Classic Urban Harmony Newsletter. Issue #16.  Bringing the world of Doo Wop, R&B, Soul and Gospel Harmony to your Inbox..

Classic Urban Harmony
Newsletter #16
Special Holiday Edition

Welcome to our special holiday issue (#16) of the Classic Urban Harmony Newsletter.  Along with all the breaking news in our field we've mixed in a lot of interesting features that we hope you'll enjoy.  We've just returned from Europe, where we visited Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Bavaria and the Czech Republic.  Not too many group harmony vinyl 45's there but we have included here a YouTube video link of a Czech acappella group singing the Orioles' "It's Too Soon To Know".  The breaking news of the day is the announcement of a planned Mills Brothers biography.  It's way overdue.  Hope you like this issue.  Happy holidays to all of our subscribers.  May your new year be filled with peace, love and harmony!

Quote of the month:  "Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts." - Janice Maeditere

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, lectures, college courses, concert production and emceeing, vocal group bookings, our website,, 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  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 - Charlie & Pam Horner - December 16, 2013.

Breaking News: Mills Brothers Biography in the works!

The Classic Urban Harmony Newsletter is the first to break the news that a Mills Brothers biography is now in the works.  Douglas E. Friedman, author of The Encyclopedia of Early American Vocal Groups and The Comedian Harmonists: The Last Great Jewish Performers in Nazi Germany, is working with Dan Clemson, longtime Mills Brothers historian and former co-founder/president of the Mills Brothers Society to make this a reality.    Both of Friedman's earlier books are reviewed in the Bookshelf Page of  Friedman has already reviewed Dan Clemson's huge collection of Mills Brothers memorabilia, now housed at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, OH.  Classic Urban Harmony has also opened our collection of Mills Brothers memorabilia and recordings to Douglas Friedman who will visit us later this month.  The Mills Brothers are considered by most historians to be the greatest vocal quartet of the 20th Century and their biography is long overdue.

Artifacts from our Vaults: Mills Brothers 78 from the UK with "picture label"

Each issue we pick an item from our Classic Urban Harmony Archive vaults that we think might interest our readers.  This time we've chosen a 78 RPM record by the Mills Brothers that was recorded and issued in 1941.  The record came out on the Decca label in the United states, but in the UK it was released on the Brunswick label.  This UK pressing is remarkable in that the label shows a photo of the Mills Brothers.  Brunswick UK issued a limited number of releases with "picture labels".  We have a few others by the Ink Spots and we recall seeing one by Bing Crosby, but this (Brunswick #03304, "Delilah" / "Window Washer Man") is the only one we know of by the Mills Brothers.  Does anyone have any other Mills Brothers Brunswick UK 78's with picture labels?


Earliest surviving recordings (1890's wax cylinders) by black vocal quartet sold for $3000

Long before R&B, Doo Wop and Soul, before Blues and Jazz even, black vocal harmony groups were making recordings.  The dawn of recording science was the 1890's, and as flat "records" were not yet invented, recordings were made on brittle cylinders coated with wax.  In a technology developed by Thomas Edison, the cylinders turned on machines like those pictured above, with music cut into the grooves.  Because of the brittle nature and temperature sensitivity of the wax, few of these cylinders have survived the past 100 - 120 years.  Of those that have, only a small percentage are by black artists, who were generally left out of the established recording industry.  Even scarcer are good condition copies of wax cylinders by black vocal groups.  The first known recordings by a black vocal harmony group were made in 1891 by the Standard Quartette.  Unfortunately, no copies have survived.  The next black vocal quartet to record was the Unique Quartette, who made cylinder recordings in 1893 and 1896.  Recently, one of two known copies of the Unique Quartette's 1893 cylinder of "Mama's Black Baby Boy" was sold at auction for $1,100.  [The only other copy resides in the Library of Congress.]  A copy of the Unique Quartette's 1896 cylinder of "Who Broke The Lock (On The Hen House Door)" sold at the same auction for $1,900.  To hear an audio recording of the 1893 cylinder on YouTube, click Unique Quartette.  Our Classic Urban Harmony Archives contains several different cylinders by black quartets (see photo above).   

Aretha Franklin back performing after recovering from illness

After a several month absence, Aretha Franklin has begun performing again.  Over the summer, Franklin canceled a number of performances due to medical treatment for an undisclosed illness.  It's good to hear she's back. 

Vinyl records making a comeback in the UK?

According to BPI (British Phonographic Industry) that represents the British recorded music industry, the sales of vinyl records (mostly LP's) in the UK have doubled in the past year.  Some major contemporary artists have helped the sales by releasing albums on vinyl recently.  This has been vinyl's best year for sales in the UK since 2003.  Although vinyl still only accounts for 0.8% of all albums sold in the UK, as recently as 2007 its share was only 0.1%.  Can the U.S. be far behind?  Long live vinyl!  

Larry McKinley, co-founder of New Orleans' Minit Records, dies at 85

Larry McKinley, New Orleans radio personality, voice of the N.O. Jazzfest and co-founder of the Minit record label, died Sunday, December 8, 2013 in Baton Rouge, LA, at the age of 85.  McKinley had been a radio host in New Orleans since 1954.  He was managing Ernie K-Doe when approached by promoter Joe Banashak about forming the Minit label in 1959.  Minit soon had a hit with K-Doe's "Mother-In-Law".  Other hits followed including Jessie Hill's "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" and Benny Spellman's "Lipstick Traces".  Minit released vocal group records by the Del Royals, Aaron Neville ("Show Me The Way"),  the Five Knights, and the Showmen ("It Will Stand").  McKinley later became the voice of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Walter McNeil, bass of the Gospel Nobleaires, dies

"I've just lost a good friend who made a big difference in my life.  In 1979 Walter McNeil and the Gospel Nobleaires introduced me to the world of gospel quartet singing when they sang on an acappella concert I produced in Philadelphia.  The set of songs they sang remains one of the best I've heard, and I've been to a lot of concerts since then.  I have Walter and the Gospel Nobleaires to thank for my interest in gospel harmony." - Charlie Horner.  Walter was called home on Sunday, December 1, 2013.  To visit a tribute page to Walter McNeil and read the history of the Gospel Nobleaires (including lots of great photos), visit the link on the What's New Page of  (Photo above of the Gospel Nobleaires by L.A. Moore.  Walter McNeil is on the far right). 

Latest issue of Echoes of the Past now out!  Contains our article on the Golden Bells & Contessas.

The latest issue of Echoes of the Past (#106) magazine is now out and it's another great one.  For starters, it contains our article on the Golden Bells and Contessas from New Brunswick NJ.  Not familiar with these groups?  Listen to YouTubes of their songs by clicking Golden Bells and Contessas.  The issue also contains Bob Bosco's article on the Kids, a Philadelphia trio that recorded for RCA, George Frunzi's article on Danny White of Danny & the Juniors, Steve Propes article on West Coast censored 45's, plus articles by Nay Nassar and Larry Stidom.    At $16.99 for a one year (4 issue) subscription, how can you not be subscribing?  Contact Bob Belniak at

Rascals cancel second Broadway run of "Once Upon A Dream"

The Rascals have cancelled the scheduled second Broadway run of their show/concert, "Once Upon A Dream," that was scheduled to run from December 16 to January 5.  The reason given was conflicts with director Steve Van Zandt's schedule.  The producers hope to reschedule to a future time.

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 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.

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.

Classic Urban Harmony returns from Europe!

We are back!  We've just returned from a cruise up the Danube River, from Budapest (Hungary) to Bratislava (Slovakia), Vienna, Durnstein, Melk, Salzburg (Austria) and Passau (Bavaria) before spending three days in Prague (Czech Republic).  We didn't find many group harmony records (yes, we looked) but we had a great time.  Is there group harmony in the Czech Republic?  Of course.  There group harmony everywhere.  See the item below to learn about a Czech acappella group.

Acappella Doo Wop Group Spreading Harmony in the Czech Republic

While we didn't get to experience much doo wop harmony during our recent trip to Europe, we are never-the-less aware that doo wop music exists everywhere.  We know of at least one Czech vocal group called Kolenem that hails from the city of Brno.  To watch a YouTube video of this group singing the Deborah Chessler (Orioles) composition, "It's Too Soon To Know' at a concert in Dubnany on January 28, 2012, click Kolenem.  We only wish we could have seen this group live when we were in Prague.
Beautiful: Review of the Carole King Broadway Musical
We just caught the new Broadway musical Beautiful which began previews at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in NYC in November 2013 and will formally open on January 14, 2014.  This is the story of iconic singer, songwriter and four-time Grammy Award winner, Carole King.  While many will know King for her 1971 album “Tapestry,” students of sixties pop music will recognize her for her songwriting hits with her co-writer and former husband, Gerry Goffin.  A small sampling of their songs include “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (Shirelles), “Up On The Roof” and “Some Kind Of Wonderful” (Drifters), “Chains” (Cookies), “One Fine Day” (Chiffons), “The Locomotion” (Little Eva) and many more.  All of these are included in the musical, as well as songs by fellow 1650 Broadway songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.  The storyline centers around Kings’ early career and her relationship with her then husband, Goffin.  It also follows the lives of Mann and Weil.  Musical performances by those portraying the Drifters and Shirelles are also notable.  If you’re a fan of sixties pop music this show one show you don’t want to miss.

From Paul Ressler's Archives - Ultra-rare photo of Jack Williams Quartet featuring Betty Cobbs

Each newsletter we try to feature a rare photo from our friend Paul Ressler's extensive archives.  This issue we've chosen an ultra-rare photo of the Jack Williams Quartet featuring Betty Cobbs.  This group recorded "Blueberry Hill" / "Satchel Boogie" for Specialty Records in Los Angeles in August 1949.  We don't know a lot about the Jack Williams Quartet but "Blueberry Hill" was recorded by numerous artists including Fats Domino.  The song was written in 1940 by Larry Stock and Al Lewis.  Al Lewis, a veteran of Tin Pan alley, would hang around until the late 1950's when we co-wrote "Tears On My Pillow" with Sylvester Bradford (formerly of the Suburbans on Baton).  That song would become a hit for Little Anthony & the Imperials.  Anyway, thanks Paul for another great photo!

Street Corner Renaissance a standout on NBC's Sing Off 

If you've been following the NBC TV program Sing Off, you may find yourself pulling for the Los Angeles group, Street Corner Renaissance.  While all of the competing acappella groups are outstanding, Street Corner Renaissance is the one group that comes closest to R&B vocal harmony.  Time will tell if they come out on top, but for now they are generating a lot of attention for our style of acappella singing.  If you're not familiar with this group, listen to their acappella rendition of the Contours' "Do You Love Me" on the Sing Out Webpage

Joe Bihari, co-founder of Modern and RPM labels dies at 88.

Joe Bihari, who co-founded the Modern and RPM records labels with his brothers Jules and Saul, died November 28, 2013, at the age of 88.  Joe was born on May 30, 1925 in Memphis, TN, the youngest of eight siblings.  His father, a Jewish immigrant from Hungary died when Joe was only five.  Joe grew up in New Orleans' Jewish Children's home in New Orleans.  In the early 1940's, Joe's older brothers Jules and Saul started a business servicing and distributing jukeboxes.  Joe soon joined that business.  Frustrated that they couldn't find more records by black artists for their jukeboxes, the Bihari brothers started the Modern Music record label in Los Angeles in 1945.  One of Joe's jobs was to travel throughout the South discovering talent for the label.  Modern Music soon became Modern Records and opened a subsidiary, RPM Records.  Joe was vice-president of Modern/RPM as well as handling much of the A&R.  Joe also was president of the associated Flair label.  Much attention is given to the Bihari brothers recording blues artists like B. B. King, but they also contributed greatly to our recorded library of R&B groups.  Modern Records gave us sides by Oscar McLollie & the Honey Jumpers, Native Boys, Arthur Lee Maye & the Crowns, Etta James & the Peaches, the Cadets, the Cobras, Jessie Belvin & the Cliques, the Sounds, the Honey Boys, the Rocketeers and more.  The RPM label gave us records by the Meadow Larks, Jacks, Arthur Lee Maye & the Crowns, the Teen Queens.  The Flair label gave us the Flairs, Richard Berry & the Dreamers, Shirley Gunter & the Queens.  

Lego Vinyl Record Store

Vinyl record stores may be rapidly disappearing in the real world but they live on in the imagination and creativity of record enthusiasts.  Here, Ryan Howerter has assembled a complete vinyl record store out of Lego!  The photo above can be found on Flickr, posted by eldeeem.  Click Lego Record Store to take a better look! 

Sounds of the Season: A Christmas vocal group record out of Panama - Listen!

Each December we like to post a vocal group holiday song to our website.  This year we've chosen a 45 by Sir Jablonski out of Panama that probably came out in the late 1950's or early 1960's.  We're not experts on Panamanian music so it's hard for us to date the record but we do know that Sir Jablonski (sometimes listed as Sir Jablonsky) was an established Calypso star in Panama for many years.  Though not as well known as Calypso music from Trinidad and Tobago, Panama had a thriving Calypso music scene in the 1950's and 1960's.  Sir Jablonski recorded 78's there on the Gem and Paragon labels as well as 45's on the Duque, Panix, Tropelco, Star, J&B, Giant and M&L labels.  This recording is R&B vocal group, not Calypso.  The group on the record is listed as "The Unknowns"!  Hope you enjoy it.  To listen to the record on a YouTube video, click "A Merry Christmas"

Our article on the Sweet Delights now posted on our website.

Our article on the Philadelphia soul vocal group, the Sweet Delights, first published in Echoes of the Past, is now available for viewing on our website.  You can click on their YouTube of "Baby Be Mine" and then read about the group by following the link on the What's New Page of  We hope you enjoy the article.

Drifters' "Under the Boardwalk" added to the Grammy Hall of fame

The Recording Academy has just added 27 recordings to the Grammy Hall of Fame, an honor reserved for what the Academy feels are the greatest recordings in history.  This year, the Grammy Hall of Fame's 40th Anniversary, the Drifters' "Under The Boardwalk" was among the inductees.  The Drifters have fared rather well in past years also.  Among the Drifters songs already in the Grammy Hall of Fame are "Money Honey," "There Goes My Baby," "On Broadway," and "Save the Last Dance For Me".  The only other vocal harmony related recording inducted this year was Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World".  To see a list of past years inductions click Grammy Hall of Fame.

Wishing all of our readers a wonderful holiday season! - Charlie & Pam

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