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Classic Urban Harmony Newsletter. Issue #7.  Bringing the world of Doo Wop, R&B, Soul and Gospel Harmony to your Inbox.. 

Classic Urban Harmony
Newsletter #07

Welcome to Classic Urban Harmony Newsletter #7.  This newsletter keeps getting longer and longer as a lot has happened in the past three weeks.  Of course, we wish we didn't have to report so many singers lost since our last letter, but unfortunately it has become a big part of our music scene these days.  We try to balance this newsletter with the many good things that are still happening in the world of group harmony.  For us, the exciting news is our new greatly expanded exhibit of black gospel vocal group memorabilia at the Franklin Township Public Library in Somerset, NJ.  We've assembled music displays before but never on this scale.  We hope you can stop in and visit our exhibit (or at least visit the photos of it on our website).  As this newsletter has gotten rather long. we suggest you read through the entire newsletter and make notes of which stories you'd like to read in more detail.  Then you can click the link back to our website for more info.  Again, we thank each and everyone of you who enjoys reading our newsletter (it's now emailed to more than 500 people), visiting www.classicurbanharmony.net, and/or attend our presentations and events.  We hope you'll continue to support us. 

Classic Urban Harmony LLC promotes the legacy of Rhythm & Blues, Doo Wop, Soul and Gospel Vocal Group Harmony through multimedia presentations, historical research, interviews, magazine articles, museum displays, radio guest appearances, our website, www.classicurbanharmony.net, and this free newsletter.  Here you'll find news of important events relevant to our music as well as updates to our website and summaries of our Classic Urban Harmony activities and projects.  To read more about and see more photos from the articles in this newsletter, check the What's New Page of www.classicurbanharmony.net.  We hope you'll enjoy this issue of the newsletter and again find it entertaining and informative.  Please continue passing the word on to others who might want to receive it.  They can sign up by sending their names and email addresses to CUH@att.net. - Charlie & Pam Horner - March 10, 2013

Classic Urban Harmony's New Greatly Expanded Exhibit of Gospel Vocal Group Memorabilia Displays Many Rare Items

Classic Urban Harmony now has a new, greatly expanded exhibit of rare gospel vocal group memorabilia in the Franklin Township Public Library, 485 DeMott Lane, Somerset, NJ.  The exhibit will run throughout mid-June. We have more than 70 items including posters, songbooks, wax cylinders, records (many in colored vinyl for the record collector in all of us), books, postcards, photos, sheet music and other memorabilia that you will likely never see again. Just a few of the items displayed are Fisk Jubilee Singers programs from the 1880’s & 1890’s; the Harrod’s Jubilee Singers’ 1922 record on the Black Swan label along with their 1920’s poster, recovered from a church in Camden.  Our shelf dedicated to the Soul Stirrers has their first commercial record on the Bronze label (hand pressed in Leroy Hurte’s home in Los Angeles in 1940). Hope you can stop into the Library and take a look.  For more details and many photos, follow the link on the What’s New Page of www.classicurbanharmony.net.
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Rare Photo from Paul Ressler's Archives - George Goodman & The Headliners

Our friend Paul Ressler has again lent us a rare photo from his collection, to share with readers of this newsletter.  The photo is of the Headliners, a Pittsburgh group best known for their recording of "Let Me Live You" (Val label).  We don't know which one is George Goodman (probably the one in the center).  We'd didn't even know that the group recorded for the M label, but that's what it says on the photo.  We'll be posting more photos from Paul Ressler's Archives in future issues. 

Two former members of the Temptations, Damon Harris and Richard Street die within ten days of each other.

In another bit of sad news, two former members of the Temptations have died this month. Damon Harris died February 18 and Richard Street died February 27. Richard Street was with Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin in the Distants, a group that was a forerunner to the Temptations. He left prior to the group becoming the Temptations and became lead of the Monitors ("Greetings This Is Uncle Sam"). Street would later join his friends, the Temptations in 1971, replacing Paul Williams.  Otis "Damon" Harris grew up in Washington DC, where he sang with a group called the Young Tempts. When the group recorded for the Isley Brothers' T-Neck label, they were forced to change their name to the Young Vandals. After the break up of the Young Vandals in 1971, Damon Harris joined the Temptations, replacing Eddie Kendricks.  Both Street and Harris were on the Temptations' hit recordings "Superstar" and "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone". Harris left the Temptations in 1975, Street stayed with the group until 1993.

Latest issue of Echoes of the Past magazine now out!  Contains our article, "The Sammy Strain Story Part 3: The Imperials

The latest issue of Echoes of the Past (#103) is now out. Lots of great articles about 1950's and early 60's vocal groups including our most recent article about Sammy Strain (Part 3) and the Imperials (before Little Anthony returned). Also great articles about the Impacts, Socialites, Four of a Kind and more. To subscribe to Echoes (the only print magazine out there that features exclusively fifties & sixties vocal groups), email Bob Belniak at echoes.past@yahoo.com.

Acappella group, Re-MemberThen's concert at New Providence (NJ) Library a SRO event. 

New Jersey acappella group, Re-MemberThen, drew a standing room only crowd at the New Providence (NJ) Memorial Library on Sunday afternoon, February 24. The doo wop concert was sponsored by the Friends of the New Providence Library and was free to the public. Classic Urban Harmony's Charlie Horner introduced the group.  As usual, Re-MemberThen did a great job, singing crowd pleasers like "Crying In The Chapel," "Wonderful Girl," "Gloria" and "You Belong to Me". They had the audience clapping along to up tempo tunes like "Acappella With My Friends" and a fast version of "Streets Of The Bronx".  More photos are available from the link on the What's New Page of www.classicurbanharmony.net

Artifacts from our Vaults

Our Classic Urban Harmony Archives contain so many music related treasures, some buried deeply in our vaults and long since forgotten.  Last newsletter, we began bringing out these items, one per issue.  This issue's artifact is a postcard mailed from Hollywood on October 14, 1948.  It's a reminder to loyal listeners that comedian Red Skelton's NBC radio program was moving to a new time on Friday nights.  Red Skelton is seated on the ground and standing behind him are the Four Knights (vocal group).  The post card cost one cent to mail.

Steve Blitenthal, owner of Whirlin' Disc Record Store in Farmingdale, L.I. dies.

So sorry to hear that Steve Blitenthal, owner of Whirlin' Disc Record Store in Farmingdale, Long Island, NY, passed away on March 4, 2013.  He was 67.  Anyone who seriously collected records in the NY area undoubtedly was a customer of Steve.  His store had been open since 1970 and had more than 90,000 45's.  Our sincere condolences to Steve's wife and family.

Free Screening of the 2000 Documentary "Jubilee Singers" at the Franklin Township Public Library May 22. 

If you've never seen the 2000 documentary, "Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory" (or even if you have and would like to see it again), this outstanding one-hour film will be screened at the Franklin Township Public Library at 7 PM on May 22, 2013.  Pam & Charlie Horner of Classic Urban Harmony and the Franklin Township Cultural Arts Council will introduce the film and answer questions at the end. The Library is at 485 DeMott Lane, Somerset, NJ. Admission is FREE but registration is required. Registration will begin in mid-April. We'll let you know when and how to register.  Before or after the film screening, you can visit our exhibit of black gospel group memorabilia at the same location.

DVD Review: "Street Corner Harmony"

“Street Corner Harmony,” Mellow Sounds Productions, DVD (2010), Length: 63 minutes.
The DVD “Street Corner Harmony” tells the story of doo wop acappella singing in the 1960’s.  This is an area that has largely gone undocumented until Abraham Santiago and Steven Dunham 2006 book “Acappella Street Corner Vocal Groups”.  [We’ll be reviewing that book shortly on our Bookshelf Page.]  This DVD is a welcomed companion to the book.
Let’s be clear about what genre is covered here.  It’s not meant to cover 1950’s R&B groups that sang acappella on the street corners but recorded with instrumentation.  Nor does it attempt to include the doo wop acappella singing inspired by Ronnie I. and the United in Group Harmony Association which began in the late 1970’s and continues today.  The subjects of this DVD (and the book) are the doo wop groups of the 1960’s that sang acappella and were recorded acappella.  These groups were located primarily in NYC, New Jersey, Connecticut and Philadelphia.  The genre seems to have started at Slim Rose’ Times Square Records and spread rapidly, thanks to the efforts of people like Wayne Stierle, Donn Feliti, Eddie Gries, Stan Krause and others.
In covering this genre, the DVD “Street Corner Harmony” does an outstanding job.  It explains the development of the 1960’s doo wop acappella field in an informative and entertaining way.  It mixes recordings, live singing and interviews with many of the key singers of the time, including the Persuasions, Five Jades, Chessmen, Five Sharks, Heartaches, Concepts and many more.  If you lived in New York, or Newark, or Jersey City or Seaside Heights or Philly in the 1960’s and remember the acappella scene, or if you’d like to learn about it, this DVD is a must have.  To watch a YouTube trailer of the film or to order a copy of the DVD visit the Bookshelf & DVD Page of www.classicurbanharmony.net

 

Lynn Abbott & Doug Seroff's New Reference Book on Early Black Quartet Singing now available.


I have just finished reading Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff's monumental new book, "To Do This You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Tradition".  The book traces "the currents of black gospel quartet instruction from the halls of Fisk University to the mining camps of Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama, and on to Chicago and New Orleans."  It follows the history of black gospel quartet singing through a detailed study of those who taught the quartet singers the songs and how to sing them.  While many will be tempted to use this book only as a reference book (it's not light reading), I read it from cover to cover and found it fascinating.  For the first time I gained comprehensive insight into how spiritual and gospel quartet singing changed from the earlier more traditional barbershop harmonies to the more rhythmic vocal styles of the 1940's and the emotional styles after that.  It was amazing to me to follow how Birmingham quartet styling was spread to Chicago and New Orleans through the efforts of relatively few teachers and singers.  This book fills a prior gap in our understanding of quartet harmony history and Misters Abbott and Seroff should be commended for their 30+ years of painstaking research and documentation.  Without them, this important piece of history would most certainly have been lost.  As one old singer expressed to the authors upon learning that someone had finally come to interview him, "I knew you were coming.  I didn't know who you would be, but I knew you were coming."  The book is an incredible reference book and a must have for any serious vocal quartet music researcher's library.  It is now available for purchase through the Bookshelf Page of www.classicurbanharmony.net.  - Charlie Horner  


 


 

Virgil Johnson Dies.  Lead of the Velvets and writer of "Tonight (Could Be The Night)" 

Virgil Johnson, organizer and lead singer of the Velvets, died on February 24, 2013, at the age of 77. The group was best known for their 1961 hit "Tonight (Could Be The Night)". The song, written by Johnson, reached the Top 30 on the pop charts and has since become a doo wop standard. Johnson was a school teacher in Odessa, Texas, at the time and formed the Velvets with some of his students. Here is his story.  Virgil Johnson was born in Cameron, TX, on December 29, 1935. His family relocated to Lubbock, TX, where Virgil finished high school and obtained a degree from Texas Tech University. Virgil was teaching eighth grade English at Blackshear Junior High School in Odessa, TX, when he heard some of his students harmonizing. He organized four students, Clarence Rigsby (tenor), Robert Thursby (tenor), William Solomon (baritone) and Mark Prince (bass) into a vocal group to back him (Virgil) on some songs he'd written.  The group performed locally at first, but was discovered by fellow Texan, Roy Orbison, who helped get the group signed to Monument Records, the label Orbison recorded for. The group, now called the Velvets, traveled to Nashville to record. On their first recording session, the Velvets recorded "Tonight (Could Be The Night)," "That Lucky Old Sun," "Time And Again" and Spring Fever". Nashville session instrumentalists Floyd Cramer and Boots Randolph played on the recordings. "Spring Fever" and "Time And Again" were written for the group by Roy Orbison. The Velvets' first release was "Tonight (Could Be The Night)" backed with "Spring Fever". "Tonight" was written by Virgil Johnson. "Tonight" took off, hitting #26 on the Pop Charts in 1961. No other Velvets records came close in popularity and Virgil Johnson went back to teaching school.  He later became a radio personality in Texas.  Visit the link on the What's New Page of www.classicurbanharmony.net to read our tribute to Virgil Johnson & the Velvets..

Classic Urban Harmony's "Crossing Jordan" Spirituals Presentation draws a capacity crowd at the Franklin Township Library; Event covered by the Home News Tribune

Our multimedia presentation, "Crossing Jordan: How African American Spirituals Changed the World," again drew rave reviews, this time from the capacity crowd at the Franklin Township Public Library in Somerset, NJ on February 20, 2013.  The Library sponsored presentation was covered by the Home News Tribune who was writing an article about our Franklin Township Cultural Arts Council.  The article and accompanying video are currently viewable on the web.  Clicking the link  News Article & Video  and watch the video under "Franklin's Deputy Mayor...".  (The photo above courtesy of Donna Marie Yost)
Our article about Sammy Strain & the Fantastics now updated and viewable on our website!
Our recent article about Sammy Strain and the Fantastics ("There Goes My Love"), originally published in Echoes of the Past magazine has been updated and is now viewable on this website. The label scans and some of the photos are now in color and some additional facts have been added.  To read the article by clicking the link on the What's New Page of www.classicurbanharmony.net  By the way, our next installment of the Sammy Strain story (Part 3 - the Imperials) is now out in the latest issue of Echoes of the Past..

Cleotha Staples of the Staple Singers dies.

Cleotha Staples, original member of the popular gospel and folk group, the Staple Singers died on February 21, 2013 at her home in Chicago. She was 78. Ms. Staples had been battling Alzheimer’s Disease for the past ten years. The Staple Singers are one of the best known gospel groups of all time. Their popularity extends beyond the gospel music field, due to their pop hits like "I'll Take You There" and "Respect Yourself". We've prepared a tribute page to Cleotha Staples including the story of the Staple Singers.  To take a look at our tribute page for Cleotha and a detailed story of the Staple Singers.  Visit the link on the What's New Page of www.classicurbanharmony.net.  

Jewel Akens dies.  Pop soloist of "The Birds and the Bees" fame also sang with the Four Dots and other groups.

Jewel Akens died Friday March 1, 2013, of complications from back surgery at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, CA. He was 72. Mention the name Jewel Akens and most people think of the 1965 Top 10 pop recording of “The Birds & The Bees”. Yet, vocal harmony fans remember Jewel Akens for his work as first tenor for West Coast R&B vocal groups like the Four Dots (Freedom label), Astro-Jets (Imperial label), Rainbows (Gramo label), Terry & Tyrants (Kent label), Composers (Era label), Turn-Arounds (Era label) and Johnny Staton’s Feathers (Classic Artists label). Jewel also sang on John Ashley’s great group ballad, “Seriously In Love” (Silver label). If you'd like to learn more and to listen to some of Jewel Akens' best vocal group records and see a video of him singing "The Birds And The Bees" click the link on the What's New Page of www.classicurbanharmony.net.  

Lar Kings and Tee-Tones among groups competing at NYC Regional A Cappella Harmony Sweepstakes.

Two groups we know, the Lar Kings and the Tee-Tones, are among the ten vocal groups competing in this year's NYC Regional Acappella Harmony Sweepstakes.  The 29th Annual Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival New York Regional will take place on Saturday March 30 at 7 PM at the Kathryn Bache Miller Theatre, Columbia University, 2960 Broadway at 166th Street.
We been friends with the Lar Kings ever since they first appeared at UGHA in 1993.  Lar Kings originally formed in 1961 in Williamsburg and Ridgewood Brooklyn, NY.  They first performed at Eli Whitney High School.  After a few years of singing they became inactive but got back together again in 1993.  Appearing often at the United in Group Harmony Association, the Lar Kings soon became favorites at UGHA.  In addition to their own sets, the Lar Kings would often back famous lead singers of other groups. The Lar Kings excel at reproducing the sounds of the Moonglows, Nutmegs and others. They've won the Lead East Vocal Group Acappella Competition twice.
We've just recently become acquainted with the Tee-Tones, a young group from Brooklyn singing doo wop soul, after seeing them sing at the NJ Group Harmony Singers Club.  We were impressed with what we heard.  We understand the Tee-Tones have recently performed for Paul McCartney and Motown founder Berry Gordy recently.

Miracles' Bobby Rogers dies

Bobby Rogers, one of the founding members of Smokey Robinson's Miracles died Sunday March 3, 2013, of complications from diabetes.  He was 73.  Rogers was born in Detroit on February 19, 1940.  In the mid 1950's, Bobby Rogers was invited by his cousin Sonny Rogers to join a singing group from Northern High School called the Five Chimes.  The group also contained future Miracles William "Smokey" Robinson, Ronnie White and Pete Moore.  The group promptly changed its name to the Matadors. When Sonny Rogers entered the army, his replacement was Claudette Rogers, Sonny's sister (and soon to become Mrs. Smokey Robinson).  This group would become the Miracles when Smokey Robinson saw the Silhouettes singing on American Bandstand and wrote an answer record to "Get A Job" called "Got A Job" (the Miracles' first record).  Bobby Rogers was not only a great tenor singer, he was also a great dancer which fit into the Miracles' choreography.  As a song writer, Bobby Rogers co-wrote "First I Look At The Purse" (Contours), "The Way You Do The Things You Do" (Temptations), "Ain't That Peculiar" (Marvin Gaye), "Going To A Go-Go" (Miracles) and many more songs.  After Smokey Robinson left the Miracles to go solo in 1972, Rogers kept the Miracles going.  A recent illness forced him to retire from singing.

Alexander Mauro, vocalist and drummer for the Mike Pedicin Quintet dies. 

Alexander Mauro, lead vocalist and drummer for the Mike Pedicin Quintet, died February 14, 2013, at the age of 89. Though not a vocal harmony group per se, the Mike Pedicin Quintet were well known to those of us who grew up in Philly. They were part of that group of white Philadelphia bands of the early 1950's that put their own up tempo interpretations to black songs and helped shape the early years of Rock & Roll. The genre also included Bill Haley & the Saddlemen (Comets), Charlie Gracie and others. Alexander Mauro is the lead voice on Mike Pedison's "Shake a Hand," a R&R version of the Faye Adams' song.  Born Alexander Mauromicali in West Philly, on November 1, 1923, Mauro began playing drums and stand up bass at the age of 21. While playing with a band in Atlantic City in the late 1940's, he was invited to join the Mike Pedicin band. He stayed with them 25 years. [Thanks to Anthony DiFlorio for telling us of this news.]

 

March 28 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Time Capsule Show

March 28 will mark the 50th Anniversary of the first Time Capsule Show on WFUV-FM.  For those R&B group harmony fans who grew up in or near NYC and Philadelphia, Joe Marchesani and Tom Luciani's radio program had a profound positive effect on our lives.  Had it not been for Charlie listening to the Time Capsule Show every week in Philly (on WRTI-FM) you probably would not be reading this newsletter today.  We'll have more on this story in our next newsletter but for now we'll just say, "Thank you, Joe and Tom!"

Madisons' lead, Johnny Curtis dies.

Johnny Curtis (aka Johnny Whipple) has passed away. Johnny was lead vocalist of the Madisons, the fine 1960's vocal group from Syracuse, NY. The group recorded "The Wind and the Rain" (Lawn label), "Valerie" (Twin Hit label), "Only A Fool" (Jomada label), and "Cheryl Anne" (MGM label). [This item courtesy of Steven Kahn]

Past Issues of the CUH Newsletter Now viewable on line

Want to catch up on any past issues of this newsletter that you may have missed? Now you can. Just go to the top of this newsletter and click on "View it in your browser". Then you be able to click on "Past Issues" on the upper left of your screen.

More Details and Photos from the Above Articles on our Website

There's just so much we can fit into one newsletter issue, but many of the articles here are repeated on our website with additional details and photos. To read more visit the "What's New Page" of www.classicurbanharmony.net. And while there, don't forget to visit our other pages, like Our Events Calendar Page, Our Bookshelf, or our section on Articles We've Written.
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