WILLIAMS AND THE CHARMS
By Todd R.
In the mid-1950s, few rhythm and
blues vocal groups covered or were covered as often as Otis Williams and the
Charms. By the same token, few acts sold as many records or appeared on the
national charts as often as the Cincinnati based quintet. Recording primarily
for DeLuxe Records, Williams and his various aggregations of Charms reached
Billboard's rhythm an blues Top 20 seven times, crossing over onto the pop chart
of four separate occasions. Between 1958 and 1966, record buyers wee treated to
nearly sixty single releases by the versatile R&B unit.
Born in Cincinnati in 1936, Otis
Williams formed the Charms while attending Withrow High School during the early
1950s. Initially, the quintet included tenors Roland Bradley and Donald Peak,
baritone Joseph Penn, and bass Richard Parker. Discovered by a talent scout at a
school variety show, the Charms' initial release, "Heaven Only Knows",
was issued by Henry Stone on his Miami based Rockiní Label in early 1953. In Aug of that year, the company was bought out by Syd
Nathan, head of powerful King enterprises, headquartered in Cincinnati.
The two executives became partners in the Crystal Recording Corporation
with Stone heretofore recording and leasing masters to Nathan's newly
reactivated DeLuxe subsidiary. One of this primary charges was the Charms.
singles were released into mid-1954 including a reissue of the Rockiní disc
with little commercial success. In September of 1954, however, the Charms were
brought into the studio to cover "Hearts Of Stone", a bouncy, albeit
rough-hewn number originally done by the jewels for California's tiny R&B
label. The Charms' polished cover quickly outdistanced the original and began to
create a stir on a national level. On October 30, it reached Billboard's R&B
chart. By Thanksgiving, it was #1. Nine of the record's 19 weeks on the list wee
spent at #1. Nathan also managed to gain crossover success for his product as
well, with "Hearts Of Stone" climbing to #15 during a 15-week stint on
the pop chart. Another cover version, this time by the Fontaine Sisters for Dot
Records, took the largest piece of the pop market, spending three weeks at #1.
Still, the DeLuxe single of
"Hearts Of Stone" became one of the top 20 R&B records of the
decade in terms of chart success, establishing Otis Williams and the Charms as
vocal group stars. On January 28, 1955 the Charms took the stage in Norfolk,
Virginia, kicking off a six-week tour that included the Clovers, Moonglows, Faye
Adams, Bill Doggett, JoeTurner, Lowell Fulson, and the Paul Williams band. A
cover version of the Five Keys' "Ling Ting Tong" eclipsed the original
in both the R&B and pop markets, hitting #5 and #26 respectively despite the
popularity of the original. The record became a two sided hit with the
B‑side, "Bazoom (I Need Your Lovin)" beating out the Cheers'
original version on Capitol.
creative songwriting and expressive lead rendered "Two Hearts" equally
appealing to audiences in the late winter of 1955. Despite covers by Pat Boone
and Frank Sinatra in the pop field, the Charms' original earned the quintet
their fifth top 20 R&B hit in less than six months. In March, they appeared
for a week at Harlem's Apollo Theater with the Chords, followed by a seemingly
endless string of cross country tour dates with artists including the Penguins,
Marvin and Johnny, Dinah Washington, and the Count Basie band. By late spring,
however, without renumeration for the string of chart successes, the original
By the time that "Gum
Drop" began to blast from transistor radios in June, Williams had been
joined by Larry Graves, Rollie Willis, and Chuck Barksdale, bass of the then
inactive Dells. Telling it like it was, DeLuxe simply credited "Otis
Williams and His New Group". Although the Crew Cuts registered the bulk of
the national sales on "Gum Drop", the "New Group" was
extremely popular. The quartet spent the bulk of the summer and fall on the road
with the Clovers, Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, the Five Keys, Etta James and others
on the "Top Ten Revue" tour which closed at Carnegie Hall in New York
on October 29, 1955.
The dissolution of the partnership
between Henry Stone and Syd Nathan
in late 1955 led top the formation of Stoneís new Chart label in Miami and the
re-emergence of Williamís original backing group.
Legal wrangling over the recognizable Charmís name ensued with Stone
eventually issuing several singles by the quartet, Bradley, Penn, Peak and
Parker, as the Charms on Chart in 1955-56. The Williams-less Charms failed to
capture neither the attention nor the success enjoyed by the DeLuxe lineup.
Based on their enormous success, Down Beat magazine selected Williams and the
Charms as the outstanding R&B vocal group at the end of 1955.
Otis Williams and His New Group hit
the charts again in January of 1956, taking the soulful "That's Your
Mistake" to #14 on the R&B list and #48 on the national pop register.
Backed with the equally enjoyable "Too Late I Learned", "That's
Your Mistake" featured Williams' soulful lead, backed by the group's tight
harmony and Barksdale's particularly deep bass. To sidestep some of the
legalities yet retain the public's recognition, ensuing DeLuxe releases credited
Otis Williams and His Charms.
The first single issued under this
new moniker was the romantic ballad "Ivory Tower", issued in late
winter. "Ivory Tower" spent 21 weeks on the pop chart, peaking at #11.
The disc also climbed to #5 in the R&B market that spring. Once again, cover
versions, this time by Cathy Carr and Gale Storm stole a large segment of the airplay and sales. By the time
that "Ivory Tower" had peaked, Williams was organizing a third group
of Charms, Barksdale had returned to the reactivated Dells; Larry Graves decided
to leave as well. Williams and Rollie Willis were joined by Lonnie Carter, Matt
"Snooby" Williams, and Winfred Gerald.
The quintet recorded and performed
continuously throughout 195657. In May, they returned to the Apollo with Dinah
Washington for a week. By June, they had worked their way down to New Orleans.
Detroit's Greystone Ballroom was a frequent host to the magic of the Charms as
well. Despite their failure to make the national charts, fine efforts like
"I'd Like To Thank You Mr. DJ", "Pardon Me" and
"Walking After Midnight" remain favorites among R&B vocal harmony
aficionados over forty years later.
In June of 1957, the Charms hit
again, taking a cover of the Lovenotes' "United" all the way to #8 on
the R&B chart. It was the group's seventh and final rhythm and blues chart
entry in just over two-and-a-half years. For the rest of the decade, DeLuxe
continued to release new Charms singles, mixing original material with cover
versions of current noisemakers. In 1960, the group became a quartet again when
Lonnie Carter left. Oddly enough, Carter became the new lead singer for the
Escos, a group comprised of ex-original Charms Donald Peak, Joe Penn, Richard
Parker, and Roland Bradley. This quintet recorded a handful of singles for Syd
Nathan's Federal subsidiary label from 1960 to 1963.
Nathan shifted the Charms over to
the parent King label in 1960 before phasing out the DeLuxe logo. In 1961,
Williams and the group hit the national pop charts twice more, scoring the
"Little Turtle Dove", and "Panic". Changing tastes in music
led to the eventual dissolution of the group a couple of years later. Forming a
new mixed gender Charms group in 1965, Otis signed on with Okeh Records, issuing
four singles into 1966.
Otis' interest in country music
and a willingness to reinvent himself sparked the next phase of his professional
career. He signed a solo pact with Stop Records and worked with a diverse group
of musicians including steel guitar virtuoso Pete Drake. A 1970 LP paired Otis
with the Endeavors vocal group. "I Wanna Go Country" was released by
Stop as a single for the "Otis Williams and the Midnight Cowboys"
album in 1971. Williams' renditions of country tunes like "Mule Skinner
Blues" demonstrated his ability to produce quality material regardless of
in his hometown of Cincinnati, the one-time Reds baseball prospect was rarely
seen on the oldies revival circuit during the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, he chose
to stay close to home, providing a stable environment for his young son, now a
teenager. Williams has remained active in music, however, performing regularly
with is band at his own club-bar, the First Note Cafe' on Chapel Street in
Cincinnati. Otis' performance of "Hearts Of Stone" in a 1999 PBS-TV
program featuring several dozen of the pioneers of rock' n roll rekindled
interest in the veteran singer songwriter.
The music of Otis Williams and the
Charms remains vibrant nearly a half century since their first recordings, which
have been re-issued on compact disc compilations worldwide. Williams continues
to entertain his audiences with the youthful enthusiasm and emotion that
endeared him to record buyers as a teenager. Roland Bradley, Joe Penn, and Matt
Williams are deceased. Donald Peak Richard Parker, and Rollie Willis are
reportedly living in California. Chuck Barksdale continues to sing with the
Dells. The whereabouts of the other members of the second and third Charms group
Tonight, the United In Group
Harmony Association honors Otis Williams and the Charms with induction into its
Hall of Fame. The group's vast and diverse catalog, containing some of the
finest exponents of rhythm and blues vocal harmony music, has, indeed, stood the
test of time.
The Hurricanes are a very popular group among R&B group harmony music aficionados although they have no chart hits to their credit. "Poor Little Dancing Girt", "Dear Mother", "Fallen Angel", and "Priceless" are the classic favorites with the R&B vocal group collector,
roots go back to the beginning of the 1950's in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant
section. As students at JHS 35, Sam Fickling (tenor), Fred Williams (baritone),
Vernon Britton (bass) and Jerry Halfhide (lead tenor) formed, calling themselves
the Toppers. Using the Orioles as their inspiration, the youngsters started
singing original compositions done in Orioles vein. As a manager, Mack Jones,
Fred Williams uncle, was chosen. He was also known as Jelly Roll (of popular
comedy team Jelly Roll and ZuZu). At this time, a fifth member was added, Henry
Austin (lead tenor).
first dealing for the group was a contract to Jubilee Records, where under the
name the Toppers they recorded "Baby Let Me Bang Your Box" b/w
"You're Laughing Cause I'm Crying". Released in Jan. of 1954,
"Box" became a small local hit mainly because of its suggestive
intended lyrics. Actually, the song was about playing a piano (box) loud at a
In 1955, the
group reorganized with Jerry Halfhide and Sam Fickling leaving, and the addition
of James Brown (second tenor) and Gabriel Gill (pianist and arranger). A name
change coincided with the reorganization, thus the Hurricanes were born.
manager, Jelly Roll, got the Hurricanes a contract with King Records. It was at
Bell Sound Studios, in June of 1955, that the group recorded the first of their
14 sides for King. Most of the leads were by Henry Austin, who in 1958 left the
Hurricanes to record as Henry Alston for the Skyline Label, NYC.
got a spot in a movie being filmed at the Sunset Studios in Harlem, in 1955. 'Rockin'
The Blues' served as a vehicle for Dee Jay Hal Jackson to introduce several acts
of varying local popularity. Ray Pollard & The Wanderers, Willie Winfield
& Harptones, The Miller Sisters, Linda Hopkins, comedian Mantan Moreland,
and the Hurricanes were among them. This low budget movie was produced by music
impresario, Fritz Pollard (He had been a Brown University All-American football
player, and manager of the Solitaires. Four Buddies, and Leslie Uggams). The
film, because of lack of proper editing equipment, contains most of Jackson's
speech out of sync with the picture. Black actors and actresses, at the
beginning of the movie, are seen filing into the theater as the
"audience". Later on, when panning the crowd for reaction, the camera,
on several occasions, shows a white audience. The audience was borrowed from
news footage, filmed a few years prior, at Radio City Music Hall. The Hurricanes
spent only one day working on the film. They sang two songs, "You May Not
Know" and "I'll Be Glad", with Henry Austin lead on the former
and Fred Williams on the latter. The songs were prerecorded that same day. which
is why when Fred is distracted by a pretty girl walking across the stage, he
forgets to move his mouth, although the sound track continues flawlessly.*
The Hurricanes were used as a backup group for King with no label credit. Jerry Dorn, Bubber Johnson, Ruth Brown, and Little Willie John were among the recipients of the Hurricanes' work. "Come Home", from a 1955 session with Bubber Johnson, and two by Jerry Dorn, from a 1956 session, "Sentimental Heaven" and "Wishing Well", are included in this alburm
never had any major hits, but because their manager, Jelly Roll was himself a
well known performer, was enough to get them bookings out of proportion to their
record sales. They played the Howard, Royal, Apollo, and Earle theaters as well
as headlining many shows.
In 1959 Henry
Austin (Alston) rejoined the Hurricanes, who had not recorded since Jan. of 1957
(their last session had produced perhaps their best effort: the elegant
"Priceless"). At this time, another name change took effect The Memos
with two releases in 1959 for the Memo record label. "I'm Goin Home"
and "My Most Precious Possession" (clearly the best of the four sides)
are included in this album.
was in the service at the time of the Memos' recordings. His place was taken by
his brother Eugene Williams. This brought the end of the recording careers of
the Toppers, Hurricanes, Henry Alston & Group, and Memos.
Britton, now residing in Long Island, stayed with the music industry, producing
acts like Crown Heights Affair, through the years. Vernon is still, in 1996,
actively producing. Fred Williams, now residing in Queens. NY, is a door man at
a Rego Park Hotel. James Brown remained in Brooklyn and Henry Austin's
whereabouts are unknown.
Bragg and the Prisonaires
The history of rock Ďn roll and
rhythm and blues is filled with inspiring characters.
But no story is more poignant and more triumphant than that of Johnny
Bragg and his all convict singing group, the Prisonaires.
As a teenager in the mid-1940s,
Bragg was sentenced to six life terms in the Tennessee State Prison. His only
pleasure, the only expressive outlet for his spirit, was singing. Then came a
miracle. In 1953, a young, progressive governor of Tennessee, Frank Clement,
heard Bragg's vocal quintet. He was deeply impressed with their talent, but even
more, he recognized that these were good men who might be saved. And so for
years he showcased Bragg and the Prisonaires at state events at the governor's
mansion. There they met President Truman, Senator Lyndon Johnson, and countless
Eventually, the Prisonaires were
signed by a young, white, maverick record producer. Sam Phillips of Sun Records
would ultimately be responsible for the careers of such major stars as Jerry Lee
Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and others. He will remain best know, however,
for his discovery of Elvis Presley. It is a significant footnote to music
history that Bragg and Elvis became friends through Phillips and remained so
ever after. Bragg's claim to glory,
however, lies not in the twenty-two tracks he cut with his group, but in his
authorship of the hit "Just Walkin' in the Rain," recorded by '50s pop
legend Johnnie Ray "Just Walkin" was one of the best selling singles
of the decade.
At the center of a remarkable cast
of characters is Bragg, whose faith and persistence testify eloquently to the
power of the human spirit. Bragg is alive and well today in his mid-'70s. He
still possesses the sweet tenor voice that made him an extraordinary artist
fifty years ago.
His original Prisonaires partners
had not been so fortunate. William Stewart died of a drug overdose in a rundown
Florida motel in 1959. Marcel Sanders died in the late '60s. Ed Thurman was
killed in an accident in 1973. And John Drue Jr. died of cancer in December
1977, in Lebanon, Tennessee.
Johnny Bragg's recording
discography consists of 4 releases including "Just Walkin' In The
Rain" (Which was actually released twice in 1953 originally and in 1956 -
the time of Johnny Rays hit version.) Plus many unissued songs which were
included on a CD from Bear Family, West Germany in 1990. With the Marigolds,
Johnny had 5 releases in 1955 / 1956 for the Excello label including
On June 8, 2000, Johnny Bragg,
accompanied by his daughter, Misti, and longtime friend and lawyer Don
Hildebrand, appeared in Memphis by invitation at a pre-screening of the A&E
television special Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n Roll. The
documentary focusing on Phillip's life and his discoveries was to air on
Father's Day, June 18.
Prior to production and at the
request of the producers, I arranged to provide Johnny services. With
Hildebrand's help, the Tennessee State Penitentiary was opened for the
first time since The Green Mile, starring Tom Hanks, was shot there in order for
Johnny to do an interview and walking tour, including a visit to cell five on
Standing on the ramp outside his
former cell, Johnny sang a spontaneous acappella rendition of "Just Walkin'
in the Rain" and amazed all in attendance by doing the entire third verse
in falsetto. About seven minutes of
the footage shot that day was included in Samís documentary.
Though seventy five year old
Johnny Bragg was a very minor celebrity in comparisons to the legends appearing
at the pre-screening and party, his onstage performance of ďJust Walkin"
was acknowledged by many in attendance to be the sentimental highlight of the
afternoons events. When he finished with his trademark falsetto flourish, the
response was a standing ovation led by Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Sam
Contrary to Johnny's concern that
his accomplishments might be forgotten as time passed, it is apparent that he is
instead being well-remembered.
President Ronnie I's Notes:
Jay Warner's book "Just
Walkin' In The Rain", the true story of a convict quintet, a liberal
governor, and how they changed southern history through rhythm and blues is now
available. I highly recommend this book for it's compelling and informative
story of one of the pioneer legends of R&B. A book that all UGHA members
should read to further appreciate the suffering and hardships that a man, now a
UGHA Hall of Famer, had to incur
against a prejudicial society.
Tonight the United In Group Harmony Association takes pride in having Johnny Bragg and his daughter Misti in attendance along with Jay Warner and his wife. We thank him and hope that his induction into our Hall of Fame demonstrates our true appreciation of the music he has given us.
DECADE OF HONORING THE PIONEERS
By Todd R.
For ten years, without political
or financial influence, the membership of the United In Group Harmony
Association has voted 55 classic harmony vocal groups into its Hall of Fame.
Through the efforts of our President, another 16 have received honorary
induction status. It is unlikely that many of those who were present at the
first Hall of Fame ceremony could have envisioned what would take place at these
events throughout the remainder of the decade. As with most aspects of life,
there were occasional disappointments and many bittersweet moments. The passage
of time and advancing age of many of the pioneering artists make such
occurrences inevitable. For the true devotees of rhythm and blues and gospel
harmony groups, many of the past decade's most magical moments happened under
the UGHA Hall of Fame banner.
For nine years, Symphony Space at
95th Street and Broadway in New York City served as home for the event. A
"first annual" anything often spawns questions of credibility and
future success. With fifteen years of history, how. ever, UGHA!s Hall of Fame
growing pains were technical and minute. On March 9, 1991, the Cadillacs, in
Alphabetical preference, became the first group to be inducted, the Jive Five
gave the first performance, and the Harptones became the first inductees to
perform. At this initial ceremony, tributes to the pioneers were in abundance,
Carl Jones and Frances Crawford, widow of Traverse Crawford, accepted on behalf
of the Delta Rhythm Boys. Ricky Tilghman accepted for his father, Sonny Til.
Shep's Limelites celebrated their induction with a dynamic rendition of
"Daddy's Home" with Clarence Bassett and Charles Baskerville in fine
voice. Equally emotional was the sight of Mrs. Edith Ricks, Mrs. Jean Jones,
Maithe Marshall's sister, Jacqueline Spinnett, Leonard Puzey and Warren Suttles
standing together to accept the honors bestowed upon the Ravens. "I can
only wish that Ollie were here tonight Jean remarked, remembering her husband
who had died only five months earlier. "Wherever there was good music,
singing, writing‑he wanted to be there."
The second year's festivities are
recalled by many as one of the greatest events in the organization's history. In
one night, fans were treated to appearances by the newly inducted Moonglows,
Spaniels, Solitaires, and Five Keys. Although the Moonglows didnít sing, it
was nice to see Harvey, Prentiss and Pete standing together to receive their
honor. It's hard to imagine that a pair of veterans from the early days of the
Ink Spots could be brought together much less sing. Yet Jerry Daniels and Herb
Kenny offered energetic performances that belied their 75-plus years. Sadly,
less than three months later, Kenny was gone. The Spaniels' first visit to UGHA
was for their induction and led to a long and fruitful association.
Joined onstage by former second tenor Donald Porter, the group box
steeped their way through a rollicking ďStormy WeatherĒ that brought smiles
from everyone present. The highlight of the evening undoubtedly, was the sight
of the five original members of the Aladdin Five Keys on one stage for the final
time. An impromptu "Close Your Eyes" by the quintet, decked out in
three‑piece suits, brought the crowd to their feet. Glasses, receding
hairlines, and graying temples were the only indication that time had not, in
fact, stood still.
1993's event packed less of an
emotional wallop. Missing honorees included members of the Mills Brothers,
pre'59 Dominoes. Still, the proud and humble Thermon Ruth's induction with the
Larks and the gathering of many of the original Dubs were stirring moments for
all. The weekend centered around the induction and return of the Cardinals, an
all-star assemblage of talent from the original group as well as Herman Denby
from the Swallows. It was a hint of what was to come the following year.
Many of those in attendance at the
fourth annual ceremony point to this event as the single greatest night in UGHA
history. For the first time in over 35 years, the Golden Gate Quartet returned
to the United States to receive their award. It was an enormous financial
undertaking funded through the membership of the organization itself. Many peers
and admirers were present for the return of the Gates on April 9, 1994. Original
bass Orlandus "Dad" Wilson became an enthusiastic supporter and return
visitor to UGHA until his passing in late 1998. The unlikely reunion of Eddie
Rich and Herman Denby with the Swallows, resplendent in all‑white tuxedos,
was also a dream come true for R&B fans. The two distinctive leads delivered
superb performances and heartfelt induction speeches, with Denby choking back
tears as he recalled deceased members Norris Mack and Earl Hurley.
For my money, however, the
evening's emotional summit was reached with the induction of the Deep River
Boys. With is usual intelligent charm, grace and warm smile, Harry Douglass,
UGHAs grandfather figure at age 78, accepted his award and shared the honor with
Vernon Gardner, the 82-year old original first tenor. Singing together for the
first time since 1956, the duo tendered a stirring rendition of "The
Whiffenpoof Song", offering us all a glimpse of what once was, and the fire
that still remained. Although Harry and Vernon have since passed, the film of
their reunion commemorates one of our organizations finest hours.
Eight months after the death of
Bill Baker, family, friends and fans of the former 5 Satins lead joined together
to remember him at the 1995 event. The group's bittersweet induction was
punctuated by wife Thelma's remarks that, "This would have been one of the
most joyous nights of my husband's career." A tall, handsome tenor who
appeared at UGHA events over the years, Baker was a classy gentleman whose
enthusiasm and love for the music enveloped his work. The return of Dad Wilson
from France to induct his long-time friend Ira Tucker and the Dixie Hummingbirds
was a happy moment as well as the gathering of original members of the Robins,
Mellows ≠and Hearts despite the absence of Lee Andrews.
On this night, long before days of Doo Wop for PBS, all of the original
members of the Chantels celebrated their induction by singing together one final
time, an equally stirring moment.
1996 marked the return of UGHA
favorite George Grant as three original members of the Castelles; recreated the
magic of their early days. Frank Vance, writer of "My Girl Awaits Me",
told the gathering, "This is my most happy day." Over a dozen members
of the Feaster and Keyes families were on hand to celebrate the induction of the
Chords but the evening seemed to belong to the Harmonizing Four, the El Dorados,
and Joe Duncan and the Vocaleers. Led by octogenarian Tommy Johnson, The
Harmonizing Four's induction was well-deserved. Both the El Dorados and
Vocaleers, comprised this night of original and current members, performed with
precision and grace.
Some of the biggest names of the
class of 1997 were not present, specifically Little Anthony and the late Nolan
Strong and his Diablos. Nonetheless, the reunion of the Velours family of
singers evoked warm memories of their glorious harmony and beloved bass, Charlie
Moffitt. Curly Dinkins, Leon Hughes and Gaynell Hodge gamely recreated the
Hollywood Flames and Billy Shelton organized a new Four Vagabonds quartet to
celebrate their induction Although it was impossible to coax Richard Barrett to
the lead mike, the original Valentines did send everyone out onto Broadway that
night to the strains of "The Woo Woo Train".
Although the Crows, Four Buddies
and Penguins were not represented on the night of 1998's ceremony, the remaining
inductees more than filled the void. The enshrinement of the Four Fellows marked
the return of Jimmy McGowan, the evening's sentimental favorite whose versions
of "You Donít Know Me" and "Soldier Boy", with the help of
the Sheps, brought tears from many in attendance. Caleb Ginyard's tribute to his
father's Jubalaires, peppered with appearances by veteran performers and family
members was a loving tribute and well-deserved honor. The reunion of the
four original Wrens proved to be the quartet's final performance together.
Frenchy Concepcion's run at "Serenade Of The Bells" and Bobby
Mansfield's spot-on- romp through "Come Back My Love" satisfied
collectors and casual fans alike. The nod for the performance of the evening,
however, had to go to the Cleftones. With some prodding from Ronnie I. and the
Symphony Space crowd, the always capable Ambient band accompanied Herb Cox,
Berman Patterson, Charlie James, Buzzy McClain, Pat Spann, and Nick Saunders
through enthusiastic renditions of "You Baby You" and "Little
Girl Of Mine".
The ninth event brought old
friends and some highly‑anticipated new faces to the UGHA stage. Dean
Barlow, Bill Lindsay, and Fred Barksdale were on hand to enjoy the induction of
the Crickets while Chuck Carbo delighted the audience with the Lar-Kings/
Spiders group. Gospel fans were treated to the soulful sounds of the Fairfield
Four with the magnificent bass of Isaac "Dickie" Freeman drawing much
of the attention. For the first time in nearly 45 years, Ray "Buddy"
Wooten and Jimmy Bethea teamed together to sing as the Mello-Moods, ably
aided by the Sheps. Despite their apprehension, the pair delivered a riveting
vocal performance. Tributes to Gerald Gregory, Rudy West and Alphonso Howell,
like the one held a year earlier for Jackie Landry Jackson, were moving loving
tributes to friends who left us all too soon.
This evening marked the re-emergance of one of Californiaís most
successful groups, the Jacks/ Cadets. Returning to New York for the first time
in over 30 years, Willie Davis, Randy Jones, Pete Fox, and Tommy Turner drew
shouts of approval from the audience only a few bars into their set-opening
"Why Did I Fall in Love". Few inductees have performed with the power
and emotion that the Jacks/ Cadets brought to the stage that night.
Noting the final year of the
member-voted Hall of Fame, UGHA moved to Schuetzen Park's Main Hall for the
tenth annual ceremony last April 8. The high point of the evening for many came
during Herb Crosby and Don Cruz's emotional tribute to the recently departed
Gene Pearson when they were spontaneously joined on stage by the newly-inducted
members of the Calvanes. This sublime gesture only furthered the respect and
admiration with which the Calvanes have been held since their first visit to
UGHA several years ago. As the evening drew to a close, it was difficult for
anyone in attendance not to marvel at the sight of four senior citizens singing
R&B with red turbans wrapped atop their heads.
At tonightís first annual
tribute of our Hall of Fame, the membership of the United In Group Harmony
Association revisits these, some of our finest and most emotional moments. We
renew our friendships with some of our most beloved pioneers, and celebrate our
heritage with the induction of 2001's honorees, Otis Williams and the Charms,
the Prisonaires, and the Hurricanes. We also recognize the tireless efforts of
Ronnie I and his loyal staff, as
well as the musicians, performers, technicians, historians, and supporters who
have made these events possible through the years.
By Todd R.
Regrettably, the United In Group
Harmony Association must bid farewell to a pair of pioneering R&B vocal
group lead singers who left us during the long winter months. Vernon Green of
the Medallions and Pirkle Lee Moses, Jr. of the El Dorados visited us on a
number of occasions and, by their talents and personalities, endeared themselves
to the UGHA family.
Vernon Green was born in Denver,
Colorado on May 1, 1937. Settling in Los Angeles, California, he formed the
Medallions with four friends in Will Rogers Park in Watts. The group got their
name from their leader's lifelong propensity for wearing jewelry. The 17 year
old singer-songwriter found a home for the Medallions with Dootsie Williams'
Dootone label in the fall of 1954. Their first release, "The Letter",
characterized by Vernon's recitations "let me whisper sweet words of
pismatality", and "the pulpitudes of love", vernacular of his own
creation, became their most recognized effort. The B-side, "Buick
'59", also caught the attention of record buyers and a string of follow-ups
to the two songs followed. "The Telegram", "Coupe De Ville
Baby", "Speedin", and "59 Volvo" all found their way
onto wax between 1955 and 1959. Numerous changes in personnel occurred over the
years with members of the Dootones and Meadowlarks rotating into the Medallions.
Vernon also fronted the cameos on Dootone and the Phantoms on Specialty records.
Health problems plagued Vernon
Green from childhood. A polio victim, he walked with the assistance of crutches
or a cane during the heyday of the Medallions. After a lone release for Minit
Records in 1962, he was involved in an automobile accident that caused him to
withdraw from the spotlight for nearly a decade. Green recorded again in 1973
and by the late 1980s, was frequently performing his classic sides for fans of
His career revived through a
recording pact with Classic Artists Recordings, Vernon Green made his UGHA debut
at Ronnie I's Collectors' Group Concert Series Volume 3 on October 7,1989.
Though confined to a wheelchair, Green was a sentimental favorite, evoking
emotion from the crowd who came to hear his still powerful tenor. A return visit
in May of 1990 paired Green with the Ecstasies and again drew rave reviews,
climaxing in a rendition of "For Your Precious Love". Vernon was a
colorful character as well. Reporting the sad story that his wallet was stolen
during the cross-country trip, Green was the benefactor of an impromptu
fund-raiser which put some extra cash in his pocket, courtesy of the UGHA
regulars. Weaving a similar tale of woe at a return engagement, folks quickly
caught on. "Vernon Green is loveable and muggable," Ronnie quipped. I
doubt that anyone who opened their pocketbook and spared a little cash for
Vernon would have asked for their money back.
Shortly after appearing with his
reformed Medallions at a California Doo-Wop Society event on March 4, 2000,
Vernon suffered a massive stroke from which he never recovered.
Eventually, slipping into a coma, he died on Christmas Eve 2000, at a Los
Angeles hospital at age 63. lacking
funds, the Green family was sadly unable to print enough funeral programs for
the faithful who turned out to pay their final respects.
Vernonís brother, Jimmy Green and Billy Foster, both joined the
Medallions in 1957, have pledged to continue the group in his memory.
Born in Chicago on October 4,
1937, Pirkle Lee Moses, Jr., formed his first group, The Five Stars, at
Engelwood High School on the windy city's south side in 1952. By 1954, the now
six-man unit had renamed themselves after the classic cadillac automobile and
signed to Vee Jay Records. Their initial release, "My Loving Baby"
became a local hit in the summer of 1954. In the spring of 1955, Moses got an
idea for a new song which would go on to become the group's biggest hit. The
inspiration came from the first lines of the Spiders' 1954 hit, "I Didn't
Want To Do It". What evolved was "(Crazy Little Mama) at My Front
Door". "At My Front Door" slowly grew in popularity
eventually reaching #1 on Billboard's national rhythm and blues chart in
January, 1956. With Moses singing lead and writing much of the material, the El
Dorados catalog began to fill with superb R&B performances. On the heels of
"At My Front Door", "I'll Be Forever Loving You" became a
top 10 R&B hit in the winter of 1956 as well.
their string of successful uptempo sides which also included "Bim Barn
Boom", Moses took particular pride in their ballad efforts including
"I Began To Realize", "There In The Night", "Three
Reasons Why" and "Lights Are Low". The latter two were recorded
by Moses and a second group of El Dorados, formed with members of Dee Clark's
Kool Gents /Delegates, in 1958. Following the breakup of the El Dorados, Moses
held an assortment of jobs but continued to dabble in music. He recorded
occasionally, often leading his voice for background work in the Chicago area.
He made single discs under the name Perk Lee, and with groups including Johnny
and the Keys, the Squires, and the Major Minors. He reactiviated the El Dorados
name for one release on Torried Records in 1970 before drifting out of the
limelight for nearly a decade.
During the early 1970s, bass
singer Johnny Carter, who sangwith the second Vee Jay El Dorados group, picked
up the reigns, forming a touring El Dorados unit which lasted for a number of
years. Moses relocated to Kansas City for a while, admittedly drinking his way
through several unhappy marriages. Back in Chicago in 1978, Moses saw an
advertisement for an El Dorados performance and went to see and hear the group
on stage. The result was the formation of a new El Dorados group, consisting of
Moses, Carter, Norman Palm, Clarence Wright, and Billy Henderson. Several
personnel changes took place over the years with Moroccos veterans Larry Johnson
and George Prayer joining by the time the group recorded for Delano Records in
Pirkle Lee Moses was diagnosed
with esophageal cancer in 1987. He underwent successful treatment, made changes
to his lifestyle, and remarried happily in 1993. It was this man who first came
to UGHA with his El Dorados for Ronnie I's Collectors' Group Concert Series
Volume 9 on November 14, 1992. On a night that also included performances from
Sollie McElroy and Harry Douglass, the versatile quintet was an instant hit. The
highly acclaimed "Chicago Street corner Blues and Rhythm" CD followed
in late 1993 and the group regularly visited UGHA for the remainder of the
decade. On April 13,1996, the El Dorados where inducted into the UGHA Hall of
Fame at Symphony Space in New York City. Thanking the crowd from "everyone
who has ever been in the El Dorados", Moses led his current group and
original members jewel Jones and Jimmy Maddox through an acappella version of
"My Loving Baby".
On January 23, 1999, Moses made
his final visit to Schuetzen Park. By this time, Larry "Hi-C" Johnson
was terminally ill with cancer and the Sheps became the backing EI Dorados for
the night. Within a year, however, the quintet had reformed, with Moses, Palm,
and Wright being rejoined by Rufus Hunter and Norman Palm, Jr. One of their
final appearances was filmed for the PBS-TV "Doo Wop 51" program. In
the spring of 2000, Pirkle's cancer returned, diagnosed with an inoperable brain
tumor, he underwent aggressive treatment. His final appearance with the group
was in early August. After several very difficult months during which time he
suffered some paralysis and was unable to speak, Pirkle Lee Moses, Jr.
mercifully passed away in Chicago on December 16, 2000. Like Vernon Green, he
was also 63 years old. Knowing that the end was near, Pirkle assigned his rights
to the group's name to Palm in the hope that the El Dorados would continue on.
To his friends and fans, Pirkle
Lee Moses, Jr. was all substance with an minimum of flash. Shy and somewhat
introverted off stage, he simply stood and sang his heart out in front of an
audience. He deeply appreciated the attention and support of his fans and those
who worked to keep the El Dorados name alive over the years. Pirkle also served
as Deacon at the First New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Chicago, a position he
held until his illness. "It's a blessing that our music has stood the test
of time," Moses told me several years ago. "I wouldn't venture to say
we were so unique or anything of that nature. I'll just say it's a blessing that
it turned out to be that way. It's surprising as well as delighting that we have
those followers, that we have fans. That gives us the initiative and the drive
to really go on and entertain in public. That's all we're about is trying to
entertain the public."
In the year since UGHA last
gathered to honor the pioneers of vocal group harmony music, two additional
friends have passed away. James Hill, the baritone and leader of the legendary
gospel group, the Fairfield Four, honored at the 1999 Hall of Fame ceremony,
died on July 6, 2000 at the age of 83. Despite the effects of arthritis which
forced him to use a walker and a chair on stage, Hill and his group delivered a
strong and inspiring performance at Symphony Space that night.
Although he has yet to be
enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Thomas Eldridge was a frequent visitor to UGHA
dating back to March of 1991. As the original bass of Richmond, Virginia's
Jarmels, Tommy and his familiar sea captain's hat were a regular sight at UGHA
events in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York for most of the decade. The
Jarmels always delivered an exciting and unrivaled performance for their
audience that extended far beyond their national hit, "A Little Bit Of
Soap". Tommy Eldridge died in Richmond on June 19, 2000 four months shy of
his 60th birthday.
This past march 23, 2001 we lost
the other original member of the reformed Jarmels. The very underated lead
singer, Jesse "Paul Burnett, Jr. was only 55 years of age. Paul, a very
quiet reserved gentleman will always be remembered for his distinct powerful
tenor voice. One of the best that every graced the UGHA stage!
Tonight, as we bring back and
honor many of the pioneers of rhythm and blues who have graced the stage of
UGHA, we remember these five gentlemen who have left us in the past year.
Although they have gone home, Vernon, Pirkle, James, Tommy and Paul will live on
through their music and many memories they've created for their fans and friends
in the United In Group Harmony Association family.
Click below for
HOME PAGE - ABOUT UGHA - MEMBERSHIP - PHOTO GALLERY - UGHA FAMILY - HALL OF FAME - MERCHANDISE
NEWS NOTES - TOP 500 - COOL LINKS - DIRECTIONS