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The Diablos

by Ronnie I

One of Detroit's pioneer groups, the Diablos were formed at Central High School in 1950. The original group consisted of lead tenor, Nolan Strong, and classmates: Juan Guitierriez, tenor; Willie Hunter, baritone; Quentin Eubanks, bass; and Bob "Chico" Edwards, guitar. Strong was inspired by Clyde McPhatter of the Dominoes, and the Diablos started out emulating the style of this group. Another inspiration was the Royals, a local Detroit group, who later met great success when they became the Midnighters and added Hank Ballard to the group.

Not being able to obtain a recording contract from regional R&B labels, Chess‑King or United, the Diablos cut a demo for a local Detroit newly formed label, Fortune. Devora Brown, owner of this label, recognizing the group's talent, and signed them to a contract immediately. "Adios My Desert Love" and "(1 Want) An Old Fashioned Girl", written by Brown with musical accompanist by Joe Weaver and his Blue Note Orchestra, was the first Diablos release. Their second, "The Wind", in 1954, written by the group, became the Diablos trademark. In 1960, the Jesters, another UGHA Hall Of Fame Group, had a NYC hit with this composition. Due to poor distribution, a major problem for small labels, "The Wind" never became a national hit.

 In 1955, bass Quentin Eubanks was replaced by George Scott and tenor Juan Guitierriez was replace by Nolan's brother, "Big Jim" Strong. "The Way You Dog Me Around", the Diablo's fifth release brought them some national recognition. This Nolan Strong composition became one of the "most played by R&B disc jockeys" on the Jan 28, 1956 charts.

Nolan Strong was drafted into the army in late 1956, and discharged in 1958. During this period, his brother Jimmy took over the lead chores. During the early 60's, Nolan started appearing and recording as a solo artist. His last hit record, "Mind Over Matter", had potent regional sales in the Midwest in late 1962. Nolan died a month after his 43rd birthday, in Feb. of 1977. His brother Jim died a few years later.

Nolan Strong's influence prepared the way for the success of Motown most evident in the style of Smokey Robinson. Nolan Strong and the Diablos, the original Motown sound. Nolan Strong and the Diablos, long revered by R&B group harmony collectors and enthusiasts. UGHA proudly enters Nolan Strong and the Diablos into their  Hall Of Fame.


 The Four Vagabonds

by Charlie Horner

The Four Vagabonds were one of the most unique sounding and most popular of the pioneer quartets. Formed in St. Louis' Vashon High School in 1933, the original Four Vagabonds consisted of John Jordan (lead), Norval Taborn (baritone), Robert O'Neal (first tenor) and Ray Grant, Jr. (bass and guitarist). The Vagabonds wre heavily influenced by the Mills Brothers' vocal imitation of instruments and they soon found themselves mastering this technique. Throughout the early and mid 1930's, the Four Vagabonds broadcast their harmonies to the population of St. Louis through their own radio program: first on WEW (University of St. Louis), and then on WIL. They also replaced the Mills Brothers on a network show for KSD. By 1936, the Four

Vagabonds had moved to Chicago where they became regulars on the nationally heard Don McNeil's Breakfast Club. They also acquired the services of arranger Spencer Odom.

On the radio, the group's popularity soared. Being on the air three times a week, the Vagabonds had to keep learning new material. At one point, they had a repertoire of over 1500 songs. In 1938 the group also began daily appearances on the nationally heard Club Matinee. Besides touring, the group also became one of the first to appear on television. In the late 1930's they did some experimental TV.

By 1942, the Four Vagabonds were also cutting records for RCA Victor's Bluebird subsidiary. The quartet scored biggest with their patriotic war songs like "Rosie The Riveter", "Rose Ann Of Charing Cross", "Comin' In On A Wing And A Prayer" and "A G.I. Wish". The group fared well during the musicians' strike since they were able to imitate their instruments vocally on record. Duringthis time, Spencer Odom left to join the Southernaires. He was replaced by another great arranger, Bill Sanford.

Following the War, the Four Vagabonds moved to the newly formed Mercuty label for one record and then to Apollo. There they continued their recording career with such memorable sides as "The Pleasure's All Mine", "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans", and P.S. I Love You". In mid 1945, Ray Grant began to lose his eyesight, and by the end of that year, he was totally blind. The group rehearsed their entrances and exits from eachstage, and the audiences never knew. Some of the group's finest material was recorded during this period, but Ray's illness finally took its toll on the group and they disbanded at the end of 1947.

In May 1949, the Chicago Defender reported that Ray Grant had miraculously regained his eyesight and the Four Vagabonds were singing again. The group immediately was given its own TV show, Happy Pappy, which featured Ray Grant as MC and an all‑black cast. Naturally, the Four Vagabonds provided the background vocals. The show on WENR-TV was short‑lived and Ray Grant soon left the group. His singing part was taken over by arranger Bill Sanford. (Ray Grant did appear with his own group, called the Vagabonds, who backed up Memphis Slim on one record for Premium.) When Bill Sanford left to become the Ravens' arranger in 1950, he in turn was replaced by Frank Houston. After a six month stint on the Johnny Desmond Show, the original Four Vagabonds called it quits in 1952.

The Four Vagabonds' story doesn't end there, though. While living in Chicago in 1980, lead John Jordan decided to restart the group. He put together a new Four Vagabonds consisting of himself, Leonard Murray, Sam McDaoniels and Billy Shelton. Billy Shelton is known to Spainels fans as a member of Pookie Hudson's first group, the Three Bees as well as the Spaniels. The Four Vagabonds of the 1980's performed but did not record.

All of the original Four Vagabonds have now passed on. To keep the group's memory alive, Billy Shelton has again reformed the Four Vagabonds, recreating their intricate harmonies. The new Four Vagabonds consist of Al Brown (top tenor), Mike Thomas (second tenor), Craig McKinley (baritone), and Billy Shelton (bass).

Vocal group harmony owes much to the Four Vagabonds. Break down any R&B quartet song from the 1950's and you'll find each voice based on the part of a musical instrument. While the Mills Brothers may have been the first to popularize the vocal imitation of instruments, the Four Vagabonds gave this art their own interpretation and carried it into the 1950's. just listen to any Four Vagabonds record and marvel at Taborn's vocal trumpet, Jordan and O'Neal's vocal trombones and Grant's vocal bass fiddle. You'll understand why the Four Vagabonds belond in UGHA's Hall of Fame.


 The Hollywood Flames

by Ronnie I

The second California Pioneer RnB vocal group to enter the U.G.H.A. Hall of Fame, and deservedly so! The first was the Robins. The Flams originated in 1949 when a group of teenagers met at the Largo Theatre in Watts (Los Angeles) at a talent show. Several groups were formed from various High Schools in Los Angeles.

Robert Byrd (later known as Bobby Day) met tenor, David Ford, and second tenor, Willie Ray Rockwell, at that talent show. After Byrd called his friend Curly Dinkins, who sang baritone and bass, the quartet was established. The group received their fundamental education on vocal harmony and entertaining at Johnny Otis's Barrel House Club while earning a few dollars in the process.

The group's first release, as the Flames, ws for the Selective record label in January of 1950. The lead on most of the early releases was Bobby Byrd, who was able to sing lead, tenor, baritone or bass. As the Flames, 4 Flames, Hollywood 4 Flames adn Jets, this talented quartet had classic type RnB recordings for various L.A. labels from 1950 through 1953. Those labels included Unique, Fidelity, Specialty, Recorded in Hollywood, Spin, Aladdin, and 7-11.

The complicated history of the legendary Flames continued with numerous personnel changes as well as group name ones. Leon Hughes replaced Willie Ray Rockwell, who left to sing with the Lamplighters and Gaynell Hodge, who had been an original Platter joined the Flames. Recordings followed with David Ford and Gaynell Hodge now doing most of the lead chores. This period, 1953 through 1955, produced the Flames finest material. "Let's Talk It Over" backed with "I know" on Swingtime as the Hollywood Flames. "One Night With A Fool" and "Peggy" on Lucky as the Hollywood Flames. "Tabarin" and "Remember Me" on Decca as the Tangiers with Jesse Belvin as part of the background vocals.

More name changes for the Flames and recording labels, the Sounds and Modern, Bobby Byrd and Birds on Cash, Turks on Cash and Bobby Day & Satellites on Class. The Class label recordings produced hits and achieved success and fame for Bobby (Day) Byrd. "Little Bitty Pretty One," "Rockin' Robin" and "Over And Over" were huge hits for Day.

At the same time, 1957/1958, the group was recording as the Satellites behind Bobby Day on Class, they were also recording as the Hollywood Flames on Ebb. A major hit, "Buzz Buzz Buzz", with new lead singer Earl Nelson of Bob and Earl fame, was released on Ebb in September of 1957. Ebb contributed nine releases in all by the Hollywood Flames.

The Hollywood Flames, with many more personnel changes, continued through 1966. Although I haven't thoroughly covered the Flames' story, which will never completely enfold, I will quit while I'm ahead by bestowing my highest praise to this group who deserve to be mentioned when you speak of the RnB pioneer greats!

We welcome from L.A. and Phoenix three of the important initial members of the Flames tonight. Congratulations to Gaynell Hodge, Curlee Dinkins and Leon Hughes as they enter the U.G.H.A. Hall of Fame.


Little Anthony & The Imperials

by Ronnie I

Anthony Gourdine was brought up in the Fort Green Projects of Brooklyn and formed his first group, the Duponts, at Boys High School in 1954. After almost 2 years of attempting to find a record label to sign to, the group was discovered by Paul Winley. The first release on Winley's newly reformed Winley label was two of his own compositions, "You"/"Must Be Falling In Love" by the Duponts. In 1958, after the Duponts/Imperials had reached success, Winley sold the rights to these tunes to Savoy Records. Savoy released them as Little Anthony & the Duponts. Having reach only limited success on Winley with the Duponts, Anthony decided to form another group from his neighborhood. The Duponts remained together for a couple of years after and had a release on Roulette in 1958, "Screamin' Ball At Dracula Hall."

 Anthony's new group, the Chesters, consisted of Tracy Lord (tenor), Ernest Wright (2nd tenor), Clarence Collins (baritone), and Gloster "Nate" Rogers (bass). After taking a bike ride to Jamaica, Queens, the group was introduced to a member of the Cellos, who were on the charts with "The Japanese Sandman" on Apollo. This led to an audition with Charles Mehrenstein of Apollo Records. Two of Anthony's compositions were recorded on Apollo, "The Fires Burn No More' and "Lift Up Your Head." The "Fires" received some national attention. It became and remains a N.Y.C. classic favorite.

As rumor has it, Richard Barrett took the Chesters over to George Goldner after paying Apollo Records owner, Bess Berman, $75 to release the group from their contract. Barrett had already reached huge success with the first two teenage groups he brought to Goldner, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers and the Chantels. The group's first release for Goldner's End label, "Tears On My Pillow"/"Two People In The World," ultimately sold in excess of a million copies. The Chesters name was changed to the Imperials by Lou Gallup, A & R man for the End label. Soon after its release, Alan Freed introduced "'rears" on his radio show as a new record making a lot of noise by Little Anthony & The Imperials, Very quickly the label copy on "Tears" was changed to credit Little Anthony & The Imperials.

The next release by the group on End was a Richard Barrett composition, "So Much," followed by their third, "The Diary," a Neil Sedaka composition. Over a dozen 45's were released on End plus two albums by the Imperials.

In 1960, Anthony broke away from the Imperials. The group reformed and recorded for several labels, Carlton, Capitol and Newtime. The Newtime releases credit Anthony & The Imperials which was untrue, for George Kerr, former lead of the Serenaders was now the Imperials lead. Anthony, in the meantime, had two releases for Morris Levy's Roulette label as Little Anthony & The Imperials (a studio group).

Little Anthony & The Imperials were reformed in late 1963 with Anthony, original members Ernest Wright and Clarence Collins, plus Sammy Strain, formerly of the Chips and Fantastics from Brooklyn. This same tandem reunited a few years ago and have been the "biggest star group" on the oldies scene since! Ernie Martinelli, the group's manager in 1963, and still managing today, succeeded in holding a meeting with Teddy Randazzo. Randazzo, former lead singer of the 3 Chuckles and star of Alan Freed movies, was the writer, producer and A&R man for DCP Records. Little Anthony & The Imperials were signed to DCP Records and proceeded to have three major hits on DCP, all Randazzo compositions. The first was "I'm On The Outside Looking In," second and biggest, "Going Out Of My Head" and third, "Hurt So Bad." The group continued recording for DCP which later changed to Veep without having any major hits. Other labels featuring Anthony & The Imperials recordings in the late 60's and early 70's were, United Artists, Janus and Avco.

UGHA welcomes Little Anthony & The Imperials into their Hall of Fame. In attendance tonight are two original members, Tracy Lord and Gloster "Nate" Rogers. UGHA hopes to have Anthony and the rest of the guys at a UGHA function, when their busy schedule permits them to accept their plaques.


 The Paragons

by Ronnie I

The original Paragons, another classic Brooklyn group were: Julius McMichael, later known as Mack Starr, BenFrazier, Al Brown, Donald Travis and Ricky Jackson. The group was formed while still teenagers in high school.

Paul Winley, brother of the famed bass of the Clovers, Harold, started his Winley record label in1956. The first release on Winley was by Little Anthony Gourdine and the Duponts. The second release, Winley's biggest, was the Paragon's first, "Florence".  Released in the winter of 1957, "Florence" took off so fast locally, that Winley had to turn it over to a major company for national distribution.

The Paragons had seven releases in all for Winley plus the legendary street corner rumble album, "The Paragons Meet The Jesters." Other Winley classic Paragon's ballads include: "Let's Start All Over Again," "Two Hearts Are Better Than One," "Twilight" and "The Vows OF Love".

By the early 60's near the end of the Paragon's Winley years, the group started shifting personnel. Mack Starr left, he joined the Olympics of "Western Movies" fame in 1965.  Starr met a tragic death in Los Angeles in the early 1980's when he was run over by an out of control automobile while on his motorcycle.

The Paragons had releases in the early 60's for the Tap, Musicraft and Music Clef labels. Bill Witt, lead of the Rocketones on Melba, was a member of the Paragons in the 60's. Witt now sings with the Velours.

1976 brought the reformation of the Paragons with Nathaniel "Butch" Epps as the new lead singer. Epps had been a member of the Chips on Josie and Capitols on Pet, two Brooklyn 1950's street corner type groups. Other members of the reformed Paragons, Theodore Olds, Raymond Saunders and Jimmy McDonald. Stoney Bernard replaced Olds a few years ago, and the group also added a guitarist and musical director, Steve Duke.

Tonight U.G.H.A. honors the Paragons and their music, for many of us, a pleasant part of our adolescence.


The Valentines

by Charlie Horner

The Valentines were one of the most, dynamic R&B vocal groups ever, both on record and on stage. Their story really began around 1952 when four young men in New York City, Sugarhill to be exact, began singing as the Dreamers. Initially the group consisted of Raymond "Pop" Briggs (first tenor), Carl Hogan (second tenor), Mickey Francis (baritone), and Ronnie Bright (bass). They were assisted early on by vocal coach extraordinaire and Harptones' mentor, Raoul Cita. Cita helped the group with their harmonies.

The Dreamers played house parties and talent shows until they connected with a talented young lead singer and songwriter named Richard Barrett. Barrett began singing with a group from his home town of Philadelphia called the Royal Angels. That group had traveld to New York and won the weekly talent contest at the famed Apollo Theater. Richard made a second trip to New York with fellow Royal Angel, Tommy Wicks, to follow up leads for singing engagements. As happens so often in entertainers' lean years, the leads did not pan out. Times were tough for the two singers in the "Big Apple". Tired of scrounging for food and a place to stay, Tommy Wicks quickly became discouraged and returned to Philadelphia. Back home, Tommy rejoined some singing buddies and started the Sensations. Richard Barrett decided to 11gut it out" and stay in New York. He took a non-entertainment related job to support himself while he pursued his singing career.

Raoul Cita hooked the group up with Bruce Records, but aside from cutting a demo, nothing happened. Disappointed, the quintet began looking for another record company. Carl Hogan left and was replaced by Donald Razor of the Velvets. The Valentines then visited Old Town Records where they soon had their first release, "Tonight Kathleen" b/w "Summer Love". Both sides were pened by Richard Barrett who also sang lead. The Old Town release did little nationally, but quickly established the group's reputation in Harlem.

Shortly after the record for Old Town, Donald Razor was drafted. His replacement was Eddie Edgehill. Eddie Edgehill was born in New York, raised in Philadelphia and moved back to New York when he was sixteen. There he started singing in a group called the ValTones. When the ValTones competed in one of the Apollo's amateur contests, the Valentines were in the audience. While looking for a new second tenor, the Valentines were impressed with Eddie Edgehill's singing. But what impressed them even more was Eddie's dancing. Eddie had always been a great dancer and Richard Barrett knew that if the Valentines could combines talented singing with outstanding stage presence, they'd have the formula for success! RonnieBright and Eddie Edgehill knew each other since both lived on 151st Street. Eddie was given a copy of "Tonight Kathleen" and asked to learn it for the Valentine'snext rehearsal.  The ValTones broke up but eventually reformed without Eddie and recorded for Gee Records.

The Valentine's next stop was George Goldner's RamalGee Records. The group's first Rama release was the catchy jump tune, "Lily Maybell", released in Septenber 1955. The most well known Valentines' personnel of Barrett, Francis, Edgehill, Briggs and Bright was now in full force. They could do it all. The sharply dressed quintet could handle up tempo and balled songs with equal ease. But the energetic jump tunes really showed off their carefully choreographyed dance steps. Before long they were one of the hottest groups on the East Coast.

Meanwhile, Richard Barrett began applying his many talents on the other side of the microphone as well. After hearing some young Valentines admirers serenade him from under his apartment window, Barrett took the group, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, to George Goldner. They were soon on the top of the charts with "Why Do Fools Fall In Love". Richard Barrett's activities in song writing, producing, and managing have made him a paramount figure in the development of Rhythm & Blues/Rock & Roll. Without Richard's involvement we would never have all those fabulous recordings by the Teenagers, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Chantels, Three Degrees and countless others.

One of the Valentines most popular songs was "Woo Woo Train", released in 1956. The sight of the group bounding onto the stage dressed in white suits with red hearts on their front pockets and imitating a locomotive to the beat of Jimmy Wright's band was a sure crowd pleaser.

Other hits followed the group  jump tunes like "I Love You Darling" and ballads like "Christmas Prayer" and "Twenty Minutes".

In the summer of 1956, Raymond Briggs left the group and was replaced by David Clowney, Clowney would later have success as an instrumentalist with a tune called "The Happy Organ", under the name of Dave "Baby" Cortez. With Clowney, the Valentines recorded "Nature's Creation" *

Early in 1957 Eddie Edgehill left the Valentines and returned to Philly due to an illness in his family. He later sang with the Del‑Knights. Eddie's part was taken by Carl Hogan, who rejoined the group. The Valentines' last recording was "Don't Say Goodnight" in 195 7.

Though the Valentines existed only a few short years, their impact on R&B is great. It is only right that they take their place next to the other legendary groups in UGHA's Hall of Fame.


 The Velours

by Ronnie I

Onyx Records was formed in June of 1956, with their first release, "My Love Come Back" by a young Brooklyn based group, the Velours. The original Velours consisted of Jerome "Romey" Ramos as lead; John Cheatdom,1st tenor; Donald Haywoode, 2nd tenor; John Person, baritone. Calvin McClean, piano accompanist, and a soon to be forgotten bass, Charles Moffitt, with his unique bass voice and styling, joined the group at the time of the recording of their 3rd release and closest to a national hit, "Can I Come Over Tonight".

Jerry Winston's Onyx record label released five exceptional records by the Velours before terminating the label and selling the group's contract to MGM, for their Orbit and Cub Records subsidiaries. In August of 1958, with a sixth member, Troy Keyes, "Crazy Love"/"I'll Never Smile Again" was issued on Cub. A second Cub release, "Blue Velvet", featured Keith Williams on lead. Williams replaced Keyes.

The Velours remained together after the MGM contract expired in late 1959. Next stop was Studio Records and a little known recording, "I Promise"/ "Little Sweetheart", both sides featuring Keith Williams. They recorded for George Goldner's Goldise label, "Sweet Sixteen" in 1960 and for the End label, "Lover Come Back" in 1961. Right after the End recording, Moffitt. Person, and Williams left the group. Ramos, Haywoode, and Cheatdom added a fourth voice, Alfred Pitts, to continue the group for a final release as the Velours, for MGM once again, "Don't Pity Me" . One more release followed on MGM in 1961, with a name change, the Fantastics, as the group was now into soul. Releases followed on various labels, Deram, Bell, and Polydor, with the group Fantastics leaving the US and setting up residence in England. Ramos "came back" after a few years. Haywoode and Cheatdom still live in England, singing with touring European groups all these years.

In 1980, Charles Moffitt and Jerome Ramos, along with Brooklyn neighborhood friend. Eulis Mason, reformed the Velours. Ramos soon dropped out, leaving Mason as the lead singer. Mason had previously recorded with a group called the Martels, while in service during the early 60's. The Velours recorded once again in the mid 80's, including their classic recording of "C'cst La Vie" on Clifton in 1985.

Charles Moffitt met a tragic death in Dec. of 1986. The group continued as Charles Moffitt's Velours, with a couple of recordings and many concert appearances. The United In Group Harmony Association named an award after him, which is given out to the UGHA Classic Performing Groups chosen by the membership annually.

Today, the Velours consist of Eulis Mason, Dennis Pendarvis, Billy Witt, Raymond Saunders and Fred Warner.

Tonight we honor this legendary mid 50's Brooklyn group, who have long been considered one of the best of the NY groups in that era.

Five of the original members are in attendance: Jerome Ramos, John Person, Donald Haywoode, John Cheatdom and Calvin McClean. We thank them for those precious recordings, especially the Onyx ones with Romey on lead: "My Love Come Back", "Romeo", "Can I Come Over Tonight", "This Could Be The Night", "Hands Across The Table", "Remember" and "Can I Walk You Home" All treasures!