Vibranaires, Vibes, V-Eights, Orioles
Bobby Thomas, November
Thomas, pioneer of R&B vocal group harmony in Asbury Park, NJ and member of
the Vibranaires, Vibes, V-Eights and Orioles, left this world at 1:30 AM on
May 3, 2012. Bobby was only a few day short of his 77th birthday (we
believe May 9). He died of complications from diabetes.
Thomas was born in Point Pleasant, NJ and moved with his family to Asbury
Park when he was 2. In 1948, at the age 13, Bobby’s life was profoundly
changed when he first heard the song “It’s Too Soon To Know” by the Orioles
playing on the radio. Bobby was mesmerized by the tune and vowed to form
his own vocal group, initially called the Crooners. Not only did the
Crooners sing Orioles tunes, Bobby Thomas’ lead voice sounded very much like
the Orioles’ lead Sonny Til.
Park of Bobby Thomas’ childhood was a segregated city with an active
entertainment scene in the black section of town, called the West Side. Yet
it was a Gospel singer and radio dee jay, Arthur Morris, who gave Bobby
Thomas’ young group its beginning. Morris was the lead singer of Asbury Park’s
Golden Harmonaires and hosted their weekly radio show on WLJK. Morris had
the Crooners sing on his radio show.
personnel changes, the Crooners became the Vibranaires in 1950, never
realizing that their idols, the Orioles, had also used that name earlier in
Bobby Thomas, top
(Photo courtesy of Bobby Thomas)
The Vibranaires were singing at the Three Towers Inn in South Somerville, NJ
in 1954 when they were discovered by WNJR disc jockey Joe Turnero. Joe
introduced the group to Flap Hanford, a nightclub owner in Harlem, who
decided to record the Vibranaires. Two classic records followed: “Doll
Face” on the After Hours label and “Stop Torturing Me’ under the name
the Vibes for the Chariot label.
The records made the Vibranaires, now called the Vibes, instant heroes in
their Asbury Park West Side neighborhood. Though some members of the Vibes
left the group over the next few years, Bobby Thomas never had trouble
finding replacements, including a young Lenny Welch prior to his moving to
NYC and going solo.
Bobby Thomas (left) & the
Lenny Welch, second from the left.
Photo courtesy of Bobby Thomas.
The Vibes broke up when Bobby Thomas entered the service in 1958. While in
Korea, Bobby Thomas started a vocal group there to play USO show. That
group also contained “Carnation” Charlie Hughes (of the Drifters and
After the army, Bobby Thomas returned to Asbury Park in 1960. He was asked
by his friend and former Vibranaires’ member, Roosevelt McDuffie, to join a
local group called the V-Eights. The V-Eights had begun their career
recording as the Ray Dots on Gervis Tillman’s Vibro label but were
short one member. Bobby joined the V-Eights and was on all three of their
Vibro label releases. “Papa’s Yellow Tie” b/w “My Heart” was also
picked up by ABC-Paramount but failed to chart nationally.
Failing to find success singing harmony with the V-Eights, Bobby Thomas took
two members of the V-Eights and added a fourth member to restart the
Vibranaires. This group continued singing locally until 1966.
At that time, Sonny Til was booked into the Apollo Theatre in NYC but needed
an Orioles group, as his last Orioles had broken up. Having met and
befriended Bobby Thomas years before, Sonny Til asked Bobby Thomas to put
together a new Orioles to back him at the Apollo. Thus the Orioles became
Sonny Til, Bobby Thomas, Mike Robinson and Bobby Young. All except Sonny
Til were from the Asbury Park area.
Bobby Thomas continued singing with Sonny Til & the Orioles from 1966 until
1974, appearing on two Orioles’ RCA albums. After that, Bobby again
sang with the Vibranaires, appearing on numerous United in Group Harmony
Association shows. When Sonny Till died in 1981, Bobby started his own
Orioles group in tribute to Sonny. For a time, this Orioles group also
contained original Orioles bass singer, Johnny Reed.
Bobby Thomas continued singing the rest of his life. In recent years he
would sing solo. After Pamela and Charlie Horner had Bobby sing “Doll Face”
backed by the acappella group, the Sheps, at their 5th
Anniversary celebration, Bobby Thomas got back into acappella singing (his
roots). He then did a number of shows paying tribute to the Orioles backed
by the acappella group Quiet Storm. His last performance was on the Soul of
Asbury Park concert on November 12, 2011.
Bobby Thomas & Quiet Storm, "Crying In The Chapel"
Bobby Thomas, Pam &
Charlie at CUH Headquarters, 2010
Bobby Thomas rehearsing
with the Sheps, CUH Headquarters, 2010
Bobby Thomas (left)
singing with the Sheps
Pam & Charlie's 5th Anniversary, 2010
to right: Pam, Jim Bakay, Vic Donna, Shelly Buchansky, Bobby Thomas
at Classic Urban Harmony World Headquarters, 2009
Thomas (left) with Quiet Storm,
Morristown, NJ July 29, 2011.
Bobby Thomas, Charlie.
Morristown, NJ July 29, 2011
Thomas at our June 8, 2011 CUH Presentation
Morris Museum, Morristown, NJ
Happier Times: Bobby Thomas at Asbury Park's Wonder Bar
Thomas in Asbury Park
(Photo courtesy of Don Stine)
Details of Bobby Thomas’ singing career are available in a two part
article in Echoes of the Past magazine dealing with Asbury
Park’s West Side vocal groups. Bobby was working with Charlie &
Pamela Horner on researching those articles when he became ill early
in 2012. Charlie & Pam’s Classic Urban Harmony multimedia
presentation on Asbury Park vocal groups was held in Bobby Thomas’
honor and the venue was packed to capacity.
Left to Right: Ron Coleman (Broadways), Pam &
Charlie, Billy Brown (Broadways,
Ray Goodman & Brown), Bobby Thomas. Photo taken three weeks
before Bobby was hospitalized,
as we all worked to put together the presentation on Asbury Park's
West Side Singers.
Bobby Thomas was a talented singer and a well respected pioneer of R&B group
harmony. He was a good friend to us and we will always treasure the times
we spent together. - Charlie & Pamela Horner
Copyright © Classic Urban Harmony LLC, 2012. All