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On Sunday night, March 19, 2017, Classic Urban Harmony presented its second historic concert in a span of 15 days.  This time we had legendary R&B vocal group singer, musician, composer and arranger Gaynel Hodge sing a set of his songs acappella, backed by Quiet Storm, in addition to Jimmy Keyes’ Chords and Brooklyn Connection.  The all acappella concert took place at Roxy & Dukes in Dunellen, NJ.

Gaynel Hodge is an iconic figure in Rhythm & Blues and Doo Wop music.  He was the lead singer of the Los Angels based vocal groups the Hollywood Flames and Turks.  He is the last surviving founding member of the internationally famous group, the Platters.  He’s sung with or accompanied on piano groups like the Tangiers, Eugene Church’s Fellows, the Atlantics, and countless other West Coast groups.  As a composer, he’s co-written “Earth Angel” (Penguins), Goodnight My Love” (Jesse Belvin) and scores of other songs.  He’s played a role in the early careers of Low Rawls and Barry White.  We consider him one of the architects of the R&B “West Coast sound”.  And all this just scratched the surface of Gaynel’s incredible career as an entertainer.  At the age of 80, Gaynel still actively performs in Europe, often backed by our friends the Velvet Candles of Barcelona..

We first got to meet Gaynel Hodge when Ronni I. brought him to the United in Group Harmony Association back in the 1990’s and stayed in touch over the years.  Last June, we visited Gaynel and his wife, Ilona in Amsterdam where they now reside.  At that time we discussed how we might bring Gaynel to the United States to perform.  More recently, we were thrilled to hear that he and his son, Anthony, would be coming to the New York area for a six day vacation.  We scrambled to fit him in to our already scheduled March 19 Roxy & Dukes all acappella concert with Jimmy Keyes’ Chords and Brooklyn Connection.  We decided to back him with the phenomenal aacappella group, Quiet Storm.  Quiet Storm had only a few weeks to learn all of gaynel’s songs, at the same time they were preparing for our big Monmouth University show.  But all worked out well, exceeding everyone’s expectations.

We picked up Gaynel at the New Brunswick train station on Saturday afternoon, as he and Anthony would be staying with us.  After a nice dinner at Origin’s in Somerville, we spent much of the evening and next morning talking music.  On Sunday afternoon, members of Quiet Storm, Kamau “Smitty” Akiba, William Nix, James Phillips and Ron Silva)  arrived at Classic Urban Harmony Headquarters for rehearsal.  Though they knew Gaynel as a FaceBook friend, this was the group members first opportunity to meet Gaynel.  Rehearsal was unbelievable!  Gaynel and Quiet Storm ran through each song, acappella, only a couple times to make changes in the keys or to certain chords.  We could easily imagine the Turks singing on the street corner in 1954.  The songs just flowed – “Father Time,” “I’m A Fool,” “Only You,” Earth Angel,” “Buzz Buzz Buzz”.  Smitty had the idea of using two drumsticks to “tick” away the time on “Father Time”.  As a change of pace, they added “Stand By Me”.

We all then headed to Roxy & Dukes, arriving at 5:45 pm, for a concert that was not to start until 8.  But the parking lot was already crowded with the singers and many ticketholders  who didn’t want to miss one minute.  An earlier afternoon event at Roxy & Dukes had just finished and tables were being set up.  Pam scrambled to get cards on each table to let each person know where they were seated.  We decided to open the doors early so people could meet Gaynel.  Roxy & Dukes was soon packed.  The audience looked like a “Who’s Who” of R&B and Doo Wop fans (see photos below)

Brooklyn Connection opened the night’s concert in strong form with the Frankie Lymon classics, “Share” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”.  .Brooklyn Connection received a strong welcome from the audience, many of whom were former members of UGHA where they frequently sang.  Tony Aquino now leads Brooklyn Connection on most of their songs and he did a fabulous job.  The group excelled at ballads like “Can I Come Over Tonight” (Velours), “No More” (Upfronts) and “Creation Of Love” (Teenagers) as well as up tempo songs like “ABC’s Of Love” (Teenagers) and “Traveling Stranger” (Imperials).  Warren Tesoro’s soaring falsetto on “Congratualions” (Turbans) drew a loud applause from the audience as did Cal Ng’s “Don’t Say Goodnight” (Valentines).  The audience demanded an encore, so the group ended with “The Things I Love” (Fidelities).  Our thanks to Tony Aquino, Warren Tesoro, Les Levine, Cal Ng and Tino Alvarez.

An intermission allowed members of the audience to meet and take photos with Gaynel Hodge and even pick up a copy of his new CD, “Doo Wop” along with an autographed Turks photo.  The line to meet him was so long it was hard to get everyone’s attendtion to start the next part of the concert.

Jimmy Keyes’ Chords took the stage stage for the next segment, warming up the crowd with the Drifters’ “Whatcha Gonna Do”.  They then alternated songs made famous by the Chords and the Ravens, delighting the record collectors in the audience.  Any group needs a special kind of bass singer to pull of Ravens’ songs and Jimmy Keyes’ Chords have that singer in Tito Rivera.  Tito’s powerful bass thundered through Jimmy Ricks songs like “Green Eyes,” “Count Every Star,” Begin The Beguine” and “You Don’t Have To Drop A Heart To Break It”.  UGHA fans in the audience remember Tito from his work with the Four Sevilles.  Of course, the group had many great Chords songs, too, including “Lu Lu,” “Zippity Zoom,” “Bless You” and “Sh-Boom”.  One of the many highlights of the evening was Jimmy Keyes’ Chords rendition of “Little Maiden,” the flip of “Sh-Boom,” which they absolutely nailed!  Many thanks to Tito Rivera, Al Moe Jr., Sergio Clark and Raymond Sanders.

After another short intermission, we (Pam & Charlie Horner) brought out Gaynel Hodge and presented him with a plaque inscribed with the words “Classic Urban Harmony honors Gaynel Hodge of the Platters, Hollywood Flames, Turks, for outstanding accomplishments as a singer, musician and composer in the field of R&B vocal harmony – presented March 19, 2007.”  With that, Quiet Storm came out and Gaynel launched into “Father Time,” a song he’d originally written for the Platters but instead recorded it himself with the Turks.  Gaynel and Quiet Storm followed with another Turks song, “Emily”.  Gaynel’s lead was superb and Quiet Storm’s harmony was powerful and flawless.  The audience’s applauses were long and enthusiastic, as most people their were well familiar with Gaynel’s records.  It was as if we’d been transported back to 1955 and the original Turks were on stage.  And all of this was done acappella!

Next up were “Earth Angel,” the song Gaynel co-wrote and “Only You” from the Platters Federal label days.  Both were magnificently done.  Gaynel bumped up the tempo with “Stand By Me” and tried to end the set but the audience wouldn’t let him, calling out some of his songs for him to sing.  So Gaynel and Quiet Storm sang another Turks song, “I’m A Fool,” which again brought the house down.  Wanting to give the audience one more song before the encore, Gaynel suggested he sing a solo of “I Know,” since he had not rehearsed it with Quiet Storm.  However, Quiet Storm was well familiar with how the record went and immediately filled in the background.  The result was as perfect as the record, in spite of the fact that they’d never sung that with Gaynel prior to that moment.

As a grand finale, Gaynel invited all the other singers on stage to join him and Quiet Storm on an acappella version of the Hollywood Flames’ “Buzz Buzz Buzz”.

Gaynel is now on his way back to the Netherlands.  We hope to work with Gaynel Hodge again.  But regardless of what the future brings, this will be an evening that everyone there at Roxy & Dukes will never forget.  We thank all who came out to support us and only wish we could have fit more people in.  How will we ever match what we’ve accomplished in the past couple weeks?  Right now we don’t know, but we’ll work on it. – Charlie & Pam Horner

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