In keeping with the holidays, Classic Urban
Harmony turns the spotlight on a legendary harmony "Sound of the Season".
The Orioles - "Lonely
One of the greatest R&B vocal group
Christmas songs of all time was brought to us by the group that started it
all, the Orioles. Earlington Tilghman (Sonny Til), George Nelson,
Alexander Sharp, Johnny Reed and Tommy Gaither burst onto the scene in the Fall
of 1948 with the guidance of songwriter-manager extraordinaire, Deborah Chessler. Deborah's masterpiece, "It's Too Soon To Know," as recorded by
the Orioles, revolutionized the music industry and gave birth to Rhythm &
(The Orioles ca. 1948: Left
to right, Top Row: Alex Sharp,
George Nelson, Sonny Til. Bottom Row: Tommy Gaither, Johnny Reed)
The group's second record, "To Be To You"
(Jubilee #5001), came out in December 1948 and was paired with a Christmas
side, "(It's Going To Be A) Lonely Christmas." In spite of the fact that
"It's Too Soon To Know" was still selling strong at the time, "Lonely
Christmas" quickly climbed to #8 on the R&B Charts (called Race
Record Charts at the time). Being a seasonal
record, it didn't last on the charts very long. In January 1949, Jubilee
began pressing "To Be To You" with "Dare To Dream" as the flip. Thus
Jubilee #5001 with "Lonely Christmas" on one side was only on sale for about a
month! That explains why this record, available only on 78 RPM, is one
of the rarest of the Orioles' records to find today.
(Rare 1948 promo 78 of
Jubilee #5001, from CUH Archives)
A year later (December 1949), Jubilee again
released "Lonely Christmas", this time as Jubilee #5017, paired with "What Are
You Doing New Years Eve." For the second year in a row, the Orioles'
"Lonely Christmas" peaked in the R&B Top Ten Charts, reaching #5. The
New Years flip also reached #9.
(1949 Issuing of Lonely
Christmas" on Jubilee #5017, from CUH Archives)
In the 1950's Jubilee continued to press
#5017, "Lonely Christmas" b/w ""What Are You Doing New Years Eve" every
Christmas season. Through Christmas in 1952, copies on 78 and 45 RPM
featured the "script" Jubilee label.
(Rare, ca. 1950 "script"
label 45 of Jubilee #5017, from CUH Archives)
By Christmas 1953, 45 RPM copies of Jubilee
#5017 no longer bore the script label, but instead used a label with "Jubilee"
(ca. 1954 45 RPM issuing of
Jubilee #5017, from CUH Archives)
One interesting piece from the early 1950's
is a picture sleeve for Jubilee #5017.
(Rare picture sleeve from 45
of Jubilee #5017)
By the late 1950's/early 1960's, Jubilee
#5017 was being reissued on Jubilee's black label.
(Late 1950's/early 1960's
pressing of Jubilee #5017, from CUH Archives)
In 1962, Sonny Til reformed the
Orioles while living in Philadelphia. Sonny first recruited former
Spaniels bass Gerald Gregory. The Spaniels had also ended up in Philadelphia, with former Castelles' Billy
Taylor replacing Pookie Hudson at lead. Gregory brought Billy Taylor
into the Orioles and Taylor in turn brought in his friend Delton McCall who'd
formerly filled in with the Castelles and Dreams. The group recorded a
remake of "Lonely Christmas" for the Charlie Parker label. It came out
as a single in November 1962.
45 of "Lonely Christmas" by
the 1960's Orioles
The early 1960's Orioles were
actually Sonny's third Orioles group. Members are shown here
(Sonny Til with Charlie Horner,
(Gerald Gregory with Pam
Horner, late 1990's)
[Billy Taylor (left) and Delton
All of the original Orioles are now gone.
In 2009 we lost Billy Taylor, the last of the sixties' Orioles. "(It's Gonna Be
A) Lonely Christmas" is still an annual seasonal favorite, withstanding the
test of time; a tribute to the singers who created it.
For this year's Holiday Harmony
spotlighted record, click
Drifters' "White Christmas."
(c) 2008, Classic Urban
Harmony LLC. All rights reserved.