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The Delta Rhythm Boys

by Charlie Horner

Few vocal groups can come close to matching the accomplishments of The Delta Rhythm Boys. In over 50 years of singing, the group made more than 35 motion picture appearances, were guests on hundreds of radio and television shows, appeared in five Broadway musicals, recorded over 500 songs and performed in 10 languages on four continents. Yet the Deltas' biggest contribution to popular music was the influence they had on other singing groups. The Delta Rhythm Boys pioneered numerous vocal musical styles during their career, including Afro-American spirituals, jazz harmonies and pop-styled close harmony. During the 1940's, the Deltas set the stage for the development of rhythm & blues vocal singing. Their disciplined harmonies acted as a bridge between earlier groups like The Mills Brothers and R&B groups like The Ravens and The Dominoes.

 The Delta Rhythm Boys trace their beginnings to 1933 at Oklahoma's Langston University. Singing spirituals and pop tunes, the original group consisted of Elmaurice Miller (first tenor), Traverse Crawford (second tenor), Joseph Adkins (baritone) and Otho Lee Gaines (bass). In 1935 the quartet transferred to New Orleans' Dillard University from where they launched their career with a tour of South America and several years stay on Broadway. By then, Harry Lewis had replaced Joseph Adkins and Clinton Holland had replaced Elmaurice Miller as lead. Rene DeKnight was added as pianist and arranger. A contract with Decca Records followed, leading to popular recordings such as "Dry Bones" and "Take The A Train." In 1943, Kelsey Pharr replaced Harry Lewis and the Delta Rhythm Boys moved from New York to Los Angeles. There the group starred in numerous feature length motion pictures until their courageous stand against stereotyping blacks in films led to a termination of their contract. In late 1944, Clinton Holland was replaced by the magnificent lead tenor Carl Jones. Carl also took over most the group's arranging chores. In the mid and late 1940's, The Delta Rhythm Boys again scored big on record with songs like "Just A-Sittin' And A-Rockin'," "For Sentimental Reasons" (with Ella Fitzgerald), and RCA Victor re-recordings of "Dry Bones" and "Take The A-Train." The Deltas can also be credited with helping to open up Las Vegas to black entertainers.

In the late 1940's and early 1950's, The Delta Rhythm Boys dabbed inR&B, waxing several outstanding sides for Atlantic Records (with and without Ruth Brown). Recording before The Clovers, The Deltas gave Atlantic its first true R&B vocal group sides. In 1948, The Delta Rhythm Boys began touring Europe annually, and by the late 1950's the group was based overseas. The familiar Delta Rhythm Boys group underwent some changes in 1960 when, after Kelsey Pharr's death, Carl Jones and Rene DeKnight left the group to pursue other ventures. Lee Gaines and Traverse Crawford kept The Deltas going through the sixties and seventies. After Traverse's passing in 1975, Lee Gaines continued singing with the group until 1986, when he retired for health reasons. Later, key members of The Delta Rhythm Boys, whose contributions should not be overlooked, were Clifford Holland (replaced Kelsey Pharr from 1951-54), Herb Coleman, Hugh Bryant. BilIy Moore, Jr., Ray Beatty, Walter Trammell, and Barry Johnson.


The Cadillacs

 by Ronnie Italiano

 Their story begins on the street corners of Harlem in 1953, Seventh and Eighth Avenues, between 131st and 133rd Streets. Originally called The Carnations, they were recognized by the flowers they wore in the lapels of their jackets at public appearances.

 It was in 1953 when Lover Patterson, organizer of The Five Crowns, discovered the group at a talent show at P.S. 43. Patterson brought them to audition for Esther Navarro of Shaw Artists Booking Agency. Navarro loved them, but not their name, which was soon changed to The Cadillacs.

 At this time the group consisted of Laverne Drake, Earl Carroll, and Bobby Phillips from The Carnations, plus James "Papa" Clark from The Five Crowns and Johnny "Gus" Willingham. After their first two records, "Gloria" and "Wishing Well" in 1954, Clark and Willingham were replaced by Earl Wade, lead singer of The Crystals/Opals and Charles "Buddy" Brooks. Many personnel changes followed through over 20 releases for Esther Navarro's Josie label spanning over six years.

The Cadillacs biggest hit was "Speedo" in 1955, making the Billboard R&B chart as well as the pop charts. Other great Cadillac's uptempo recordings include "No Chance," "Down The Road," "Zoom," "Woe Is Me" and "My Girlfriend." Let us not forget their plaintive, stirring ballads with the Speedo Man on lead. Among my favorites: "Wishing Well," "Sympathy," 'Window Lady," "You Are," "The Girl I Love," "Tell Me Today," and of course, "Gloria."

The Cadillacs are into the 90's with the same enthusiasm they possessed in the 50's with original lead Earl "Speedo" Carroll and original bass Bobby Phillips plus the talent of John Brown and Gary Lewis. The Cadillacs remain at the top of their field with their vocal capabilities and slick choreography.

Tonight, March 9,1991, we honor this legendary New York City giant, The Cadillacs.

The Clovers

 by Ronnie Italiano

Formed in 1946 in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area, The Clovers are one of the truest and one of the most underrated pioneer groups in the R&B vocal group field. They were discovered by DC record store owner Waxie Maxie Silverman, who was also a silent partner in Atlantic Records.  However, Herb Abramson, President and co-founder of Atlantic Records, was not interested in R&B groups in 1950 (ironic - for six months later The Clovers got their chance on Atlantic and turned the label into an R&B giant!). Silverman then brought the group to Lou Krevetz, a record distributor who became their manager. Krevetz got his group a recording contract with Rainbow Records of New York City. 1950 brought their only release ‑ a 1920's standard with The Clovers' touch: "Yes Sir That's My Baby" backed with "When You Come Back To Me."

By January of 1951, Atlantic changed their minds about The Clovers, for they were recording only pop groups at that time; they had no R&B to compete with the likes of The Dominoes and The Orioles. Abramson brought The Clovers to New York City in February of 1951 for their first recording session, which produced their first release, "Skylark" backed with "Don't You Know I Love You." The Clovers: John "Buddy" Bailey, Matthew McQuater, Harold Lucas, Harold Winley and guitarist Bill Harris were on their way! Twenty national R&B hits from 1951 through 1956, including three reaching #1: "Skylark," "Fool, Fool, Fool," "One Mint Julep," "Ting‑A‑Ling," "Hey Miss Fannie," "Good Lovin'," "Little Mama," and "Nip Sip" were among them. Of course, their two very popular ballads: "Blue Velvet" and "Devil Or Angel." Through the years, other talented singers with The Clovers included fabulous leads by Billy Mitchell, Charlie White (from The Checkers), and Tippie Hubbard.

We at UGHA are proud to have The Clovers in our Hall of Fame, for their contribution to our music is enormous. Unfortunately, they always were, and still remain very underrated in the New York City area, because of lack of airplay. The Clovers paved the way for The Cardinals, Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters, Sonny Wright & His Diamonds, and other great Atlantic groups. Tonight we honor original lead, Buddy Bailey and original recording bass, Harold Winley.  Winley has been the bass of the Jim Nabbie Ink Spots for many years, and now resides in Manhattan. Bailey has retired from singing and now resides in Long Island. Only Harold Lucas, original baritone, remains with The Clovers today.

 I personally feel that this dynamic group's perfect styling of gospel and blues fusion and their prolific pop-style ballads remains unparalleled.  They deserve universal recognition as a super pioneer R&B group. The UGHA Hall of Fame is a milestone in helping to achieve this.

The Harptones

 by Christine T. Vitale

The Harptones are the epitome of the classic New York City R&B vocal group sound of the 50's.  Rooted in Harlem, they strove to survive for over a decade the many pitfalls so common to groups of the 50's. It should come as no surprise they never received the national, let alone worldwide, recognition they so deserve. Hence, on this memorable night of March 9, 1991, we proudly announce the induction of the legendary Harptones!!  Let's meet the inductees individually:

Willie Winfield: Originally from Norfolk, VA, Willie Winfield came to New York City in 1950 at age 21. Willie is undisputably one of the finest lead tenors in the history of R&B group music. Is it ironic that Willie has claimed, "Singing harmony never felt natural to me. For the other fellows in the group, the harmony flowed smoothly. I always felt more comfortable singing lead." Among his "main heroes," Willie cites Rudy West, Nat King Cole and Ivory Joe Hunter.

Raoul Cita: Mr. Cita has made an abundance of contributions to the New York R&B scene. He wrote and arranged so much of the fabulous Harptones material, such as "My Memories of You," "Loving A Girl Like You," and "I Depend On You." He also produced, wrote, arranged, managed, and in general, was very instrumental in advancing the careers of many other acts such as: The Joytones (one of whom sings with The Harptones today), Lyrics, Ruth McFadden... just to name a few. He also worked on his own special project: The Royale Cita Chrous, which combined members of The Harptones, Joytones and Lyrics.

William "Dempsey" James: Original second tenor of The Harptones and a member of the Royale Cita Chorus, Dempsey continues to reside in New York City.

William "Dicey" Galloway: Original baritone of The Harptones and a member of The Royale Cita Chorus, Dicey was drafted in 1954. After his service, he returned briefly with The Harptones, then went on to work withThe Five Satins.

Today The Harptones forge onward, singing their beautiful ballads with Willie and Cita remaining as the backbone of the group, along with the fine talents of Marlowe Murray (formerly of the Fi-Tones) and Lynn "Sugar" Middleton (formerly of The Joytones). Let's hope they live on forever.


The Heartbeats

 by Ronnie Italiano

The Heartbeats are the epitome of the term "vocal group," and to many teenagers of the mid-1950's, The Heartbeats represent deity. Commonly referred to as the "Kings of Vocal Group Harmony," the fabulous five's story began in 1954 in Jamaica, Queens.  Wally Roker (bass), Vernon Seavers (2nd tenor), Albert Crump (1st tenor and lead), Robert Tatum (baritone) formed a quartet called The Hearts.

Soon after, James Sheppard, who had been singing lead with a substandard group, was added, making The Hearts a quintet. The Hearts made their first public appearance in 1954 at Woodrow Wilson High School. They soon changed their name to The Heartbeats Quintet when they learned of The Hearts (female group) from Manhattan.

In early 1955, the Network record label out of Philadelphia released the first The Heartbeats Quintet single "Tormented," which sold poorly. I can remember purchasing my first copy of "Tormented" for 39 cents in a bargain bin at McCrory's 5&10 in Passaic, NJ in 1956. After "Tormented," they dropped "Quintet" from their name and were taken to Hull Records where four consecutive masterpieces were released in 1955-56: "Crazy For You," "Darling, How Long," "Your Way", 'People Are Talking," and the monster hit "A Thousand Miles Away."  The success of "A Thousand Miles Away" caught the eye of one George Goldner who lured The Heartbeats onto his "bigger and better" labels: Rama, Gee, & Roulette.   Some of the more popular classics released through Goldner are "I Won't Be The Fool Anymore," "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," "500 Miles To Go," "Down On My Knees," and "One Day Next Year." To say that every Heartbeats release is a classic is no understatement.  1959 saw the demise of The Heartbeats with their last recording for the Guyden label, "One Million Years."

The Heartbeats remained from 1954 to 1959 with their original lineup always intact.  Their trademark and legacy to R&B group harmony music is their smooth, extremely tight, blow-type, close-mouthed harmony.  Their unique sound is complimented by Wally Roker's mellow bass and the "magic" of James Sheppard's unique vocal delivery.  Shep wrote most of The Heartbeats' material, drawing from his personal experiences.

It would not, and could not be a Hall of Fame without the Heartbeats, and we proudly induct them into the UGHA Hall of Fame tonight on this night of March 9,1991. Shep is gone, but we welcome and thank Wally Roker, Vernon Seavers, Al Crump and Robert Tatum.

The Orioles

by "K J" O'Doherty

Formed in the late 1940's as "The Vibranaires" and re-dubbed The Orioles in honor of the Baltimore, Maryland state bird, The Orioles have long been admired by singers and record collectors alike. The vintage Orioles (Sonny Til, Alexander Sharp, George Nelson, Johnny Reed and guitarist Tommy Gaither) under the determined management of Deborah A. Chessler took the infant R&B world by storm with their highly original rendition of "It's Too Soon To Know" (It's A Natural, 1948). 

Subsequent releases under the jubilee banner saw ballads emotionally rendered by lead tenor "Sonny" Til, whilst unique ethereal harmony and George Nelson's emotional second lead bridges became Oriole trademarks. Immensely popular with the young ladies, the romantic "new" sound of Sonny Til and The Orioles created an interest in R&B vocalizing that made the 1950's the Golden Age of Harmonizing. In addition to a much sought after legacy of recordings on the Jubileelabel, Sonny Til fronted Orioles groups on Vee Jay (Aaron Cornelius, Albert Russell, Billy Adams, Jerry Rodriguez, formerly The Regals) and on Charlie Parker (Gerald Gregory, Delton "Satan" McCall and Billy Taylor). Sonny Til also performed at "revival" shows with former Regal/Oriole members Billy Taylor and Jerry Rodriguez until his untimely death in 1981.

Tonight UGHA honors the original Orioles and their distinguished alumni (Ralph Williams, Charlie Harris, Gregory Carroll, Bobby Thomas) as R&B innovators, harmonizing inspirations and a landmark group in the R&B collectors' field.


The Ravens

 by Ronnie Italiano

Affectionately called the "grand-daddy" of all the groups, it all started in the mid-1940's at a bar called the 400th Tavern, located on 148th Street & St. Nicholas Ave. in Harlem. Singers since childhood, Jimmy Ricks (originally from Georgia) and Warren Suttles (originally from Alabama) would frequent the 400th Tavern where they often talked about forming a group. One day "Ricks" brought along Leonard Puzey (born & raised in NYC) to meet Warren. Ricks had found Puzey around 116th Street and liked his voice which, to him, was reminiscent of Nat King Cole. They formed a trio and decided to visit Jimmy Edwards/Fritz Pollard talent agency on 125th St. (Fritz Pollard is the one and same who produced Rockin'The Blues in 1955.) It was there that they met Henry "Ollie"Jones (originally from Philadelphia) who had just written a song called "Lullabye" that the trio liked. Thus the trio turned quartet, and called themselves The Ravens. Ricks, the man with the contacts, brought The Ravens to Hub Records where they auditioned with Warren on piano as well as vocal baritone, Leonard as 2nd tenor, Ollie as lead, and Jimmy (Ricks) as bass. (As an aside, Ricks, with his distinctive lower-than-low vocals is considered the greatest bass in the history of R&B/pop music. His stupendous bass voice is yet unmatched.)

They ran through "Dark Town Strutter's Ball" and were signed to record three records for Hub. Among them was Ollie Jones' "Lullaby"; the others were "Out Of A Dream," "My Sugar Is So Refined," "Honey", "I Don't Know Why" and "Bye Bye Baby Blues." Not long after this recording session, Ricks discovered Maithe Marshall (originally from Florida). With his high, silky tenor voice, Maithe Marshall replaced Jones. (Ollie Jones later found success as the lead of The Blenders, another excellent pioneer group).

With Marshall in the group, they re‑recorded all the Hub material for King records. It was in 1947 when on tour with Cab Calloway, that The Ravens signed with National Records. 21 releases followed on National ‑ including their big hit, "Ol Man River" injune of 1947. After National, they recorded for Columbia /Okeh, and by late 1951, they were signed to Mercury. At this time, Ricks replaced his tenor-lead again. This time, Joe Van Loan, a powerful, smooth, operatic-type tenor from Philly. (Maithe Marshall moved on to a group called the Marshall Brothers and recorded for Savoy Records.)

Other personnel changes in The Ravens through the years were Lou Frazer, Louis Heyward and Jimmy Steward. They replaced Puzey and Suttles, although Suttles would return again, and again. Tommy Evans filled in for Jimmy Ricks on occasion. Evans had a great natural bass voice, but indisputably, Ricks was the very best. Joe Van Loan continued The Ravens in 1956 and 1957 with recordings on Argo.  Jimmy Ricks passed away on July 5,19 75; Joe Van Loan a few years later.  Maithe Marshall passed away on Thanksgiving Day Weekend of 1989; Ollie Jones as recent as October, 1990.

Tonight, The UGHA Hall of Fame honors the greatest quartet of them all, with Warren Suttles and Leonard Puzey to receive their plaques, as well as widows of Jimmy Ricks and Ollie Jones. and the sister of Maithe Marshall.


Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers

 by Christine T Vitale

One cannot underestimate the tremendous influence Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers bequeathed upon the doo‑wopp scene. For after Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers made their mark, groups with high‑tenor adolescent leads began sprouting everywhere. Their sound proved to be no short‑lived novelty. The Teenagers, with Frankie's powerful high‑tenor lead, began influencing groups such as The Students, The Schoolboys, The Kodaks, Richard Lanham & The Tempo‑tones, The Chanters, Butchie Saunders & The EI-Chords, Ronnie & The HiLites, and more.

Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers began their recording career in November of 1955. They had their first shot of success with "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" followed by 1 Want You To Be My Girl," "I Promise To Remember" and a multitude of hits after that. Indeed, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers were very talented and innovative. Their fancy footwork, harmony and the exceptional crystal‑like high‑tenor voice of Frankie charmed both American and British audiences through 1957.

Although original members, Joe Negroni (baritone) and Sherman Marlow Garnes (bass) have passed; so too, has passed the person of Frankie Lymon. The legend, however, lives on! On this night of March 9,1991, the United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame presents awards to Herman Santiago (original first tenor) and Jimmy Merchant (original second tenor). We also present an award in the name of Frankie Lymon to his brother Louie Lymon (originally from The Teenchords).  As I have said, through the UGHA Hall of Fame, the legend of Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers lives.


 UGHA Hall of Fame Literary Award:

Phil Groia: They All Sang On The Comer

 by K.J. O'Doherty

1973 witnessed the publicationof a landmark book in the fledgeling (dare I say non-existant) R&B vocal group research field.  Lovingly written and illustrated, author Phil Groia's They All Sang On The Corner not only evoked the golden age of New York street corner singing, but set a lofty standard for aspiring R&B historians.

In its 147 pages, readers were treated to definitive studies of Hall of Famers: The Cadillacs, Harptones, Heartbeats and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. This is not to slight the vast array of vocalizing brethren from The Avons to The Wanderers, whose appearances made They All Sang On The Corner a truly remarkable work. The harmony and the hits. The heartbreak and this history of a cultural dynamic whose echoes resonate clearly this evening. They All Sang On The Corner painted a brilliant picture of the vocal group harmony music we cherish.

In the years since its initial publication (and subsequent revision in 1983), much has been written concerning R&B groups. All of those writers owe a debt of gratitude to Phil Groia. A devotee of R&B harmony whose love and affection for this unique American art form is so eloquently shared in his book.

The street lamp on Phil Groia's corner shines brightly this evening. The membership of UGHA is proud to recognize Phil Groia's contribution to our music. He quoted The Harptones: "All we have to keep us is our memories of you." Thanks to you, Phil, we can all share those memories of the great New York City vocal groups. Congratulations on your induction into the UGHA Hall of Fame, first annual induction, March 9,1991.


UGHA Hall of Fame Industry Award:

Ahmet Ertegun: Atlantic Records

 by K.J. O'Doherty

The son of the former Turkish Ambassador to the U.S., Co-Chairman of the Board and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun is a living legend. Mr. Ertegun was there at the very beginning and, along with Herb Abramson, co-founded Atlantic Records in 1947. As well as serving as an executive, through the years Mr. Ertegun has also produced records and written many songs (often under the pseudonym of Nugetre). Early Atlantic vocal groups included The Harlemaires, The Delta Rhythm Boys and The Three Riffs.

Success for Atlantic in the growing R&B group market was to coincide with the signing of The Clovers. Their release of "Don't You Know I Love You," written by Mr. Ertegun himself, was one of the many songs to hit #1 on the R&B chart. Future Atlantic recordings by the mighty Clovers and their label-mates The Cnrciinalq. The Coasters and Clvde McPhatter & The Drifters would cement the label's place in the pantheon of genuine R&B group pioneers.