Today Sonny Til would have been 89 years old. Sonny was born August 18, 1928. Sadly, not everyone knows the name Sonny Til, though visitors to our website probably do. Sonny Til was the lead singer of the Orioles, one of the most influential vocal groups in American music history. The Orioles were the first true R&B vocal group. They inspired generations of R&B, Doo Wop and Soul vocal groups that came after them. Don’t call the Orioles a Doo Wop group, as Doo Wop was not a genre when the Orioles music reached a peak. But without the Orioles there might not have ever been Doo Wop, or at least it would have been quite different. And don’t think of the Orioles as just another Rhythm & Blues vocal group. The Orioles were the Rhythm & Blues group. In fact, Orioles manager, songwriter and mentor, Deborah Chessler once told me that Jerry Wexler first coined the term “Rhythm & Blues” primarily due to the success of the Orioles.
The Orioles first recording, the Deborah Chessler penned It’s Too Soon To Know,” first hit the radio this week, 69 years ago in August of 1948. Herman Denby of the Swallows and Ernie Warren of the Cardinals both told me that at that time, all the singing groups were looking for a new direction. They didn’t know what they were looking for but if they heard it, they’d know. When they heard “It’s Too Soon To Know” on the radio, they said, “That’s It! That’s the sound we’ve been looking for.”
Next year will be the 90th anniversary of Sonny Til’s birth and the 70th anniversary of the birth of rhythm & Blues. We’ll have something else to celebrate as the musical “Soul Harmony: The Story of Deborah Chessler, Sonny Til and the Orioles” comes to the East Coast for a ten-day run at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center in West Chester, PA. And the part of Sonny Til is being played by his grandson, De’Sean Dooley. The musical opens June 20 and runs there for ten days. A special Classic Urban Harmony acappella show will also be held there on Saturday night June 23, starring De’Sean Dooley singing his grandfather’s Orioles songs acappella backed by Quiet Storm. Attendees staying over, can catch the Sunday matinee performance of “Soul Harmony” the next day. Tickets to “Soul Harmony” are on sale now at www.uptownwestchester.org Tickets to our June 23 acappella concert will be on sale soon. 2018 will also see the issuing of CD’s of never before released performances from the newly opened Sonny Til Archives.
A year ago, we at Classic Urban Harmony, called for this day, August 18, Sonny Til’s birthday, be set aside as “National R&B Vocal Group Day.” Our idea went largely ignored so we’ll try again this year.
I am proud to have had Sonny Til, and now his son Ricky and grandson, De’Sean Dooley, as friends. From Pam and myself, and from tens of thousands of fans, “Happy Birthday Sonny, and THANK YOU!”