Splash Back to the 50's


Sam the Golden Oldies Man

  R & B History

  1. Pre middle passage
  2. Middle passage
  3. Call and response / Camp ground songs  
  4. Watts hymns
  5. Birth of the spirituals
  6. Jubilee singers
  7. Minstrels
  8. Barbershop quartets
  9. Father of gospels
10. First recording
11. Blues
12. Jazz
13. The Mills Brothers
14. The Ink Spots
15. The Ravens
16. The Orioles
17. R&B
18. Hitsville USA / Motown

1. Pre middle passage   
I've spent a great deal of time trying to determine how I wanted to begin my journey of telling the story of the evolution of music and how it evolved into a great art form. At the same time I don't wish to rewrite history or dwell extensively on facts for which its origin is based upon. That I will leave to the historians Not surprising is the fact that I've been able to arouse the interest of a great number of individuals in my quest for information. I attribute this to the one common denominator that transcends all barriers and ultimately brings all of us together, this of course is music. Not only that but music is also great therapy. It evokes feeling of joy and allows one to travel back into time to re-live moments when the air was filled with the sound of laughter that only the innocence of a child could echo. We ask ourselves, where have all the flowers gone, and why did it have to end? All this without ever leaving the comfort of your home.

Without further "ado"lets step inside the time capsule and travel back to the place known as the birth place of civilization....Mother Africa. A friend asked early in this writing, why was music so important to the African way of life? Off the top of my head I could not answer his question. What I did know was before I could go on I needed to find out why not so much for him, but for me. Music prior to the middle passage in Africa had one primary purpose and that was to recite the history of it's people. In different parts of Africa professional musicians formed alliances to make money out of the people. In Sudan tribal members had a band of singers that would recite family history to the accompaniment of musical instruments. These members were not just men they also included women, all of whom were professional storytellers and gossip mongers. People sing everywhere. Even on the battlefield they sang of the great actions of their ancestors so that the spirit of emulation would be awaken in them. Matters of tribal disputes were settled through songs. Rhythmic motion was arranged to accompany these songs. Music was so much a part of African culture that a singer could click his fingernails and onlookers would pat their feet.

Continuing on, I think its important to note a few things, i.e. the Boswell sisters Andrew Sisters, Savannah Churchill and Chantels were not the first females to sing but you already knew that. How about this? A capella, according to the dictionary means without musical accompaniment, having said that one can conclude that this style of singing was not started by the Persuasions, or on the street corners of urban cities like Philadelphia or the Sugarhill section of New York known as Hogans Bluff. Stay with me it gets better, geographically speaking during the fifties groups from the west coast had a different sound from those groups from the east coast same held true with the southern groups. In Africa the same thing was true. There was a distinct difference in not only dialect but how a song/chant was delivered. English was not the preferred language, you knew that too. Don't know why I even bothered to mention it.

2. Middle passage   
Let us now continue on this journey to somewhere around the 1600's a period known as the beginning of the Middle Passage. This is when Africans were brought to America to be used as slaves. There were actually two major "Journeys" that impacted the development of Rhythm and Blues as a major art form.

The first being the slave trade that uprooted native Africans which signifies the 300 year period. Although these unfortunate people brought no physical possessions other than the chains that kept them imprisoned they did bring a rich musical tradition rooted in folklore and customs. These were things handed down by their forefathers to preserve tribal history told through songs and stories. Of significance is the fact that West African musical characteristics such as "call and response"would become major components in the later development of both Gospel and Rhythm & Blues.

Before we go on to "Amazing Grace", I'd like to go forward to the year 1955. A group out of Lincoln High in Brooklyn N.Y. formed calling themselves the Linc-Tones who featured a singer by the name of Neil Sedaka who eventually left. The group re-formed first as Darrell & The Oxfords (1958) and in (1959) became the Tokens with a hit in November 1961, the 13th to be exact and remained for 15 weeks entitled "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", a.k.a "Wimoweh" a South African Zulu song. To refresh your memory; it goes a little like this: "IN THE JUNGLE THE QUIET JUNGLE THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT, IN THE VILLAGE A PEACEFUL VILLAGE THE LION SLEEPS TONIGHT". The point here as you will later find out is that some songs contained messages the one here I think is obvious there was a Lion in someone's village.

We have a message in the music. The O'Jays recorded a song in 1976 with a similar title on the Philly International label. Over the years many songs have been written in which the writer has been inspired by a particular event in their lives. Take the case of "Pookie Hudson" lead singer of the Spaniels who was inspired to write that classic tune "Goodnight Sweetheart". In 1953 on the Vee Jay label after leaving his girlfriends home. In the case of "Amazing Grace"same holds true. The writer, Sir John Newton was inspired to write this song which even today has world wide acclaim. Because of events that had occurred in his life. Born in London on July 24, 1725, by the age of eleven he had made six voyages with his father before his father retired. In 1744, John was pressed into service on a Man of War, finding the conditions on board intolerable. He deserted, but was soon recaptured, beaten and reduced in rank to common seaman.

Finally, at his own request he was transferred to service on a slave ship. There he was brutally abused and in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain. John eventually became captain of his own ship which also engaged in slave trading. We'll pause here for a moment and go back to where I mentioned the inspiration behind a song. Songs come from events that have meaning in some form or another. In the soul of all of us there's a song waiting to be sung. I've said many times, that if ever you wanted to say something to someone you could always find a song to say it. The revelation came to John Newton while on deck one evening and from the belly of the ship he could hear the moaning down below coming from his human cargo. His spirit was awakened and the inspiration came as he cried out "Amazing Grace How Sweet Thy Sound That Saved A Wretch Like Me". From that point his life had been transformed and he later went on to become an abolitionist.

3. Call and response / Camp ground songs   
An important element in aesthetic expression in Africa was music. The most frequently used musical form was, of course, the song, with or without instrumental accompaniment. It must not be assumed that the musical forms were simple or easy. Some songs and other forms were quite complex with respect to scale, rhythm, and general organization. There was also great variation in the types of African musical forms, ranging from lullabies and dance songs to work songs and sacred melodies. Too frequently the people of the western world confuse the music of Africa, much of which is melodic though brief phrases, with the dance of Africa with its extensive use of drums as rhythmic accompaniment. Please note, the sound effects provided for the dances were not considered as music. This part of our journey has ended and 100 years of slavery along with it. American colonies between 1720 and 1750 are being swept with a religious revival.

4. Watts hymns   
I've just experienced an epiphany of sort and inside my soul, I seem to be able to feel the turmoil felt by a resounding amount of people removed from a place they once called home. This revival prompted slave owners to introduce Christianity to their slaves. It was hoped that anger and unrest among the captive people of African descent would be mellowed by Christian doctrine. "What a profound gesture." Slaves were taught Protestant hymns from the religious song book "Watts Psalms and Hymns and Bible" written by Reverend Isaac Watts along with the "Dr Watts"songs, slaves had also developed work songs and chants that became a way of easing the burdens of toiling long and hard hours in the field. The songs contained hidden messages that only they could interpret .Through the years the American people have discovered that Negro music was the omnibus which carried forward the entire African cult. Some leaders from colonial days advocated the Christianization of Negroes in order that slaves might be taught to be peace-loving and tractable.

Negro slaves reacted in at least three ways to what they called the miracle of emancipation that went on before their very eyes. Some wanted to show that they were worthy of freedom and sang songs that were taught them because these represented the changed status of black folk. Immediately a song entitled "A Change Is Gonna' Come "by Sam Cooke 1/30/65 on the RCA label, comes to mind. Other Negroes had no way of knowing that their distinctive music was declining in proportion as they united it with songs of their environment, and they expressed freedom by combining a bit of an old spiritual with verses of a new song, say a hymn of Watts. Such an old spiritual as "Remember Me" combined an ancient plea of a slave for his master, or a prayer to God to have mercy upon him. I'm probably thinking now of Billy Ward and The Dominoes hit "Have Mercy Baby" later in the fifties. Hold on we'll get there.

Right about now we're gonna take a pause for the cause, put some music on, get into that zone and we'll pick it up on the other side with Nat Turner and "steal away". From there we'll be traveling to an old army barracks where the second part of this journey begins and a major development occurs.

5. Birth of the spirituals   
As we continue on with this journey I'd be remiss if I didn't say how overwhelmed I've become by researching the material found in this narrative of events written by such notable people as Miles Mark Fisher and John Hope Franklin. Through these writings one is transformed back to a place in time that provides us with a more comprehensive look into the actual foundation that lead to the emergence of Black Music. In comparison and as it relates to The History Of Rhythm and Blues, European writers at least in my opinion in an effort to get to the more glamourous period of soul music generally start around the 1920's mentioning if at all briefly the exploitations of black people fueled in part by ignorance, greed and perhaps fear.

Nat Turner is as important to this journey as George L White, Thomas A. Dorsey, The Mills Bros. The Ink Spots the Ravens and finally the Orioles as you will soon find out. Steal away, steal away, Steal away to Jesus, Steal away, steal away home, I hain't got long to stay here. As begin to summarize the evidence for the evolution of slave songs, we have found great numbers of souls gathered in revival assemblies in North America these camp meetings were similar to the secret tribal assemblies in Africa. Here Negro songsters urged his fellows in the words of a collection of Negro Slave Songs; Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass; Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass, harvest pass; Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass, and die and lose your soul at last. Here they were urged not to forsake the meetings as opportunities to protest the injustices of slavery. Other secret meetings were conveyed by songs. Negroes stole away from numerous plantations to African cult meetings just as Nat Turner of increasing notoriety convened his companions by the singing of "STEAL AWAY". The external evidence of Turner's revolt against slavery coincides with the internal evidence of this song. He knew that should he be caught meeting with other Negroes the oft-repeated burden of the song would be true: "I hain't got long to stay here. The saddened melody of the song bespoke that its author was melancholy about beginning his slave revolt at the house of his kind "massa". The circumstances all point to Nat Turner of Southampton County, Virginia as the author of "Steal Away, about 1825, and not: Jimmy Hughes 1964 or Johnny Taylor 1970 and certainly not Robbie Dupree in 1980.

Like Curtis Mayfield we got to keep on pushing, can't stop now to the next leg of our journey, I know it seems like a thousand miles away but we can't stop now and besides mamma said there'd be days like this. How about if I make it a little easy on you and buy you a ticket on the midnight train to not Geogia but instead the Gospel Highway making its fist stop in Nashville Tennessee.

6. Jubilee singers   
In 1865 in an abandoned Union Army barracks, the Fisk school opened. It was a project of the American Missionary Association in New York City and the Western Freedmen's Aid Commission in Cincinnati. Two of the many agencies formed to help emancipated blacks move into the mainstream of society. Named for General Clinton B. FISK (1828-1890) of the Freedmen's Bureau for Tennessee and Kentucky, the school operates today as Fisk University only because of a gamble by its first professor of music and the amazing emotional power of the spiritual. During the first half-decade the future didn't look at all bright for the Fisk School. It actually closed six years after it opened due to a lack of financial support. Along comes Fisk's treasurer and professor of music, George L. White (1838-1895) who suggested to the board of directors that he take the Fisk choir on a concert tour, an idea the board rejected. Determined, White borrowed enough money to get the tour started and in 1871 took a group of nine Fisk students on the road. Needless to say the adventure was not without risk the least of which was financial. The group's itinerary took them through the Reconstructionist South at a time when racially based hatred had begun to erupt. Though White was Caucasian, the members of the Fisk choir were black. All but two had formerly been slaves. Accommodations were not easy to find,nor was cooperation, assistance, or goodwill. So here we are in the impoverished South-an old army barracks a white choir director nine students, all but two formerly slaves traveling through the "the Jim Crow" south trying to raise money to purchase the land the barracks is seating on. To make matters worse sitting in the audience are members of the "Ku Klux Klan". Perhaps Louis Jordans rendition of "Run Joe Run" was inspired by events such as this. I wouldn't be surprised. Take for instance "Sixty Minute Man" written by Billy Ward and Rose Marks (1951) released by Billy Ward and "The Dominoes" the same year. "Dan" was the main character that came out of Bessie's Smith version of "Hustlin Dan" (1930) and later a group calling themselves The Black Dominoes with their version of "Dancing Dan" (1923). More of the dan saga will be discussed later in this journey.

We'll get back to the Fisk singers in a minute but for now I want to show the parallel between songs of today and where the inspiration came from .As in the case of Daniel which has, believe or not become a part of Negro folklore dating back to the early 1800's. The parting songs of Negroes who sailed to Africa conditioned the remaining slaves for colonization. These people compared the difficulty of securing manumissions which means to free from slavery or bondage, for expatriation to the deliverance of Daniel from the den of lions. This early concept about Daniel was heard in a Negro song in Florida during Civil War days. On the Port Royal Islands Negroes were singing that Daniel locked the lion's jaw, though the thought was not clearly expressed. Their song, however was saying that Negroes could afford to wait until opportunity came for them to go home. This home going of sort was later expressed in James "Shane" Sheppards version along with the Limelites where they talked about "how I waited for this moment to be by your side, your best friend wrote and told me you had teardrops in your eyes, Daddy's Home, Daddy's Home To Stay (1961) or "I'll be home my darling just you wait and see" the "Flamigoes" (1956). So much of what we hear today comes from a period long ago. Let's get back to our journey.

7. Minstrels   
Earlier in this discussion I mentioned the "Jim Crow" south , for the record a man named Thomas Dartmouth Rice was considered the father of American Minstrel show, Rice became something of a sensation with the song "Jumpin' Jim Crow". He was an early Negro impersonator whose art created a vogue for black-face minstrelsy. The minstrel show actually precluded the Jubilee singers and we'll go back and talk more about the subject of "Minstrels". The importance of that as it relates to our Jubilee Singers is "Jubilee Singers"was a term utilized by the university to celebrate the freedom blacks gained after the emancipation, but the name also helped to separate them from groups that appeared on the minstrel stage especially important in their efforts to raise money. In addition to the Fisk Jubilee singers other jubilee groups around the same period emerged notably Atlanta University, Tuskegee Institute Southern University, Livington College and Hampton University.

During one of the performances by the Fisk singers the reception by the all white audience was luke warm so in an effort the try and change the mood choirmaster White decided to change the repertoire and include a song he heard during camp ground meetings song by the slaves the song was entitled "Steal Away" by Nat Turner. This by all historical accounts proved to be the major turning point in this time in history. Not only did this performance bring the audience to their feet it also earned the singers $20,000.00 that was used to purchase 45acres that is now Fisk University. After that ,White shifted the musical thrust of the appearances to spirituals impressing audiences in New York, throughout England, and in the White House before President Ulysses S. Grant .The excursion was an artistic success in more ways imaginable. The Fisk Jubilee singers introduced spirituals, slave songs to audiences who had never heard them, and would find them impossible to forget.

A subsequent tour of England in 1873 included an appearance before Queen Victoria, who was so taken with the performance that she commissioned a portrait of the Fisk Jubilee Singers from her painter, Edmund Havel. The group raised $150,000 on that tour ,enough to build Jubilee Hall, a solid Victorian structure that was the first permanent building erected in the United States for the purpose of educating black students. The portrait of the eleven students who took part in the 1873 tour now hangs in Jubilee Hall's auditorium.

The age old question asked throughout time as to what came first? "THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG", I believe has just been answered. Before we go on with events that occurred after the impact made by the Fisk Singers on other Jubilee singers I need to go back to the Minstrels because it is extremely important that events are presented in its proper order, indulge me if you will.

8. Barbershop quartets   
It had become evident that college jubilee groups formed during the final third of the nineteenth century provided one of the earliest sources for quartet singing. Barbershops also served as a means of connection for both short-lived, informal groups and long standing quartets. For reference purposes our search for all black Minstrels starts at the beginning of Reconstruction. Minstrely could not have existed at any other time, for it was perhaps the only form of musical entertainment born out of blind bigotry. In these shows, white men blackened their faces with burnt cork to lampoon Blacks. And songs and skits sentimentalized the nightmare of plantation slave life. Instead of showing grueling labor in the sun baked fields, minstrelsy depicted Blacks as innocent buffoons who sang and danced the day away, gobbling "chitlins" and loving their dear "massa".The first blackface troupe was Dan Emmett's Virginia Minstrels, (there's ‘DAN" again) which debuted at New York's Bowery Amphitheater in 1843.

Songs they introduced ("Polly Wolly Doodle," "Blue Tail Fly") are still heard today. Minstrel shows themselves constitute a fascinating part of American culture; they are arguably the first form of American popular entertainment. Beginning in the 1830s, they represented a distorted, often exaggerated, vision of African-American plantation life to many people across the nation through music, comedy, jokes dramatic speeches and sketches. Because it lacks the substance for which I am writing and is only relevant to time location. This is not to say that a great number of singers did not later grace the scene, that would be an understatement at the very least. By the 20th century, women also appeared in minstrel shows, and the great blues singer Ma Rainy and Bessie Smith were both minstrel performers early in their careers. And I certainly don't want us to forget about Stephen Foster, Hicks and Sawer or Sammy, but I do want to get to Mahalia, Clara, Marian Paul and Sonny and I still haves quite a ways to go.

Let us briefly recap significant events up to this point. Beginning our journey indicates that the foundation of black music originated in Africa. Rhythm and Blues is an off-shoot of the call and response, camp ground songs, spirituals and the gospel. Also intertwined in this mix is the blues and jazz. Throughout this writing we will from time to time refer back to Africa as topics such as the falsetto style of singing along with other major factors are discussed

Prior to the Minstrels we determined that with the Fisk Jubilee singers the most important point in this journey had occurred and this where we pick it up at. The "development" of spirituals became widespread, particularly among academic choirs. Classical European vocal harmonies were added, as were strict Western tempos and meters. I bet you were thinking three and four part harmony was a part of the singing style in the Mother Land, I can see it now four guys standing under a tree crooning. And their women going wild, figuratively speaking of course. Enunciation, during this period became important, and lyrics were "cleaned up" words used by illiterate slaves was changed to words that were more understandable. It was common for lyrics to be added or changed. As a result, spirituals took on a completely different sound from their origins as primal cadences in the in the Arbor Meetings and plantation work gangs.

The spirituals sung by these fledgling groups would become the basis for what would become known as "Jubilee" style singing.

The Fisk choir later became known as the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Also evolving at this time were other singing groups not associated with any school. Atypically, these Quartets began "updating" the spirituals sung by choirs by introducing vocal solos, particularly by lead tenors and bass singers. The Northfolk Jubilee Singers became extremely popular, and by the 1930's the Jubilee "Quartets" had mushroomed throughout the South. Leading the way would be the Golden Gate Quartet. The Jubilee sound would evolve into what we now know as Gospel music which is one of the main ingredients that make up Rhythm and Blues.(remember what I said in the beginning about frying chicken, you have to have the right ingredients). In looking at Doo- Wop one must remember that it was a derivative of Gospel, Barbershop, Jazz and Rhythm and Blues. One other interesting event before moving on is that Hampton College became the springboard for the Deep River Boys later in 1936, and the Piney Woods School in Mississippi would help launch the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi.

Most of us who grew up listening to the music from the fifties and sixties also listen to the early Gospel groups. In comparison I would say there is none to be made, you cannot compare Kirk Franklin to James Cleveland the same way you cannot compare Michael Jackson to Frankie Lymon, you may "laugh" but believe or not attempts have been made to do just that.

9. Father of gospels   
While we're on this Gospel highway it might seem a bit ironic that a Bluesman going by the name of "Georgia Tom" would become known as the "Father of Gospel" music but that is what happened to Thomas Andrew Dorsey. Gospel music brings people to their feet. It uplifts the spirit and satisfies the soul .Can I get a amen? Thomas A Dorsey (1899-1993) composed "There Will Be Peace In The Valley".As a young musician Dorsey toured with "Ma" Rainey and blues singer Bessie Smith and played alongside slide guitarist Tampa Red. He also composed songs like, "It's Tight Like That"and "Pat That Bread". There was certainly no hinting of any religious fever at this time in his life, like Sir John the "Lord" works in mysterious ways. It was in 1932 when his wife died in child birth along with the baby. In the heart wrenching ,days that followed, Dorsey wrote what would become one of the all time favorite Gospel songs, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand". He would go on to write over 500 Gospel songs and single handedly change the face of Black church music. In 1931 he formed the first female Gospel quartet . He was the mentor to the first generation of Gospel singers like Clara Ward and Mahalia Jackson. Many years later, Elvis Presley would record his composition "Peace In The Valley".(The work of these gospel greats and many more of the world's influential gospel music artists, entertainers promoters and broadcast personalities is preserved and celebrated at the international gospel music hall of fame and museum in Detroit, Michigan. founded in 1995.)

In addition to my passion for the music that was so much a part of my life growing up, other writers too influenced my writing on a subject I have so much passion for. Not because the content of the work was all inspiring, to the contrary, its one thing when you have limited knowledge of the subject and its another when you know differently. Its like an old saying: "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king". For instance and I'm sure like many of you, I thought the latter version of "I SOLD MY HEART TO THE JUNKMAN" was recorded by a well known female group from Philadelphia. Well that's not so. The female group who actually recorded that song was from Chicago. They came to Philadelphia for a recording session and the wrong name was placed on the label. That's not to say it was done intentionally. The fact remains it was done to prove my point if you listen carefully you will hear the lead female vocalist is not who we were lead to believe it was. Neither was the group in the background. More detailed information on this and other related myths for lack of a better word will be discussed as we go on. Note the song I just mentioned was earlier recorded by the "Silhouettes" out of Philadelphia in 1958 on the Ace/Junior label. They were later known for that smash hit "Get A Job" 1957 on the Junior label.

Another rarely mentioned form of Black music is that of the "Classical" style which believe it or not had a great deal of influence in how a song was delivered. The period of Classical doo-wop was (1955-59) during this period nonsense syllables had a more complex pattern in almost every song and when we get to the doo-wop characteristics in different time periods we'll talk more about that also. In the mean time and between time a man who needs very little introduction all the way from Princeton, New Jersey the legendary Paul Robeson. Paul was born on April 9, 1898 to a runaway slave William Drew Robeson and his wife Maria Louisa (nee Bustill). Robeson's accomplishments were impressive, but he died a scorned, shunned, desperately unhappy man whose public image was that of a communist. On the other hand some like myself see him as a misunderstood hero, the victim of ignorance and the Cold War hysteria. Regardless of your view, Paul Robeson was a genius whose radical views could never be reconciled with mainstream American beliefs. He also excelled at whatever he attempted.

He joined the off-Broadway Provincetown Players. A New York City troupe associated with the playwright Eugene O'Neil, and starred in All God's Chillun Got Wings (1924) and the Emperor Jones (1925) to tremendous critical acclaim. He was soon starring in larger productions, including Show Boat (1928) on Broadway. He also starred in the first film version of Show Boat (1936), in which he delivered an unforgettable rendition of "Ol' Man River". The sad ending to this gifted artist came on January 23,1976, in Philadelphia, after suffering a stroke. What he did for Classical Music will go down in any ones history book as simply extraordinary.

While in the classical arena it gives me great pleasure to present from the city of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who did her first debut recital at Carnegie Hall defying all obstacles against black singers in that period the one and only Marian Anderson born in 1897. Her training with Giuseppe Boghetti was provided for by the congregation of the church where she sang in the choir as a girl. When Marian's career almost came to a standstill she decided to go to Europe. There seems to be a similarity here with Paul Robeson. Maybe it was because, and I'm only guessing that in the Classical field there's a lot more of what White America was not accustomed to coming from Blacks. Remember we were considered illiterate. Again that's my opinion and I certainly don't want to appear shallow. On the other hand Marian like Paul became in 1939 an international symbol of the struggle for racial equality. When she did return to her native land after her first European concert in Berlin(1930), she was in demand from coast to coast as well as abroad. In 1949 the contralto resumed concretizing in Europe and in the ‘50s she added South America, Japan and Israel to her itineraries. On January 7, 1955, her Metropolitan Opera debut as Ulrica made her the first of her race to sing a leading role at the Met. In the words of Arturo Toscanini, when introduced to her "A voice like yours is heard once in a hundred years" and you know what? "Papa wasn't lying". Of course there's a great deal more one could say about Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson but I believe I've given you enough for you to know that they both were an intrigue part of this journey and their contributions were and still is immeasurable.

We've covered a lot of ground and still a long ways to go, but I ain't no ways tired yet ... I got Curtis Mayfield on, and he's telling me to "Keep on Pushin", can't stop now. Its also a nice intro into where I'm going. Singing has, as you are aware, has been a part of the black experience for as long as we can remember. Singing in harmony as we know it today or should I say "yesterday" was not. The sound of Smokey's falsetto had not evolved yet. There's always interaction among the various levels of culture, and the truth is that quartets played an integral part in the fabric of black folk music during the late nineteenth century. Nonetheless it is music partly shaped by formal training attained in schools, at least in those areas served by teachers with a strong musical bent. As early as the turn of the century, some "folk" quartets were conscious of some of the more technical aspects of music such as vocal "articulation" and the need to "attack" notes in a specific way. A reporter traveling through Virginia in June 1851, by the name of Frederika Bremer reported: "I first heard the slaves, about a hundred in numbers, singing at their work in large rooms; they sang quartets in such perfect harmony. An even earlier account, foreshadowing of four-part harmony states: There is no singing in parts, as we understand it, yet no two seem to be singing the same thing; the leading singers starts the words of each verse, often improving; and others, who "base" him as it is called, strike in with the refrain or even join in the solo when the words are familiar. And the "basers" themselves seem to follow their own whims, beginning where they please, striking an octave above or below, or hitting some other note that chords, so as to produce the effect of a marvelous complication and variety and yet with the most perfect time and rarely with any discord.

By the dawn of the twentieth century, four-part harmony singing was well established in black communities across the United States and appeared to be dominated by black males. Seemingly, any four young black males who chanced to meet could, and often would, immediately harmonize a song. Dr Frissell, Principal of Hampton Institute received a report from music director and founder of Piney Wood school, Laurence C. Jones stating: he observed that "countless boys meet around the grounds of evenings to harmonize' just for the love of it."

As we continue forward we will find that the singing emerging during the twentieth century really took a back seat to the big bands, which were central to the American music scene from the 1920s through World War ll.

10. First Recording   
What is believed to be the very first recording of a Black vocal group was performance by the Standard Quintette, "Keep Moving" in 1894. The Standard Quintette recorded several "cylinders" for Columbia records. The group was from Chicago. Four members of the group had the same last name Williams, Demoss, Scott and Catrell. While the Standard Quintette recorded on cylinders, due in part to the fact that the material used to manufacture "flat-disc" records was not available due to the war. The first (black) group to record on a flat disc record which were six one-sided disc issued by the Victor recording Company was the Dinwiddle Colored Quartet in October 1902. These recordings of Spirituals show a close harmony style. The group was composed of Sterling Rex, Clarence Meredith, Harry Cruder, J.Mantell Thomas and Rollo Wilson. The group formed in Dinwiddle, Virginia. For years the group sang in YCMA buildings, churches, etc. and raised large sums of money for the school. The group later moved to Vaudeville but disbanded in 1904. Another group of distinction around the same time was Polk Miller's Old South Quartet. These groups stressed clear diction and precise pronunciation; and they offered little vocal embellishment or improvisation as well as only occasional instances of rhythmic ornamentation. The vocal timbre of the singers was reminiscent of more formally trained musicians, perhaps revealing their university training or their vaudeville roots.

11. Blues   
It should be noted that during the early part of the century another uniquely American art form was taking shape and would simply be called "The Blues". The defining moment for the Blues came in 1920 when Okeh records recorded "Crazy Blues" by Mamie Smith. Both the Blues and Gospel were born of the black experience rooted in slavery. One turned to God for salvation and freedom while the other lamented in the pain of daily life in America for a Black person. Ok, we're almost there. The main ingredients are in place but there is another "Journey" that takes place, which has a profound effect upon the development of Rhythm and Blues. The second "Journey" was known as the "Great Migration" and took place during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

12. Jazz   
During this time, a massive number of blacks migrated from the impoverishment and repression of the rural South and headed North for hopes of a better life. By the 1920's and 1930's, the musical stew in America was mixing up Swing bands, Blues, Jazz, Pop and an emerging hard edged Gospel sound that came roaring out of the Black sanctified Baptist churches. Hard edged bluesmen were making their mark in the Mississippi Delta and the hard scrabble towns of Texas and Oklahoma. However, it would be four brothers playing "kazoos" that would provide the next defining moment in our Rhythm and Blues saga.

13. The Mills Brothers   
The moment would occur in 1932 when a group of young brothers from Piqua, Ohio recorded a song entitled "Tiger Rag". The group was the Mills Brothers and most musicologists point to them as the starting place for what we now refer to as "R&B Vocal Group Sound". Ironically, they were hailed as great innovators because they imitated musical instruments with their voices and were, at times, called the "Human Band".

Not only were the Mills Brothers the first black group to have wide appeal among whites, they were considered the most successful group of all time, they were second to the Andrew Sisters with 71 chart singles (the Andrew Sisters had 113) spanning four decades. Members of the group included: Herbert (1912), Donald (1915), Harry (1913), and John Mills Jr. (1911). They started out practicing in their father's barbershop.

John Sr. himself sang with a group calling themselves the Four Kings of Harmony. Barbershop harmony was the Mills Brothers forte, and gospels or spirituals was a part of their flavor as far as their sound was concerned. During on of their performances during the 1920s the teens forgot their kazoos which is what they used to imitate instruments and began improvising the sound of musical instruments with their voices while cupping their hands over their mouths. John mastered the bass trumpet and tuba; Harry mimicked trumpet and sang baritone; Herbert did sax, trombone, and trumpet; and Donald was the tenor lead vocal. John Jr. played guitar, the only musical instrument used by the group. Like many of the groups that followed in the footsteps of the Mills Brothers, it was not uncommon for them to sing under different names.

In September of 1930, broadcasting executive William S. Paley, at CBS radio in New York, turned on his office speaker one day at the urging of Ralph Wonders to listen to an audition of four young men that had been performing under different names in Cincinnati on WLW radio. They were billed as the Steamboat Four when they sang for Sohio. They were the Tasty Yeast Jesters when they sang for Tasty Yeast. They had been called the Four Boys and a Guitar, but on Sundays and for this audition, they went by the Mills Brothers. When Paley heard their performance, he immediately went downstairs and put them on CBS radio. The next day the Mills Brothers signed a three-year contract and became the first African Americans to have a network show on radio.

Duke Ellington, a music legend in the 1920's, along with WLW DJ Seger Ellis are credited for the national recognition of the Mills Brothers. You didn't know that did you? Well now you do. Tell you something else you probably didn't know. Remember the song "Gloria" that was recorded by the Cadillacs in1954 on the Josie label later done by a group calling themselves Enchantment , are you ready for this?

The Mills Brothers recorded "Gloria" on the Decca label in October of 1948, one month before I was born. Later we'll talk a little about Leon Rene the writer of that classic tune, the story behind it, the very first group to record it, before the Mills Brothers and the thirty-two other recordings done by various groups. By the way my favorite recording of "Gloria" was done by the Chariots in 1959 on the Time label.

Before we get too far ahead lets go back to the Mills Brothers. The brothers were local radio stars when Duke and his Orchestra played a date in Cincinnati. When the youngsters sang for Duke, and kids they were, he was so impressed he called Tommy Rockwell at Okeh Records, who signed them and brought the group to New York. Their first record recorded for Brunswick, a remake of their "Tiger Rag" (1931), became a nation wide seller, the only record at that time to sell more than a million copies.

As a kid growing up I remember listening to songs by the Mills Brothers, they were along with other groups of that era my grandmothers favorites, tunes like "Up The Lazy River", "Glow Worm"and "Paper Doll" just to name a few. I also recall the television shows they were featured on, along with the Delta Rhythm Boys. What I wouldn't give to have just one of those days back.

Like many of the early singing groups, adversity too was apart of the Mills Brothers saga along the road to greatness. The brothers were highly successful and well liked. In 1934 the Mills Brothers became the first African Americans to give a command performance before British royalty. They performed at the Regal Theater for a very special audience; King George V, Queen Mary, and a special women sitting in a box seat, their mother. Soon after this, John Jr. became ill and in later died in 1936. This was a bad time for the group which was contemplating breaking up, when their mother told them John Jr. would want them to continue.

John Sr. replaced the deceased brother on baritone and tuba, Norman Brown joined the Brothers as their guitar player. After their return to the States, having toured Europe they were in need of a hit. The Ink Spots were coming up and people seem to be forgetting the Mills Brothers, they recorded "I'll be Around". Donald Mills chose "Paper Doll"as the B-side. "I'll be Around" became a popular hit. Then a disk jockey turned the record over. "Paper Doll" recorded in just fifteen minutes, sold six million copies and became the group's biggest hit.

The rise of rock and roll in the early fifties did little to diminish the Mills Brothers popularity. In 1957, John Sr. reluctantly stopped touring with the group. He was seventy-five.The group re-formed as a trio.

Their last recording was "Cab Driver", recorded in 1968. The death of Harry Mills in 1982 ended a long musical career that was as successful as any group in the country's history. The Mills Brothers' influence was incredible they made black music acceptable. Particularly to white audiences and encouraged other black vocalists to carry on what they had started. Let us not forget, they did it with grace and dignity in difficult racial times. Their warmth of character and mellow sound carried them forward. The unique sound of the Mills Brother could be heard in dozens of groups over the next two decades.

14. The Ink Spots   
Following the Mills Brothers, the next significant group of "musical innovators" would be the Ink Spots who would popularize the "talking" bass role on their monster hit "If I Didn't Care"in 1939. The Ink Spots story begins in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1932, when four young men - Deek Watson, Charles Fuqua (brother of, you guessed it, Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows), Orville "Hoppy" Jones and Jerry Daniels-formed the first version of the group.

The quartet formed as the Riff Brothers and the Percolating Puppies before settling on the Ink Spots. It was one thing to form a group but it was another thing trying to get a recording contract, so the group headed to the "Big Apple", where they met with another singer by the name of Bill Kenny, who replaced Jerry Daniels as the group's lead tenor in 1936. Three years later after perseverance, the Ink Spots had their first million-selling record "If I Didn't Care'.

The song, which would be their biggest hit, ultimately sold 19 million copies. One would think that the group, with sales like that, would become filthy rich, WRONG. This was not just the Ink Spots reality, most if not all of the early recording groups suffered in much the same way. Bill Kenny's soaring tenor paved the way for Sonny Til (The Orioles), Maithe Marshall (The Ravens), Frankie Lymon (The Teenagers), Curtis Mayfield (The Impressions), Russell Tompkins (The Stylistics), and many others to follow.

Hoppy Jones's revolutionary talking-bass parts redefined a bass singer's value and role in a group, and his style was emulated by, in my opinion, the greatest bass lead of all times; Jimmy Ricks (The Ravens). Taking nothing away from Gerald "Bounce"Gregory (Spaniels). Here again, Duke Ellington was the influence behind this group when they sang under the name; The Percolating Puppies (1928).

The Ink Spots's sound actually came from vaudeville and jazz band music as did most singing groups around this time which is why Duke Ellington had such a heavy influence in the launching of their careers. The very first song recorded by the Ink Spots was in 1935 entitled "Swinging On The Strings"on RCA label. The B-side was "Your Feet's Too Big". When two 78's went nowhere, the group broadened its popularity by leaving the country.

Do you notice a pattern here? Leaving the country is what many groups had to do in order to get their "propts". By the way for those of you from this new generation reading this "78's" were records, along with "45's" and not the Colt version.

In my mind I'm going back to a period of time of my childhood days. I'm sitting on the Davenport listening to the music being played on my grandmothers Hi Fi. It's a Saturday afternoon I can hear laughter coming from the kitchen as my grandmother and her croonies indulge themselves in some collard greens, ham hocks and corn bread. Mind you during this time us kids weren't allowed to sit with grown folks, kids were seen, not heard. Oh yea, there's a bottled of Jack Daniels on the table also.

Lloyd Price has center stage, singing "Lawdy Miss Claudy". How well I remember that song. I step outside and on the corner is a bunch of guys indulging in their favorite past time, singing. This was a part of growing up in the "hood". George and Harvey to us was nothing more than cornerboys or keeping it in perspective our "old-heads". After all they were older. As I got older, and I'm talking now about sitting down and watching shows that feature the old groups from the fifties. I can't help but notice that the majority of the audiences are white. You notice it too?

I used to wonder why until I went back to that period in time I just mentioned. I want you to follow me there. Do you think that during the fifties with all the racism and in Mr Charlies' house Susie and Johnnie are allowed to listen to what was considered Race Music. Hell to the No. Some of that music, I was not even allowed to listen to, and certainly not on Sundays. So here we are grown up, away from the restrictions placed on us by our parents and society free to be who we want to be and hoping to recapture what we lost in growing up. I guess that explains why the audience is so racially divided. This music has always been a part of my life, along with the guys who sang it. The difference is they could sit at my grandmothers table anytime.

Getting back to our journey in addition to the Ink Spots there other groups that evolved that I would like to acknowledge. They are; The Soul Stirrers (Sam Cooke and Little Johnny Taylor), The Pilgrim Travelers (Lou Rawls), the Thrasher Wonders (Gerhart and Andrew Thrasher of the Drifters), the Drinkard Singers (Dionne Warwick), and the Jerusallem Stars (Brook Benton). Many black acts of the 40's contributed to the growth of interest in vocal group music. They included the Charioteers (Columbia), the Deep River Boys (RCA), the Four Vagabonds (Bluebird) the Delta Rhythm Boys (Decca), who by the way appeared in 15 films from the early 40's to 1956, the Basin Street Boys (Exclusive) recorded "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman" 1946, and the Five Red Caps (Beacon), and in the late 40's,the fathers of rhythm and blues the Ravens (National) 1945, and the Orioles (Jubilee) 1948.

In early 1936 Moe Gale (Harlem's Savoy Ballroom) owner and new group manager took notice of Bill Kenny, the winner of an amateur contest at the Savoy Ballroom, and brought him into the group. With the addition of the new member, Jerry Daniels left the group. That same year the Ink Spots signed with Decca and began doing package shows with Gale performers like Ella Fitzgerald and Moms Mabley, one of her favorites lines from the days of the Uptown Theater was "The only thing a old man could do for her was to bring her a message from a young man".

Speaking of the Uptown Theater with "The guy with the goods", Georgie Woods. George was truly the epitome of class with his stage presence and assortment of suits, you see back then guys didn't get dressed up in "Fruit of the Looms" nor did they have to check periodically to see if the family jewels were still there. Ready for this? The cost of an entire show was just $1.75. You read it right One Dollar Seventy Five Cents..As we get further along we'll talk more about the "Black personality DJ's and the chittlin circuit.

But for now lets get back to the Ink Spots. The group was on the verge of calling it quits as bookings were down and record sales had never been up. Then in 1939 (January 12th), the history of popular music took an important turn due in part to an aspiring songwriter named Jack Lawrence. who had written a composition that he brought to one of the Spots sessions.

It initially was intended for a jive song "Knock-Kneed Sal", The group worked up Lawrence's ballad, "If I Didn't Care, with Kenny doing his now famous quivering tenor lead and Hoppy improvising his talking bass bridge. As it turned out a lot of people did care. It was issued in February 1939 and by April 15th the song had charted.

The value of this composition written by Lawrence, recorded by the Ink Spots, is just one example of a songs potential value, both sentimental and financially. This song thirty years later was sold for over a half million dollars. I wonder how much of that was paid to the Ink Spots?

One could say that the group was on a roll with a string of chart busters like; "My Prayer" #3, 1939, later a hit for the Platters, "Maybe" #2, 1940, "We Three" #1, 1940 and the list goes on and on.

By now the group was breaking attendance records, in 1943, Charlie Fuqua joined Uncle Sam's military but before he left he hand-picked his replacement, Bernie Mackey, a noble gesture on Charlie's part, but not uncommon. It was important to maintain the integrity of the group.

From August 1942 to September 1943 the musicians' union strike put a halt to any new recordings, but the Spots still placed four singles on the charts. Bill Doggett was the groups' manager during most of the war years {W.W ll}. He went on to work with Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Gordan and his own combo in 1952. His most notable hit was "Honky Tonk" on the King label. #2 Pop, #1 R&B 1956.

In 1944 Deek Watson and Bill Kenny had been at odds with one another. Deek left to form his own Ink Spots but was stopped by a court injunction and thus the Brown Dots were born. Hoppy Jones known for his booming bass died at the age of 39, Cliff Givens took his place. In late 1945 Fuqua returned to replace Huey Long who never recorded with the group. Like many of the recording groups, past and present, friction was a common enemy due in part to personalty differences, fatigue or the fact that we just don't get along {smile}.

Whatever the case here in 1952 Bill Bowen and Charlie Fuqua left. Bill Kenny took Fuqua to court when Charlie wanted to form his own group {Ink Spots}. Fuqua won. Starting to sound like a soap opera isn't it? Guess that's was what it was, figuratively speaking. The unfortunate thing here is that many groups like I said earlier experienced adversity both internal and external.

It was important for me to talk extensively about the Ink Spots as well as their predecessors, the Mills Brothers, because they helped pave the way for the Ravens and The Orioles, as you will soon find out, as we continue on this historical journey. Next stop Harlem N.Y., where we'll find Jimmy Ricks and Warren "Birdland" Suttles waiting tables.

15. The Ravens   
The Ravens were the brainchild of Ricks {bass} and Suttles {baritone} they were the first group to make continuous use of a bass vocalist {Ricks} they also were said to have been the first group to incorporate dance steps in their R&B act. Step aside Temptations and get your notebooks out.

Clearly waiting tables was not what these two guys wanted to do for the rest of their lives, so they decided to go to the Evans Booking Agency and recruit two more singers to form a group in 1945. It was then they met first tenor Ollie Jones and second tenor Leonard Puzey.

Now all they needed was a name which the one chosen "Ravens" to set in motion what would later become the first group-name craze. This one obviously centered around birds. Birds are considered natural born singers and the practice really dates back to 1926 with a group calling themselves the Blackbirds of Harmony .The desire really took off in the late forties and there were forty six groups using bird names, don't believe me? Count em'.

When I started this endeavor I had no idea as to the magnitude of information I would uncover. One thing I did know, and that was I was going to tell the story and it's profound affect on me.

Behind every group that recorded from this genre there's a story to be told. These guys (girls) were not just one dimensional. They were kids doing what kids do, having fun. For many, singing was a way out, much like kids of today aspiring to become basketball greats. Never in the history of this country has anyone been able to sing with the passion and utilization of the human voice the way blacks did.

This is not taking anything away from Sinatra, Johnny Ray, Bennett or Johnny Mastrangelo. As a matter of fact I have a great deal of appreciation for all of them. Especially "old blue eyes". Soul is not something you create, you're born with it. Ever notice how from the cradle that a black child is able to pick up on the feel of the music. Notice I said feel and not beat, there is a difference. Needless to say there were many imitators but only one originator.

Now the picture is coming into focus! The stage is set. We have seen how the Black migration from southern farms fueled the development of the Black urban communities or "ghettos", in major Northern cities. Blacks who were still restricted by Northern racism wanted their own entertainment.

The "Jook Joints" and clubs that proliferated in those Black urban centers became the musical laboratories required to create a new sound. With that new sound came the tape recorders, electric guitars, juke boxes needed to play all these records on and a "Bass" vocalist unlike any you've ever heard.

In the spring of 1946 the Ravens joined Hub Records and their first 78, "Honey", was issued on July 1. It was followed by "My Sugar Is So Refined.". They opened with this song at a benefit show at the legendary Apollo Theater. Puzey sang lead, but when Ricks took over he brought the house down with his booming bass. Also on this show was Nat King Cole, with his "slick" process. His hair always seemed to stay in place. I remember getting my hair done {processed} right after basic training, I couldn't get done while living at home. Mom wasn't having it. When I sat in the chair and the guy at Sly's do shop ask me how I wanted it, I said: "like Nat King Cole".

First tenor Ollie Jones, left the group and a key addition was added when Jimmy Ricks found falsetto tenor Maithe Marshall who was a bartender, and asked him to join the group. In 1947 they signed with National Records and began sessions that featured Ricks on jump tunes, while Marshall and his crystal-clear falsetto led the group on the flip-side ballads. Marshall, consequently became known as a B-side singer. As a direct result of this collectors in the 60's, 70s', and 80's literally raged wars to get a hold of Ravens records containing his (Marshall) recordings.

On November 13, 1947 "Write Me a Letter" became the first R&B record to hit the national top 25, charting at number 24. As "Write Me a Letter" didn't hit the R&B charts until January 10,1948, the Ravens, the world's first successful R&B group, actually charted Pop before they charted R&B. It wasn't until their second National single, a rhythmic version of the standard "Old Man River", that established the group and its sound internationally. I can hear Ricks now doing; "Here we all work on the Mississippi, getting no rest til the judgement day". A power bass is definitely needed in order to get the full affect of this song. The song supposedly sold two million copies, and one of them belongs to me.

Here again as mentioned earlier there were several personnel changes .During 1950 and after touring what had become known as the chitlin circuit, which was a series of theater venues on the East Coast and in the Midwest that included the Uptown and Earl Theater in Philadelphia, the Howard in Washington, the Royal in Baltimore, the Regal in Chicago to the crown jewel of theaters, the Apollo in New York, Louis Heyward took the baritone part as Suttles took one of his frequent vacations (previously replaced by Joe Medlin - later a national promo exec for Atlantic Records. In the late 1950 the Ravens signed with Columbia .After a few sides for Columbia's Okeh affiliate, the Ravens moved to Mercury in late 1951.

During Rick's tenure he sang on more labels than there were members of the group. By now Jimmy Stewart had taken over for Puzey on tenor, Louis Frazier in for Heyward, and a young falsetto lead named Joe Van Loan from the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia's gospel group known as the Canaanites. Though Maitte Marshall's sound was unique and often imitated years later, the man who came closest to his sound was, you guessed it, Joe Van Loan.

One of the things that set the Ravens apart from earlier groups who sang in the pop-jazz style (Ink Spots) which they did also, was the addition of a blues interpretation to the material that hadn't been done before. Ricks made this group special, because of his unique way of doing things, lower and different than any bass before him. He had a very sensuous manner. The Ravens also incorporated the use of nonsense syallbles, one of the main ingredients used to defined a particular style of singing.

With the Ravens, a statement of pride was being made. One cannot measure the enormity of their influence on the next generation of young singers. The Ravens became head-line attractions and to prove that point, a performance in February 1951 at Middleberry College in Vermont grossed them a whopping $2,000.00 certainly a hefty sum in those days for a night's work. Don't think however they received all that money, there was cost associated, gas money, food, laundry, and whatever else management could throw in. Sad but true, this is apart of the story that very seldom gets told.

Now we're getting into familiar "musical territory". The cacophony of sounds is brewing. Cheap technology has spawned the "independent" record producer looking to make a quick buck. Characters like Syd Nathan (King records), Art Rupe (Specialty), The Chess Brothers (Chess records), Herman Lubinsky (Savoy). Any relation to T.J (P.B.S), you know the guy who hosts the DOO-WOP shows on T.V. and all others are listening to those new sounds and how they can make money.

The restriction of shellac was lifted after WW II. What does that have to do with music? Shellac is what was needed to make records. The independent record producers now had everything they needed, performers, raw material, products and an audience eager to buy that product. Some "products" offered would ultimately lead to the demise of many of these performers, as in the cases of Billy Holiday and a young Frankie Lymon.

For those of you who don't know what "independent" record companies were, they came into existence as the direct result of the so called major record labels, Mercury, Capital, MGM, and RCA and a few others that sold the most records, took in more money and determined what music was recorded and played. As in any business the whole idea is to make money, therefore they catered to the people who spent the most money, namely white people. If there was no money to be made in "race" music it was ignored. I'll talk more about the "Indies" later on, because I feel it important that a fair amount of time be given to the topic.

The Ravens set the stage for the Orioles, one could say with them (Ravens) came the birth of Rhythm and Blues. Perhaps the best ballad ever recorded by a Ravens group was the Joe Van Loan-led "Don't Mention My Name" (December1952), a tune that was an overlooked blues, jazz and pop classic with a soaring falsetto on top of a mellow sounding sax.

The last great effort by the Ravens was a remake of a song recorded by the Scarlets' 1954 "Dear One" in the summer of 1957. Nat Margo, the group's road manager brought the Ravens name from Ricks. Afterwards a variety of Ravens got together on the circuit to perform through the 60's and 70's. All the original Ravens went on to sing with other groups. In 1950 Jimmy Ricks left the Ravens to appear and record with Benny Goodman. After his final recording stint with the Ravens in 1956 he went on to record solo on many, many labels, but never charted as solo artist.

After moving to Florida, he performed with Count Basie, and stayed active on the club scene until his death on July 2, 1974 at the age of 50. Next stop, Baltimore Maryland. The year was 1946.

16. The Orioles   
What set Sonny Til and the Orioles apart from the Ravens was the fact that they were the premier love-song balladeer's of the late 40's and 50's. Their smooth style had more influence on R&B groups of the next 20 years than almost any other act. While the Ravens brought prominence to black groups doing white swing material, the Orioles were the first black group to gain national acclaim by recording black songs.

What was later defined as pure R&B harmony came from the Orioles. In 1946 Erlington Tilghman (Sonny Til) returned from the military. His girlfriend persuaded him to perform in a local talent show, Sonny won two nights in a row, and began harmonizing with subsequent winners. A group emerged that included Sonny (lead and second tenor), Alexander Sharp (First tenor), George Nelson (second lead and baritone), Johnny Reed (bass),and guitarist Tommy Gaither.

The group was originally called the Vibranairs, a name chosen by Sonny. Their singing at a corner bar led to a meeting with songwriter/salesclerk Deborah Chessler, who had written a ballad "It's Too Soon To Know". Chessler became their manager and arranged for them to appear on "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" show in 1948.

Remember the Mills Brothers also appeared of this show years earlier, so one might say that was an old version of today's "American Idol". The group lost to George Shearing, but Godfrey was so impressed he brought them back for his morning show. Jerry Blaine, a record distributor, signed them to his label (Natural) that summer and changed their name to Orioles. Blaine's label became Jubillee in August 1948 and the sales of "It's Too Soon To Know" were credited to that company for obvious reasons.

By now the Orioles were sitting on top of the world, earning big-time money on the infamous chitlin circuit and appearing on national TV shows like "The Star Night Show" with Perry Como.

At the end of 1950 there was a tragic automobile accident that brought their success to a crashing halt. Killed in the accident was Tommy Gaither (guitarist) and seriously injured was George Nelson (second lead and baritone), Johnny Reed (bass) and Sonny Woods, Orioles valet and founding member of the Royals (Federal).

This proved to be a very difficult time for the Orioles, guys that sang together, in spite of internal strife which may at times been present still had compassion for one another. Ralph Williams took over guitar (he also occasionally subbed on baritone for the recovered Nelson, who seemed to have lost something, making him unreliable).

Their first single with Williams was "Oh Holy Night". In an effort to show how much Gaither was missed, the group recorded in 1951 on the Jubilee label a tune entitled "Pal Of Mine". One could tell on subsequent recordings, that the Orioles were not producing the same level of quality and their interest in doing so waned. Songs such as "Bar Fly" reflected a lack of interest in this new weeper ballad..I'm not sure if it ever released.

The next record was "You Belong To Me" 1952, and according to Billboards reviews. was not their best effort..In early 1953 they began to come out of it with "I Miss You So" and a beautiful tune later done by Little Anthony/Imperials called "I Cover The Waterfront".

Around this time George Nelson with his rough sounding yet emotional second tenor/baritone voice left the group. Imagine Louis Armstrong singing with a great deal of feeling and you have a George Nelson .Gregory Carroll (Four Buddies, Savoy) joined with Charlie Harris, making the group now a quintet.

In July of 1953 the Orioles released what was to be their strongest R&B in the past few months. By summers end it was #1 on the R&B charts, it was a song that became one of my lullaby's. The song was titled "Crying In The Chapel".

The group followed with "In The Mission Of St. Augustine" which reached #7 R&B 1953. By October of the same year this song turned out to be the Orioles last national hit. Because of a market now inundated with a new generation of groups, it became difficult to earn top dollars, so they disbanded.

Whereas Jimmy Ricks was known for his bass lead, Sonny Til was considered the first romantic lead singer. The Orioles were also the first group to do what is considered a true doo-wop ballad incorporating all the elements required before a song fits into the category of doo-wop. When I get to the R&B part of this journey you will learn more about what distinguishes doo-wop from R&B.

Sonny, refusing to call it quits, found a new Orioles that was complete and processing all the ingredients he was looking for. The Regals were performing at the Apollo in 1954. Together, they issued a string of Jubilee sides through 1956, including "Don't Go To Strangers" and an excellent version of "Run Around" 1954.

The new members featured; Gerald Holeman, Albert Russell, Billy Adams and Jerry Rodriquez. They signed with Vee Jay Records out of Chicago, and in 1956 released three singles, the most popular being "Happy Til The Letter".

In the early part of 1960 Sonny moved to Philadelphia and lived in the area known as 56th and Lansdowne Avenue located in West Philadelphia. It was also the same neighborhood where the Delfonics came from, and the same corner I was from. As a matter of fact, Wilbert Hart and I attended the same elementary school, Heston.

In 1962 Sonny formed yet another group of Orioles with, now check this out, Gerald "Bounce" Gregory (of the Spaniels), Delton McCall (from the Dreams) and Billy Taylor (The Castelles).

The most interesting recording done by this group was a song recorded on a LP (long play record) for Charlie Parker entitled, "Back in The Chapel" an answer to "Crying In The Chapel". In 1971 Sonny formed another group with some guys who idolized the Orioles since their youth, they were Clarence Young, Mike Robinson and Bobby Thomas. They recorded one excellent LP with Sonny for RCA that year.

Sonny's last recording was in 1981 on the LP Sonny Til and The Orioles Visit Manhattan Cira 1950's. George Nelson died in 1959 from an asthma attack, Alex Sharp died in 1970 while singing with an Ink Spots group. Johnny Reed retired from singing and the legend himself, the man who memorized the "girls" with a matinee performance, Sonny Til died on December 9, 1981 at the age of 51.

17. R&B   
At this juncture, one could say that the major part of this journey has been completed. The foundation of the Black musical experience and the major contributors has been laid down. In other words the "chickens have come home to roost".

Of course there are many groups not mentioned, that played an equally important role in the development of our music and I'm sure at some point in this story their names will be mentioned. For instance "Charles Brown", the voice behind "Please come Home For Christmas" once sang with a group calling themselves "Johnny Moore Blazers" recorded the first version of a song written by Leon Rene entitled "Gloria" 1942, he also recorded "Bewildered" long before James Brown did it during the early days of Try Me.

One of the unique aspects in the development of R&B is that it wasn't the major record labels, as mentioned earlier that would feed the voracious appetites of the record buying public looking for R&B records. Instead, it was the "Independent" record companies that produced the vast majority of R&B material.

In reality, they were typically no more than a one man, one room operation trying to make a quick buck. Let me try to put this into perspective for you, imagine all the hair salons, pizza shop, barbershops, stop n' go's and other mom and pop operations in the urban cities today and you get a glimpse of what the "Indie" business was all about.

They were also the springboard of fame and fortune, real or imagined for thousands of aspiring R&B artists. The first small "Indie" labels such as Exclusive, Beacon and Keynote sprang up in the 1930's and early 1940's. Interestingly, the first company, Exclusive, was founded by two black brothers from New Orleans, Otis and Leon Rene. It appears that they founded Exclusive as a vehicle to produce songs that they had written. The Rene brothers would become mainstays in the "golden" years of R&B with their later company, Class records.

Joe Davis launched Beacon records in 1942 and developed new black artists like Una Mae Clarlisle, The Five Red Caps and Savannah Churchill. Between 1942 and 1944, four other East Coast R&B labels set up shop. Herman Lubinsky opened his Savoy records in Newark New Jerseu. The Braun family opened DeLuxe records in nearby Linden, New Jersey. Over in NYC, three partners, Hy Seigal, Ike Berman and Sam Schneider opened Apollo records (it had no connection to the famed Apollo Theater. Last but probably the most important pioneering label was National.

National records was a Manhattan based company founded by A.B. Green. However, the driving force behind National was it's A&R man, Herb Abramson, who would later co-found Atlantic records with Ahmet Ertegun.

Syd Nathan set up a record company in an abandoned ice house in Cincinnati and called it King records. Nathan was a shrewd operator who would build one of the most significant independent R&B labels in the country. Because of possible connections he was able to record, press and produce finished disks in his own plant unlike most of his competitors who had to pay pressing plants. You must remember, that during this period there was a great deal of "Mob" influence especially in the area of entertainment as you will soon find out when we get to Chicago, a city once owned by "Al Capone".

Nathan would add to his enterprise Federal / King a complex that was hard to beat in the 50's. Included in this stable were artists like, The Dominoes, Checkerss, Swallows, Five Royals, Midnighters, Hurricanes, Five Keys, Otis Williams, James Brown / Flames and many others. It was the grand daddy of them all.

To some all this my sound very impressive, but to me it was exploitation at its worst. Most of these artist were young, not having a lot of formal education and certainly lacking business aptitude. When contracts were presented they were not afforded legal representation, but rather sent home for their parents review, imagine that.

A problem with the music business in the 50's was that connections, musical politics and money in many cases determined which songs would be played on the radio.

While many whites, in positions of power did like the music, "race music", they did not the people who recorded it. Many groups that had frequent hits, disappeared as quickly as they arrived. In the beginning, music had nothing to do with politics but through the years it's innocence was lost to corruption and man's desire to control fueled in part by greed. One might say that the way out of such a dilemma was to insist that the focus remain on the music making that the point of reference and not the skin color.

Another independent record company came out of Chicago. Chess records began in a storefront and rose to prominence in the music industry. The original label was called Aristocrat and was launched in 1946 by Leonard and Phil Chess. Initially, the Chess brothers concentrated on recording blues singers and Chicago was full of those performers. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Willie Mabon, Willie Dixon and other blues legends found a recording home at Chess.

The legendary Vee-Jay independent label was located in Chicago. Vee-Jay was founded in 1952 by Vivian Carter Bracken, husband James Bracken and her brother Calvin Carter. Their initial release was "Baby It's You" by the Spaniels and the rest is history.

Atlantic records started as a small independent label in 1947. Ahmet Ertegun borrowed $500.00 from a family friend and rented a small office in Manhattan. Under the leadership of Ertegue, along with Herb Abromson and the musical genius of Jerry Wexler, Atlantic would go to become one of the largest and profitable record companies in the world.

New York holds the record for the number of indies that sprang up in the 50's. There were so many groups singing on almost every corner, that if you were to go into someone else's "hood" you had better be able to do one of two things, sing or run.

Because of so many commodities at their disposal, entrepreneur's saw $$$ dollar signs floating over the heads of these groups. Producers like, George Goldner (Tico, Roulette, Gee, Gone) prowled the streets of Harlem and the Spanish sections of Brooklyn in search of amateur Puerto Rican and Black groups.

Philadelphia also had it's share of now legendary ‘Indie' labels such as Grand Gotham, Jamie, Cameo and Parkway. It was during this time that we first heard "The Sound of Philadelphia" and this is way before Gamble and Huff.

While they did a lot to enhance the careers of many great performers, they did not create the sound of Philadelphia. That honor goes to, George Grant/Castelles, Cherokees, Mowhawks, Turbans, Dreamers, Revels Bluenotes (before Harold Melvin) Guy-Tones, Silhouettes, Lee Andrews/Hearts and the Sensations.

Of course there were others, but outside of their relatives no one had ever heard of them. Because right now my focus is on the 50's groups, I purposely did not mention the Tymes, Dreamlovers or Intruder because they were 60's groups, more about them later. Don't worry Ceasar, you are not to be forgotten.

The Philadelphia sound as mentioned earlier, was just that, a sound that featured a piercing tenor with a haunting gospel like harmony in the background. It lasted about two or more years and by 1956 it was virtually forgotten except in a few blocks located in West Philadelphia. On Baltimore Avenue, Herb Johnson (Guilty and Have You Heard) had a record shop that I would frequent, as much as I liked the songs I didn't know Herb was the man that recorded them. It just goes to show how humble these guys were.

Before becoming renowned writters/producers, Gamble and Huff also sang on the street corners. Being that Philadelphia is my home town I'd be remise if I didn't recognize those individual groups that put Philadelphia in the history book of R&B.

I just boarded a P.T.C. trolley headed for Sharon's penny arcade, located at 16th and Market Streets, in Center City. The Castelles, I understand, just finished recording a tune entitled "My Girl Awaits Me" on acetate. From there they traveled to 40th and Lancaster Ave.(affectionately known as "The Bottom").

The average age of the Castelles when they started singing at 49th and Brown Street, was 11. This is the group that is said to have accidentally created the Philly Sound, a four or five member group blending in complex harmony, its high tenor lead (George Grant) supported by, Octavius Anthony, first tenor, Frank Vance, second tenor, William "Billy" Taylor, baritone and Ronald Everett, bass.

There first release "My Girl Awaits Me" was written by Frank Vance (second tenor). At 40th and Lancaster they stopped in a small appliance (and record ) store named Treegoobs. The owner, Herb Slotkin, liked what he heard, and after learning that the Castelles had no manager, teamed up with an associate, Jerry Rogovoy, and recorded the group.

Not wanting to deal with all the legalities Slotkin formed right out of his appliance store Grand Record Label. In 1953 "My Girl Awaits Me" was the first Grand release on the now legendary shiny blue (later yellow) 45rpm label. The B side went to "Sweetness". The tune sold all over the East Coast but did exceptionally well in New York, Baltimore, and Washington, and of course in their hometown of Philadelphia.

Around this time Clyde McPhatter had left the Dominoes and the Atlantic execs wanted George Grant as his replacement, now if you know anything about music, this was one hellofa statement. Clyde? Because of the loyalty towards his group George decided decline the offer. Clyde was replaced by a nineteen year old golden glove champ by the name of Jackie "Sonny" Wilson, that wasn't a bad choice either way.

The Castelles' next single was a Rogovoy composition title, "This Silver Ring" (1954). Since the group wrote almost all of their songs (although usually only one member got writing credit). "This Silver Ring" turned out to be Rogovoy's only writing contribution for the act.

On some Grand pressings, it didn't matter who wrote the songs since writer credits were usually left off the label. This practice did not hold true with Alan Freed. He wanted his name placed on labels that he never penned a note to (case of the "Moon Glows").

The Castelles were known for putting the final touches on a jump tune in the studio mens room. In the case of "Marcella" they waited until the actual session in the studio to write something, truly a remarkable under-rated group.

In 1955, their last single out of Grand's headquarters at 4095 Lancaster Avenue was "Heavenly Father"backed with "My Wedding Day". Before the group could record again, Franf Vance and Ronald Everett left.

A Philly friend, Clarence Scott, joined the group in 1956 and the newly formed group were brought to Atlantic by Slotkin to record one single, "Happy and Gay" written by the Castelles. The Castelles were now singing in a new a style. Gone was George's pristine lead as Clarence Scott sang up front. Also gone were the tree top tenor harmonies, replaced by up-tempo Cleft Tones styled doo-wop. And gone was the group's career when the record flopped.

Vance landed with the Spaniels but never recorded with them. Taylor joined Sonny Til for their releases on Charlie Parker Records. George joined the Modern Redcaps in 1961 through 1969, sharing leads with an old homeboy George Tinley (of the Dreams on Savoy). William Taylor later joined the Redcaps for awhile. In 1989 George Grant recorded with a Castelles imitation group for Classic Artist Records. These recordings had showed he had lost none of his sound and evoked the early days on those Philadelphia streets. All the tenor groups that followed, from the Marquees to the Delfonics and Stylistics owe much to the Castelles.

While in West Philly, lets get on the #10 trolley to 52nd St. where we'll board the route 70 bus going south and get off at 49th and Woodland Avenue, there we'll find, Arthur "Lee" Thompson aka Lee Andrew /Hearts.

Their story begins in Goldsboro, North Carolina where Arthur Lee Andrew Thompson was born. He came from a musical family. His Father, Beechie Thompson sang with the Dixie Hummingbirds. When Lee was two the family moved to Philadelphia. By the time he was a student at Bartram H.S. in 1952, Lee had begun harmonizing with four friends, first tenor, Royalston "Roy" Calhoun, Thomas "Butch" Curry, second tenor, James "Jimmy" McCalister, baritone and John Young, bass.

The Quintet from Southwest Philadelphia. first began calling themselves the Dreams, later the Dreamers. Between 1952-1954 the Dreamers rehearsed after school (often tutored on spirituals by Curry's Aunt). In early 1954 they visited the local WHAT radio station and danced in the studio next to the DJ booth where on-air personality Kae Williams held court.

On one particular night, Williams asked a group of teens dancing in the next room about what local acts they liked and was told the Dreamers. They later auditioned two Top Ten charters from previous decades and Williams was so awed by this unique assemblage that he offered to manage them on the spot.

In the spring of that year, Williams took the Dreams into Reco Arts Studio and cut two sides. The group than traveled with Williams to New York and to the offices Eddie and Bobby Heller's Rainbow Record label. A label so small it shared space with a Hell's Kitchen storefront known as Sonny's Deli. The two also ran a club in North Philadelphia and had previously associated with Williams

It was at this point that they learned that there was an existing act calling themselves the Dreamers and it was Jimmy McCalister who came up with the Hearts after seeing a small plastic heart on a secretary's desk, actually Heller's wife. Since Thompson was to be featured as the group's leader, he began shuffling his names around to come up with something he felt would sound better and read better on the labels-than Arthur Thompson and the Hearts.

He finally settled on calling himself by his two middle names and thus the name Lee Andrews & The Hearts was finally born. The Hearts' first single was a version of the Orioles' then charting "Maybe You'll Be There"(accompanied only by piano).It was issued in mid May 1954 and received airplay in Philadelphia, but couldn't compete with the polished and established Orioles' version and sank like a piece of cinder-block.

In hindsight I'd say that the fact that this was a small independent label and their inability to distribute on a larger network had more to do with the failure of this recording than anything else. These are the parts of the story that is usually omitted.

Their second single, "The White Cliffs Of Dover" was a better overall group performance but saw even less airplay .A third single from Oct.1954, "The Bells Of St. Mary", battled on the charts with a better produced version of the same song by the Drifters, according to some, on the other hand I think Clyde put his signature on the Drifters' version. By now Williams (Kae) thought three tries was enough for Rainbow and pulled his group from the label.

In 1955, McCalister was Navy bound and soon replaced by Ted Weems. It's not ironic that during this period many young people received a letter saying; "Greetings This Is Uncle Sam". This was later recorded by "Luther Bond /Emeralds".

This happens to be another one of my personal favorites. Weems hailed from South Philly, and like the other members of the group had become high school grads and had to think of full-time employment. This was the rule in most households during the fifties and sixties and not the exception. Lee Andrews and Roy Calhoun went to work at Gotham Record distributors, hoping to score a chance to audition for owner Ivan Ballen's record label.

What I'm about to say, occurred with many groups and that is, the group found out that their contract with Williams wasn't valid because they were all minors when they signed it. This being true, and what we know about the average age of great majority of these groups, one could conclude that there were a lot of invalid contracts out there.

Frankie Lymon, for instance, was 13 when he recorded "Why Do Fools Fall In Love". Ballen's interest was gospel music and he kept putting the teens off until the very end of 1955 when he finally relented and gave them a listen. He really liked what he heard and signed Lee Andrews and The Hearts to Gotham on January 3, 1956. Soon they were recording at the label's studio, located at 626 Federal Street.

Groups recording "old standards" were not uncommon. As a matter of fact, tunes like, "At Last", "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. were recorded long before they became hits by more familiar groups.

The Hearts first single, the Davies-Heyman standard "Bluebird of Happiness" was released in May, but failed to become a hit. Their next single, the Andrews-penned "Lonely Room" was almost word for word a copy of the Larks' 1952 Apollo single "In My Lonely Room" not to be confused with the Phila Larks, did gather air-play throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. The groups last Gotham single, which listed Andrews as the songwriter although some say it was penned by Rita Sherwood, was issued toward the end of 1956. "Just Suppose" also failed to chart.

"Just Suppose" also failed to chart. By now the hearts had become frustrated because many of their best efforts for the label hadn't even been released. In early 1957, they auditioned Philadelphia (WDAS) and New York (WWOV) DJ Jocko Henderson, who along with partner Barry Golder – owned Mainline label.

By mid-year, the group was pleased to discover that their song "Long Lonely Nights" had caught on and found a new audience. In November 1957, the Hearts next single, "Teardrops" was picked up by Chess nationally. But in Philadelphia, it was released on the Argo affiliate as part of a distribution deal between Chess and Mainline.

(MONEY, MONEY) the song was an instant classic, eventually charted at its peak at number 20 on the pop charts, by January 6 1958, it had jumped over to the R&B charts, and hit number four.

What happened next to the Hearts was not unusual among groups during this period. After two hits and getting shorted on royalties (this is what was not unusual) from Chess, Lee Andrews & The Hearts moved over to United Artist, where the group charted for the last time in 1958 with the typically polished "Try The Impossible". After this, the group never charted again on the R&B charts.

The groups internal turmoil eventually took its toll and the group disbanded. Lee went solo with very little success before going into semi retirement and opened a successful dress shop and later opened shop in a flee market located on Baltimore Pike in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.

Roy Calhoun died in an apartment fire in 1979, Butch Curry became ill with multiple sclerosis, Wendell Calhoun still lives in Philadelphia, and Ted Weems joined the Pheasants in 1963 and later had a group called Tribute, but had no other hits.

Listening to the Hearts one could say that their style on singing was influence a lot by the Ink spots. Its time now to travel uptown to North Philadelphia, home of the Bluenotes and the Revels.

Before Harold Melvin, the Bluenotes were definitely a group with a pure doo-wop sound unfortunately many have come to associate them with the Gamble and Huff version now on the Philly International label

Their story started long before Harold and Teddy came aboard. Their story begins during the early fifties. Although Harold Melvin is credited with most of the groups success he did not come along until later.

Before they were known as the Charlemagnes, they went by the Holidays and the early members included Roosevelt "Race Horse" Brodie, Franklin Peaker, Bernard Williams and Jessie Gillis.

One day after leaving the Do- Shop, (that's where you would go during those days to get a "process") at 17th and Ridge Avenue, Bro Franklin went to a bar located at 15th and Ridge Avenue called the "BlueNote" and thus the Bluenotes were born.

During their quest to become known other than a night club act or background singers they went to New York's famed Apollo Theater. Like many young groups, the consensus was, if you could make it in New York especially at the Apollo, you could make it anywhere. And so it was after winning four weeks in a row, the Bluenotes were on their way.

The Josie record label was the first to pick them up with their first release of "If you love Me"and the B-side going to Eloise. Georgie Woods gave them a shot at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia for ten days during Thanksgiving in 1959.

In 1960 they worked for the first time on the road as professionals at of all places, the Apollo along with The Spaniels, Jerry Butler, Baby Washington Crest, Bobby Freeman and Sammy Turner. Harold Melvin replaced Brody who went into the service in 1958. Brody later returned but the group decided to keep Harold and they recorded "My Hero"on Va-Lue label with the flip side going to "Good Women" in 1960.

After the June show that year at the Uptown Theater they released "Winter Wonderland and O Holy Night. During this period like many groups the lineup changed frequently, with Bernard Williams leaving to start a group called the "Original Blue Notes", and Harold Melvin bringing in a new lead singer John Atkins.

In 1970, the group recruited Theodore DeReese Pendergrass as the drummer some say Teddy was only 12 years old when he began his career as a drummer with a group calling themselves the "Cadillacs", not to be confused with the Earl Caroll Cadillacs out of New York. Teddy attended Thomas Edison High School for Boys (now closed). He sang with the Edison Mastersingers. He dropped out of school in the 11th grade to enter the music business.

His success as a singer and musician came as a direct result of his affiliation with the church. Teddy was so soulful that Harold invited him to sing lead after he jumped from the rear of a stage and started singing in that deep sensuous voice that would later become his trade mark.

The rest of the Blue Notes story we all know. In 1972 they signed with Gamble and Huff on Philadelphia International label. Members included Melvin, Pendergrass, Bernard Wilson, Lawrence Brown and Lloyd Parks. Despite success their lineup continued to change regularly. In 1974 Jerry Cummings replaced Lloyd Parks and female singer Sharon Paige was added to the lineup.

Teddy left in 1977 and went to RCA records. Gil Saunders took the lead position in 1982, replacing David Ebo. Melvin died on March 24,1997. Teddy died on January 13, 2010 Through it all the sound of Harold Melvin's Blue Notes' can still be heard thanks to; Rufus Thorne, who joined the group around 1978 when Harold was still here.

Prior to this "Fus" as he is affectionately known thanks to his adorning female fans started singing around the age of 19 with the Ethics who later changed their name to the Creations, their first release was a song entitled "Nothing To Good For You" and the second release was "The Price I Have To Pay". Both are still collectors items in Japan.

The other members include Darnell Gillespie, John Morris and Tony Brooks. In my opinion they're still as good as ever.

Another early fifties group also from North Philadelphia was the Re-Vels. Before the Re-vels, they called themselves the Velveteers, who came out of the Richard Allen projects around 12th and Master Streets, the same area as the Intruders.

Their members included; John "JJ" Jones bass, Billy Jackson 1st tenor, Sonny Barnett 1st tenor, Charles Fortune lead baritone and Danny (can't remember last name). Their story begins in 1953. Aside from collectors not many people remember the Re-vels, let alone ever heard of them.

But when it comes to Philadelphia groups, they were considered one of the best. Around 1955 while in Camden, New Jersey, John heard a young piano player and was so impressed that he wanted him to join the Re-vels.

The other members were opposed and decided to stay with their piano player, John Grant. The other piano player was Leon Huff. The groups first recording was, "My Lost Love" flip side going to "Later Baby" released on 78's.

Sam Hart replaced Sonny Barnett. The next release, this time on a 45, was "Dead Man Stroll", the title was later changed to "Mid Night Stroll" because it was thought Mid Night sounded better than Dead Man. Actually this song would later become one of their biggest recordings. Some of the early radio DJ's to help launch their career were Mitch Thomas, Jocko Henderson and Georgie Woods.

The most instrumental personality according to John Jones, was none other then Dick Clark, who featured them on his American Band Stand show located at 46th Market Streets in Philadelphia and later in New York after he left Philadelphia.

Another big recording, this time with Sam Hart on lead was "Love You Baby"written by Charles Fortune but the label often gave credit to Billy Jackson as the writer, which the group did not have a problem with.

The only time they'd have a problem with writers credit is when someone outside the group would claim credit. John Kelly replaced Sam Hart after "Mid Night Stroll" which happened to be the A-side to their best known recording "False Alarm".

After about ten years the group disbanded. Noted historian Charles Horner played a major role in re-uniting the group during the early 1990's. Billy Jackson managed the Tymes and co-wrote "So Much In Love".

For the record these along with groups like the Mohawks, Cherokees, Turbans Dreams and Silhouettes created the sound of Philadelphia, which was just that, a sound that featured a high piercing tenor and a haunting gospel harmony in the background between 1954 to 1958.

Sure there was other groups coming out of Philadelphia such as the Tymes, Intruders and the Dreamlovers but they were considered 60's groups.

Before continuing, I want go back to the Re-Vels and talk a little bit more about one of its original members. I consider myself fortunate to be able to get first hand information, in this case a telephone conversation with Billy Jackson who himself is still actively involved in the music industry.

Billy wrote Cha-Cha- Tony which was originally entitled "Bay Rum Tony". Bay Rum is what a guy named Tony who lived around Marshall Street use to drink.. You'd really be surprised to learn the origin and inspiration behind many early recordings.

A beautiful ballad song by the Re-Vels that still gets a lot of play on oldies stations today is "Dream My Darling Dream" was written by John Jones. Harry Colcolugh wrote their anthem song as mentioned earlier "False Alarm".

Billy asked that I included in this writing the name Reggie Lavong who at the time was a DJ at WHAT radio station in Philadelphia and according to Billy played a major role in their career. Reggie later became known as Long John and later went on to become program director at WHAT.

The groups early releases were recorded on Atlas Labels at Reco Art Studios located at 12th and Market Streets.(tody its called Sigma Sound). Another member of the group was Sam Hart, what Sam brought to the group was flare. Sam was considered the Elvis Presley of the group on and off the stage. One can only imagine, Elvis Presley.

Located at 313 N. Broad Street there was a business responsible for the distribution of Juke Boxes in the Tri-County area, this business was Seeburgh and during that time Billy Jackson was responsible for putting the records on the Juke Boxes. I said to Billy; with a job such as that you had to have amassed a large collection of music. In a matter of fact way he said; "I do" and in the same breath; no I'm not parting with any. As if he was reading my mind. I wish Billy the best of everything in his endeavors to leave his mark in the journal of great R&B recording groups during the fifties.

One can only imagine the joy I derive was from sharing the stories behind the music. I was talking not to long along with Jimmy Merchant (Teenagers), what a story that is, and he asked me; at what point do I end my writing? Without hesitation I responded with; when the song stops playing.

For me the music of the 50's 60's and early 70's represent a blueprint of our lives, from our early childhood into young adults. We did not shoot dice we shot marbles. Never had to worry havin' money in our pockets. We'd take the soda bottles back to the store lets see, two cent for the little ones five cents for the big ones.

We had Hot Dogs and Baked Beans on Mondays, Fried Fish on Fridays. Doctors made house-calls and the neighborhood drunk was called Mister no matter who he was. What I wouldn't give to have just one of those days back.

The recorded music of today in many ways is different from that of the earlier groups. One distinct difference is the lack of harmony. Another is that, singers today sound "nasal" thanks in part to Michael Jackson.

In recordings prior to the British evasion words in a song were clearly understood. Today many people think Aero Smith invited Rock and Roll, the Penguins are a hockey team from Pittsburgh the Ravens a football team from Baltimore and the Cadillacs are Escalades.

Aside from my friend the, late James "Pookie" Hudson others have inspired me to pursue my dream. My wife who believes in me and believe it or not Sean P Diddy. Of course there's that internal flame that ignites my passion but young people like Diddy exemplifies what one can truly accomplish with nothing more than determination. Its not wealth or prestige I seek for doing this, what I get in return is priceless. If as a result the unsung heros' the predecessors, if you will, are remembered by today's artist as the ones that made it possible for them to reach stardom, than I have exceeded my expectations.

Guys like Ceasar, Norman, Lafeyette (Tymes) and Weldon McDougal (Larks) have spent their entire lives entertaining us and I just want to thank you for all the memories. This is not the end but the beginning, the record is still playing and the story continues with Frankie Lymon / Teenagers and the role they played in getting producers to even consider "kiddie groups" like the Jackson Five. We'll conclude with "Hitsville "USA" aka Motown.

18. Hitsville USA / Motown   
Coming soon

   R & B History

   Next Show
   Tuesday February 2, 2010
   at 8:00 PM on BCTV

   Archives 2009
    June 30
    April 1

Written March 16, 2009, Last Updated February 6, 2010
Powered by Alpha Advertising © 2009 by John Granger, All Rights Reserved