followed. With the assistance of Dr. John and the late arranger Edward Frank, two critically acclaimed CDs, 1993’s Drawers Trouble, and The Barber’s Blues, issued in 1996, furthered Carbo’s reputation with a successful blend of blues, R&B, rock, and gospel. The Spiders’ complete Imperial catalog was issued by the German-based Bear Family labels on a double CD set in 1992.
In 1999, Carbo was inducted into the United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame in New York City. Hurricane Katrina virtually destroyed Chuck’s 9th Ward home and personal possessions, and the family has worked tirelessly ever since to rebuild and return to the city. In a 1982 interview, Bartholomew praised Carbo, stating “He had a natural voice; and he’s a hell of a personality. I would say Carbo had the best voice to come out of New Orleans in the last 30 years.” “When I sing, I’m Chuck Carbo,” the singer remarked in 1997, “and I don’t try to copy anybody else. I’m glad my fans responded to that. To me, they are the greatest. I love them all.” Survivors include his wife of over 60 years, Gloria, and numerous children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
On a personal note, my 15 year friendship with Chuck was a true joy and Blessing. I was honored to be able to profile Chuck’s life and career in my book, Group Harmony: Echoes of the Rhythm and Blues Era, in 2001, and again in 2007. I cherish vivid memories of his performance at a book release party in nearby Fairhaven, MA in the spring of 2001. With a long-standing fear of flying, Chuck opted to travel 20-plus hours by train to Massachusetts, and delivered an enjoyable show featuring some of his solo sides, classics from his Rounder CDs including a breathtaking “The Very Thought Of You”, and several of his Spiders favorites, with vocal backing from members of the G-Clefs and the Harptones. The deal was sealed with his word and a handshake, and Chuck suggested a fee that was less than I was paying the band. He said because of our friendship, he couldn’t ask for a dollar more, even when it was offered.
When his arranger, Edward Frank, died in 1997, Chuck told me, “Don’t worry about Edward Frank. I’d bet right now he’s arranging Gabriel’s trumpet section.” As I reflect on my own friendship with Chuck Carbo, a kind man with a true gentle soul, I’d just bet that Frank has already sketched out the charts on a half-dozen tunes his old friend is ready to sing.
THE END OF THE STORY: CARDINALS' LEAD WARREN DIES AT 78
Junius "Ernest" Warren, whose clear and powerful tenor led the 1950s R&B vocal group, the Cardinals, to three Top 10 R&B chart hits, died in Baltimore, Maryland on Monday, July 30, 2007. He was 78. Warren, who was featured on the group's national best sellers including "Shouldn't I Know", "Wheel of Fortune", "Come Back My Love", and "The Door Is Still Open", suffered a major stroke in the fall of 2005 and had been living at the home of his son, Darryl, since then. The singer never regained the power of speech after the stroke, and had been hospitalized in recent weeks, according to family members.
Born in Norfolk, Virginia on March 16, 1929, Warren and his family moved to Baltimore in 1940. Growing up in the Somerset Housing Projects, he began singing with tenor Meredith "Prince" Brothers, baritone Donald "Jack" Johnson, and bass Leon "Treetop" Hardy in 1947. "We were doing things like 'Without A Song' and 'September Song', 'Bewildered', and, 'It's Too Soon To Know' by the Orioles," Warren recalled. "We had a hundred songs in our repertiore."
Originally known as the Mellotones, the quartet added second tenor-guitarist James "Sam" Aydelotte in 1950 after meeting him at a local amateur show. The group came to the attention of local music store owner Sam Azrael, who referred them to Atlantic Records founders Ahmet Ertegun and Herb Abramson. "We were doing songs by Ruth Brown," Warren recalled of their audition for Atlantic. "They wanted to know if we had anything original. That's when we did 'Shouldn't I Know', and they loved that." Signed to Atlantic that night, the Cardinals were teamed with prolific arranger, composer, and musician Jesse Stone (1901-1999), who produced the majority of the group's dozen releases for the firm between 1951 and 1957. "Shouldn't I Know" hit #7 on Billboard's R&B chart in the fall of 1951, and was followed into the top 10 by "Wheel of Fortune" in the spring of 1952. In March of 1952, Warren was drafted, and eventually served in the U. S. Army in Korea through February of 1954 before being discharged and subsequently rejoining the Cardinals. Their biggest success, "The Door Is Still Open", written by Chuck Willis, spent 13 weeks on the chart in the spring and summer of 1955, peaking at #4.
The group toured constantly during their heyday. "Groups, musicians- we never had a cross word or bad word with them," Warren recounted. "We've never been anyplace that we can't go back."
A cover of the Wrens' "Come Back My Love", the stellar ballad "Here Goes My Heart To You", and Warren's own personal favorite, "The End of the Story", 16 year-old Neil Sedaka's fine lost love composition, broadened the group's fan base and earned them the respect of their peers, but didn't command the sales figures the label had enjoyed with the Drifters, Coasters, and Clovers.
The Cardinals simply never heard from Atlantic again after a December, 1956 session. "We were just plain ignorant and stupid about business," Warren admitted. "Contracts, money, and things of that nature never crossed our minds. When we were getting that $600 or $700 for the gig, we were satisfied at that particular time. We did O.K. (but) at our own expense. Down South, we ate a lot of bologna and cheese. At that particular time, (the people at Atlantic) were like daddies to us, we thought. But they were making a buck off us."
The group continued to work periodically into 1960 before splitting up. "During that time, there were almost 30 babies between us," Warren explained. "The girls got tired of us going away and coming back. It's funny now. It wasn't then. I had responsibilities, too." Warren found employment driving a cab, apprenticing as a ship's oiler, and working as a longshoreman before retiring.
The group's members, menawhile, remained lifelong friends. Brothers died in 1968. Hardy, Aydelotte died in 1985. Sam's replacement, Johnny Douglas, died in1991. In 1986, Warren organized a new Cardinals group that included former Swallows' tenor and second lead, Herman "Junior" Denby for a handful of performances. With original member Johnson returning, the group made their final appearances in March of 1993, in conjunction with their induction into the United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame. In later years, Warren turned down several opportunties to perform and record again. "I'm happily retired," he stated at the time. In 2001, Warren and Johnson told their story in a 40-page chapter in the book, Group Harmony: Echoes of the Rhythm and Blues Era. "Our songs were for everybody," Warren summed. "Mostly, we were an experimental group. You never heard the same kind of style. That's why you don't hear anybody doing our stuff. We could do anything that they asked us to do, and we delivered the songs the way they were supposed to be delivered."
Warren's wife, Polly, died in 2003. Funeral services for Junius "Ernest" Warren will take place on Thursday, August 2, at Phillips Funeral Home, 1727 North Monroe Street in Baltimore.
Ms. Zola Taylor, an original member of the classic Platters lineup who scored international hits with their smooth vocal group harmony sides in the 1950s, died Monday morning, April 30, 2007, in Los Angeles County, California at age 69. Additional details have not yet been made available, although she had been in ill health for some time. Ms. Taylor, whose date of birth was given as March 17, 1938, had suffered a stroke several years ago.
An attractive contralto, she recorded and toured internationally with the Platters from 1954-1964 and was heard on the group's biggest hits including "Only You", "The Great Pretender", "My Prayer", "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", and "Twilight Time". Taylor was featured as the lead vocalist on a number of the Platters' recordings including "Indiff'rent", "He's Mine", "Bark, Battle and Ball", "Someone To Watch Over Me", "I Don't Know Why", "Maggie Doesn't Work Here Anymore", and "Mean To Me".
Before being recruited into the group by manager Buck Ram as a 15-year old in March of 1954, Ms. Taylor had recorded for RPM Records ("Make Love To Me", RPM #405) and had worked with Shirley Gunter and the Queens. Taylor and the Platters appeared in several of the genre's early films, including "Rock Around The Clock" and "The Girl Can't Help It". At one time, Ms. Taylor was married to the late singing star Frankie Lymon, and was portrayed by Halle Berry in the 1998 motion picture "Why Do Fools Fall in Love".
During the 1970s, she worked with other former originals Paul Robi and David Lynch in a touring Platters group and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Ms. Taylor was preceded in death by her former singing partners, Tony Williams (1928-1992), Paul Robi (1931-1989), and David Lynch (1929-1981). Today, original founder and bass singer Herbert Reed, is the classic group's sole survivor.
JAMES “POOKIE” HUDSON, SPANIELS’ LEAD, DIES AT 72
R&B Veteran Wrote “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight”
James “Pookie” Hudson, the founder and lead singer of the influential 1950s rhythm and blues vocal group the Spaniels, died Tuesday, January 16, 2007, at his home in Capital Heights, Maryland. He was 72 and had been ill with metastatic thymus gland cancer.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa on June 11, 1934, Thornton James Hudson moved to Gary, Indiana at the age of 2 and grew up in the city. He began singing locally in church choirs before being approached by his Roosevelt High classmates, bass Gerald “Bounce” Gregory and second tenor Willie C. Jackson, to appear with them in a Christmas-time talent show in 1952.
The three soon added first tenor Ernest Warren and baritone Opal Courtney, Jr. and rechristened themselves the Spaniels. In the spring of 1953, the group signed with Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken’s new Vee Jay label where their first release, the bluesy “Baby It’s You”, reached #10 on the national R&B charts after being leased to the more established Chance firm.
The quintet’s signature tune, “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight”, was recorded on September 23, 1953. "The only song that they (ever) made us do was 'Goodnight, Sweetheart.' We didn't want to do that," Hudson recalled. "I wrote 'Goodnight, Sweetheart' about 1951, '52. I was going with this girl named Bunny Jean Davis. I would go to her house and I’d stay until her mother got tired of that. She said, ‘Look, son, your mama might not care about you being out after 12 o’clock, but she didn’t mean for you to be here after 12 o’clock. So I had to leave. I used to walk home from her house, and as I walked, I put 'Goodnight, Sweetheart' together. We just did it for the fun of it. I took it to the group and they put it together. But we never thought it would be a song. They made us do it. We went into the studio at 9 o'clock one night and we didn't get out until the next morning at 9 o'clock doing 'Goodnight, Sweetheart' 'cause we really didn't want to do it! But we ended up doing it and the rest is history."
"Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite" (Vee Jay had to switch it to "Goodnite" due to the threat of legal action from the publishers of the Noble-Campbell-Connelly standard, "Goodnight Sweetheart") was issued in March of 1954 and debuted on Billboard's R&B chart in May, remaining there all summer. The record peaked at #5, spending 16 weeks on the chart. Opening with Gregory's "do-do-do-do-do" bass line, it was a well-polished, first rate performance with a creamy, quixotic lead vocal from Hudson. "Goodnite" would go on to become an R&B standard, closing countless dances and record hops over the years.
No less than eight pop artists churned out cover versions of the song in the spring of 1954, led by the McGuire Sisters, who hit #7 on Billboard's pop charts while the original peaked at #24. "White radio stations didn't play black records then," Hudson explained. "They played white artists, and so we were limited to the black audience and black stations. There are a lot of people who are under the impression that the McGuire Sisters first recorded 'Goodnite, Sweetheart'."
Despite a string of influential and successful recordings including “You Painted Pictures”, “You Gave Me Peace Of Mind”, “Everyone’s Laughing”, “You’re Gonna Cry”, “Stormy Weather”, and “I Know”, extending into 1960, the Spaniels, who underwent various personnel changes over the years, failed to reap the financial rewards due them.
As a solo artist, Hudson recorded several singles in the early 1960s including “I Know, I Know”, backed by the Imperials, which reached the lower rungs of the national pop charts in May of 1963. Hudson and a revamped Spaniels group returned to the best seller lists with “Fairy Tales” in 1970, and frequented oldies shows throughout the country. In 1960, Hudson relocated to Washington, D. C., and later lived in Philadelphia before returning to Gary in 1979.
Over the years, the Spaniels went to court on numerous occasions in an effort to collect owed royalties. "I never lost the rights to 'Goodnite, Sweetheart'," Hudson explained. "They tried not to pay me for it, but I finally got a lawyer that killed that. Hudson, the group’s principal songwriter, regularly received songwriting royalties from his compositions, including "Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite".
The Spaniels and many of the vocal groups of the 1950s have a right to be angry and bitter over their treatment by record company charlatans. Despite the wrongs of the past, Hudson made his peace with Vivian Carter. "I was a little angry for a while. They had been having the hog and I was on welfare, and they were living off my talent. But as I got older, I realized when you hold grudges you only hurt yourself. You take away your life trying to worry about something or hope that something happens to somebody else. So I went to the nursing home and me and her sat down and talked. She forgave me and I forgave her.”
In February, 1991, Hudson the Rhythm and Blues Foundation honored the original Spaniels with its' Pioneer Award. Along with a plaque, the group received a check for $20,000. Hudson, Ernest Warren, Opal Courtney, Willis C. Jackson, and Gerald Gregory reunited for the occasion, motivated four of the original members to regroup. With Billy Shelton replacing Warren, the Spaniels traveled to England for a week that year. "It was great," Hudson remembers. "You talk about kids, they were 24, 23 (years old). They knew all the words, they knew the songs. Some of them could hardly speak English. They were from Japan, all other countries."
In 1992, the group was inducted into the United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame and returned to England for additional appearances. Despite the number of personnel changes over the years, the key to the Spaniels successful sound, the dynamic interplay between Hudson and Gregory amidst a strong harmonic background, remained intact for 45 years. The pair last worked together at a UGHA event in New Jersey in November of 1998. On February 12, 1999, Gregory died of brain cancer at the age of 64.
In his last years Hudson worked tirelessly to keep the Spaniels’ name in the limelight, often working with a quartet of newer members based in the Washington, D. C. area. They appeared together in the hugely successful 1999 PBS-TV concert show, "Doo Wop 50" and a 2005 follow-up, “Doo Wop Vocal Group Greats Live”. Hudson’s life and career were also featured in several books.
"I ain't gonna slow down until they start throwing the dirt in my face and say, 'you're through'," Hudson declared recently. Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2004, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments and briefly returned to performing before falling ill again in the fall of 2006. “All of the people who wrote to me, prayed for me, donated, and thought of me through my illness were so important. I really appreciate it.”
JOHN E. JOHNSON
Baritone vocalist John E. Johnson who recorded and performed with the Starlings and Twilighters R&B vocal groups in the 1950s, died of leukemia on Monday, January 1, 2007.
Johnson and four friends who attended Morris High School in the Bronx, NY, Larry Gales (tenor lead), Stan Gilbert (1st tenor), Jackie Marshall (2nd tenor), and Clyde Franklin (bass), formed the original Starlings in the 165st Street neighborhood,between Trinity and Cauldwell Avenues.
After several years singing at amateur talent contests, the group was brought to Josie Records by their school music teacher, Herb Miller, who arranged a recording contract. Their first release, featuring Gales, "Music, Maestro, Please"/"My Plea For Love", was issued in April of 1954.
Johnson and Gales reorganized the group in late 1954 or early 1955 with former Crickets' second tenor Bill Lindsay bass Donald Redd, the brother of the Fi-Tones' Gene Redd. Miller brought he revamped Starlings to Dawn Records where they recorded two singles, "I'm Just A Crying Fool"/"Hokey-Smokey Mama" and "A-Loo, A-Loo"/"I Gotta Go Now" in the winter of 1955.
After rechristening themselves the Twilighters, the group waxed four tunes for M-G-M Records in June of 1955, "Little Did I Dream"/"Gotta Get On The Train" (released that July), and "Lovely Lady"/"Half Angel", which came out in early 1956. Johnson later sang with the Pearls for a while before settling into a career as a jazz musician. His group, John E. Johnson and Friends, performed throughout the New York area through the veteran singer's illness. He belonged to the black musician's union that have jam sessions every Thursday in Harlem.
At a special 2005 Bronx, NY tribute to the late Arthur Crier, (whose group the Mellows Johnson's band frequently backed) the two surviving Twilighters, Johnson and Lindsay, sang "Half Angel" together for the first time in decades. "My dad and John E. Johnson sang for the last time on November 11, 2006 at Londell's Restaurant in Harlem, at a birthday party for an uncle," Lindsay's daughter, Beverly Lindsay-Johnson relates. "They performed 'You're Mine' by Dean Barlow and the Crickets, another group that my dad performed and recorded with, that also came out of Morris High School."
In accordance with Johnson's last wishes, there will be "John E. Johnson's Last Jam" on Sunday, January 7th at the Harlem School of the Arts, 645 St. Nicholas Avenue (144th Street) from 4p.m. - 8 p.m. All musicians and singers who performed with him are invited to attend, perform, and give testiment to the memory of John E. Johnson. (with thanks to Beverly Lindsay-Johnson, Eugene Tompkins, Nikki Gustafson, and Marv Goldberg
Walter Ward, the gravel-voiced tenor who fronted the Olympics on a string of R&B vocal group harmony hits in the 1950s and '60s, died Monday morning, December 11, 2006, at his home in Northridge, California, after a lengthy illness. Although the exact cause of death was not announced, Ward had a history of seizures. He was 66. Ward, his cousin, tenor Eddie Lewis, and baritones Charles Fizer and Walter Hammond formed the original group while students at Centennial High School in Compton, California in 1954. Having first recording as the Challengers in 1956, the Olympics scored their first national top 10 hit with the novelty doo-wopper, "Western Movies" (#7 R&B, #8 pop) in the summer of 1958.
With Melvin King making the group a quintet, the act enjoyed a succession of hits on a myriad of labels over the next decade, including "Dance With The Teacher", "(Baby) Hully Gully", "Shimmy Like Kate", "Dance By The Light Of The Moon", the original version of "Good Lovin'", and "Big Boy Pete", which hit #10 on the R&B chart in mid-1960. Their 14th and final national hit, "Baby, Do The Philly Dog", came in the fall of 1966.
Ward and Lewis continued to keep the Olympics active into the 21st Century, performing at oldies concert events throughout the country. Julius "Mack Starr" McMichael of the Paragons (1931-1981) and Kenny Sinclair of the Six Teens (1939-2003) both performed with the group in later years.
"Athough Walter's health was failing, he continued performing," manager Freda Sinclair stated. Ward gave his last performance with the Olympics on November 12 in Hauppauge, New York. Funeral services for Walter Ward will be held on Monday, December 18 at Simpson Mortuary 3443 West Manchester Avenue, Inglewood, California at 12 Noon.