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Bells & Contessas
Strain & the Imperials, 1964 -, Part 4 in the series
Strain & the Imperials, 1961 - 1963 Part 3
Strain & the Fantastics Part 2
Strain & the Chips Part 1
Park Vocal Groups Pt. 2
Park Vocal Groups, Pt.1
Jimmy & The Tops
& Twilights, Deckers
from Philly's Francisville - Belltones, Joe Cook's Thrillers, Royal Demons,
- Part 1
- Part 2
Maestro, the Crests & Brooklyn Bridge
Stiles & the Medallions on Essex
Vic Donna Story
& the Nu-Ports
City Harmony: Calvaes, Blenders & Accents
The Del Larks
Richard Barrett Part 1:
Frankie Lymon & Teenagers
The Chantels, Clickettes,
Little Anthony & Imperials
Part 5: Lewis Lymon &
Teenchords Jimmy Castor & Juniors
Isley Bros, Del Knights
Richard Barrett Part 7: The 3 Degrees, Showmen
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1950's R&B &
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Doo Wop Groups
Classic Urban Harmony
Bookshelf (now includes
Ever wonder what we at Classic Urban Harmony do in our spare
time when we're not researching and giving multimedia presentations,
interviewing vocal group members, attending and reviewing concerts, writing
articles, updating the website and listening to records? Well, we read
books about our music. Our library at the CUH World Headquarters has more
than 500 books on topics from Spirituals to R&B to Doo Wop to Soul music.
We recently donated more than 200+ books on Jazz to the Harlem Jazz Museum
to make room for all the new books being published.
As fans of group harmony music we thought you'd like to
know what books we're reading. On this page, we'll spotlight those
books that have been interesting enough for us to purchase and read.
We're not going to write lengthy reviews but we will give you an idea of
what's in each book and the audience it hopes to reach - casual music
history fan, serious researcher/historian, reference use only, etc.
We'll be adding to this page frequently, so check back often.
Should you wish to obtain a copy of any of these books for yourself, click on the book's photo and be sent to Amazon.com
to purchase one -
that's completely up to you.
What We're Reading and Watching Now
School: 77 Years of Southern California R&B & Vocal Group Harmony Records
1934 – 2011” by Stephen Propes (self published), 2013. Large Paperback, 481
pages including index.
If you’re anything like I am, you can’t get enough detailed info about the
music we love. Well, Stephen Propes knows more about the Southern
California R&B & vocal group scene than anyone we know. And it looks like
the sum total of his decades of dedicated research and interviews with
hundreds of singers has been included in one book called “Old School”. In
481 pages, the author chronicles over 1400 R&B and vocal group records out
of Southern California by more than 850 groups and solo artists. Each
entry, starting with 1934 and running to 2011, contains the group members
and musicians, titles, original labels, local and national radio, record
store and industry chart positions, and fascinating stories about the
records and their artists, taken from the author’s own interviews. For
record collectors, info on the record’s scarcity and approximate value are
included. This is a massive work and a must have research resource for
music historians as well as anyone who has an interest in R&B and vocal
group music. Propes’ last book, “Los Angeles R&B Vocal Groups,” is out of
print now and is selling for $200 (well more than its original price).
Grab this one while it’s still available. – Charlie Horner
Did It First: Great Rhythm & Blues Cover Songs and their Original Artists”
by Bob Leszczak,
Scarecrow Press Inc. (2013), hard cover, 293 pages, many illustrations.
“Who Did It First” is the latest book to fill a gap in our knowledge of
rhythm & blues recordings. Author, Bob Leszczak, has spent three decades
as an on-air personality on numerous radio stations across the country.
Those of us who took part in the New Jersey group harmony scene back in
the day knew him as "Bobby L," respected record collector and talented
singer with groups like the Infernos and Duprees. Bob's credentials as a
music historian are beyond question. That's why we were anxious to read
this book. “Who
Did It First” is
a well researched reference book on R&B songs that were later covered and
made hits by artists other than the originals. We’re all aware of how
many 1950’s R&B songs by black artists were covered by white artists,
giving them access to white radio station air play and commercial
success. Yet this was just one reason why hundreds of “cover records”
outsold their original recordings, especially when the covers occur years
later. The author doesn’t try to unearth any undiscovered trends as to
why some versions outsell others, but instead lets the readers draw their
own conclusions through hundreds of individual song stories.
Almost 400 songs are listed here, along with original composers, artists
(year and label) and cover artist (year and label). Leszczak then goes on
to write a few paragraphs on each entry, detailing interesting info and
stories of the songs and artists. We've been students of R&B music for
almost 50 years and there are still many stories relayed here that we
Avenue: The Unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus” by Alex Halberstadt, Da
Capo Press (2007, 2008), paperback, 254 pages, some photographs and partial
You may not know the name Doc Pomus, but you certainly know his songs -
"Save The Last Dance For Me," "I Count The Tears," "This Magic Moment,"
"True Love True Love," "Sweets For My Sweet" (Drifters), "Teenager In
Love" (Dion & Belmonts), "Hushabye" (Mystics), "Let's Kiss & Make Up"
(Crowns), "Young Blood" (Coasters) and a hundred more. Doc Pomus was
crippled by polio at the age of six but went on to become a blues singer
and highly successful songwriter. Now, Doc Pomus died in 1991 and this
biography came out in 2007. Pam and I have a lot on our plate and it
sometimes takes me a while to get around to reading everything that's
coming out. Anyway, I ordered Alex Halberstadt's "Lonely Avenue: The
Unlikely Life & Times Of Doc Pomus" on line a couple months ago. When I
received it, the binding on my copy was poorly done making the pages
harder to turn and I was tempted to return it. Something told me to keep
the book and read it and I'm so glad I did. This is one of the best
books I've ever read and I read a lot. With the help of Doc Pomus'
detailed personal journals, this true story reads like a novel. It is
fascinating, inspirational and emotional. Above all it gives tremendous
insight into heart and mind of one of the more important figures in the
development of R&B and R&R music. Since Pomus' life was intertwined with
the birth and growth of Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll, this makes for a
fascinating book. Pomus' life was a constant struggle to overcome both
his physical limitations and personal demons. This is a captivating book
that you won't want to put down."
Groups: Fabulous Females Who Rocked the World” 2nd Edition by
John Clemente, AuthorHouse (2013), soft cover large format, 623 pages,
many photographs and discographies.
In 2000, John Clemente published his first edition of “Girl
Groups’ and we thought that was a great addition to our collective
knowledge of vocal group harmony. In fact we’ve used that book as a
research reference more times than we can count. Now, 13 years later,
John has issued an expanded 2nd edition that is not only
updated but more than twice as large. The book gives detailed profiles of
more than 70 female vocal groups from the 50’s and 60’s with even a few
excursions into the 70’s and 80’s. Over 140 singers were interviewed for
this book. It contains countless rare photos and each group’s chapter
begins with a chronology of the group members and ends with a complete
discography. In between is a group’s bio, in considerable detail. Years
of work in preparation, the 2nd Edition of “Girl Groups”
belongs in the library of every group harmony enthusiast. Girl Groups can
be ordered directly from the author by sending a check or money order for
$40 to John Clemente, 171 Beverly Hill Rd., Clifton, NJ 07012.
Comedian Harmonists: The Last Great Jewish Performers in Nazi Germany” by
Douglas E. Friedman, Harmony Songs Publications (2010), Soft cover, 306
pages, 180 photos.
The Comedian Harmonists were a German male sextet of the late 1920’s and
1930’s who vocally imitated musical instruments similar to the Mills
Brothers while singing in close harmony. There’s been prior research on
this important vocal group, but until now it’s been mostly in the German
language. This book is the first compete and extremely detailed story of
the Comedian Harmonists written in English and it tells of the group’s
successes and tribulations. Their inspiration to sing came from hearing
the American vocal group, the Revelers. While the Comedian Harmonists
were extremely popular, they were persecuted with the rise in Nazism in
Germany because three of their members were Jewish. The book puts the
group’s story in context with the politics, anti-Semitism and horrors of
Nazi Germany. We commend the author for his dedication and thorough
research in producing such a detailed biography. It covers the Comedian
Harmonists story from beginning to end, even detailing what happened to
each of the members after the group broke up. In addition, there are ten
appendices including a Comedian Harmonists timeline, biographical
information on each of the singers, a complete discography, a list of all
known concerts by the Comedian Harmonists and each of their spin-off
groups, film and radio appearances, related websites, a bibliography and
much, much more. This is a very well written, well researched book that
will be of extreme interest to people who want to learn about the Comedian
Harmonists and their struggles in Nazi Germany. All profits from this
book are being donated to the Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Education
Center at Brookdale Community College. - Pamela Horner
Blues...Memories of a New Orleans Music Man” by Harold Battiste Jr.
“Unfinished Blues: Memories of a New Orleans Music Man”
is the autobiography of New Orleans born composer, producer and arranger
Harold Battiste Jr. Unless you’re deeply into music research as we are,
you may not recognize the name but you surely remember such songs as “You
Send Me” (Sam Cooke), “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More)” (Barbara
George), “You Talk Too Much” (Joe Jones), “Ya Ya” (Lee Dorsey), “Lipstick
Traces” (O’Jays), “It’s All Over Now” (Valentinos) and “I Got You Babe”
(Sonny & Cher). Harold Battista arranged and/or produced all of them. I
picked up this book on our recent trip to New Orleans, mostly because I
was interested in Battiste’s work with Specialty Records in Los
Angeles and the AFO label (which he founded) in New Orleans. [How
often do you find a book with a photo of the Blenders on AFO?] AFO
was one of the country’s first African American musician owned and
operated record labels. I was pleased to find fascinating discussions of
the 1950’s New Orleans and Los Angeles music scenes, as well as great
stories about the recording of “You Send Me,” Sonny Bono’s early career at
Specialty Records and of course Barbara George’s “I Know”. These
are stories only Battiste can tell and I’m so glad he decided to write
about his life. Of course, much of the book deals with New Orleans jazz
and Battiste’s work with Sonny & Cher. While my primary field is R&B and
vocal group history, the book never-the-less held my interest from start
to finish. If you have a strong interest in jazz or popular music history
this book belongs on your bookshelf. – Charlie Horner
Encyclopedia of Early American Vocal Groups: 100 Years of Harmony 1850
–1950,” Douglas E. Friedman & Anthony J. Gribin, (2013). Soft cover, 573
The field of vocal group harmony in American popular music encompasses so
many different fields, including groups singing African American
spirituals, white minstrel songs, early pop, barbershop, gospel, blues,
jazz, big band and rhythm & blues harmony, etc., that those of us who
research this field tend to specialize. We do this because no one can be
an authority in all fields of group harmony. However, when we specialize,
it’s easy to lose track of where our own sub genres fit into the whole
picture. Until now, there has not been a comprehensive work that reviews
the field of group harmony in general and puts all of the sub categories
Friedman and Gribbin have done a masterful and comprehensive job of
reviewing the enormous volume of existing literature of vocal harmony
between 1850 and 1950 and summarizing it for us in the first 94 pages of
this book. To distill 100 years of group harmony into less than 100 pages
and still cover all the relevant developments and style changes is quite
an accomplishment. The authors not only did this but linked group
harmony’s growth to technological developments like the advent of recorded
sound, radio, motion pictures, jukeboxes, etc. Of equal treatment were
the effects of social and economic changes, music industry economics,
WWII, musician strikes, etc. All of this was done in an easy to read,
free flowing style.
While the above review of the development of group harmony would have
alone been worth purchasing this encyclopedia, it is but one part of the
book. The next section, the Groupography, lists 168 pages of early vocals
groups, about 1500 in all. Each listing contains a sentence or two about
the group (sometimes more) and usually a reference.
The next section is the discography of the above mentioned groups, a
mammoth work of 232 pages (small print), with more than 15,000
recordings. Finally there are sections about groups on sheet music,
groups on post cards and various lists. The entire book is fully
illustrated with black & white photos of vocal groups, sheet music, etc.
This is a well done reference book that belongs in the library of anyone
wanting a comprehensive knowledge early (1850 – 1950) vocal group harmony.
- Charlie Horner
“Ernie K-Doe: The R&B
Emperor of New Orleans” by Ben Sandmel, The Historic New Orleans
Collection, (2012), Large Hardback, 286 pages including 130+ rare photos
of Ernie K-Doe and his memorabilia, many in color. Complete discography.
Everyone knows Ernie
K-Doe’s song “Mother-In-Law”. Ernie himself often boasted that there are
only two songs that will stand the test of time – “The Star Spangled
Banner” and “Mother-In-Law”. R&B fans will also recall “A Certain Girl” (Minit
label) and records by the Blue Diamonds (Savoy label), Ernie Kador
(Specialty label) and Ernie Kado (Ember label). Ernie
K-Doe’s life story is one of the most fascinating I’ve ever read. As an
entertainer, K-Doe was a talented singer, musician, radio personality and
club owner. As a person, K-Doe was as eccentric and egotistical as he was
good hearted. Ernie K-Doe’s life could only have happened in New Orleans,
where the unusual is accepted and sometimes even expected. After almost a
decade of struggling with his music career, K-Doe finally hit big in 1961
with the #1 song, “Mother-In-Law”. He would never reach that milestone
again and eventually sunk into desperate times as an alcoholic, sleeping
on the street. Amazingly, K-Doe turned himself around with the help of
his second wife Antoinette, declaring himself the “Emperor of the
Universe”. K-Doe held court from his throne inside the now legendary
Mother-In-Law Lounge, actually a museum to himself. After finally getting
recognition as an R&B pioneer, Ernie K-Doe’s life was cut short in 2001
when he died of cancer. But the K-Doe story didn’t die with him, as his
wife Antoinette had a mannequin made in his image and the mannequin
continued to greet visitors to the Mother-In-Law Lounge and make the
rounds to important New Orleans musical and social events. In fact,
K-Doe, the mannequin, even ran (unsuccessfully) for mayor of New Orleans,
five years after K-Doe’s death.
The Ernie K-Doe story is
informative and well researched, often hysterically funny and sometimes
sad, but never dull. Music history buffs will find all the facts about
his career and records that they are seeking, presented in a readable
way. More casual music fans will enjoy the story line and more than 130
photos, many in color, full page. There’s a complete discography at the
end. If you’re interested in R&B music, the New Orleans music scene, or
just want an entertaining read, pick this one up. – Charlie Horner
Lesson in A Cappella," Visual Communications Group, Inc., DVD
(2010), DVD, Length: 60 minutes.
We recently started adding reviews of DVD's to our Bookshelf Page and are
in the process of going back and discussing recently released DVD's that
are relevant to our music. "A Lesson In A Cappella," was produced by
Keith Lewis and Jim Power. This engrossing one-hour documentary
explains the concepts and history of a Capella singing, tapping the
insights of a number of knowledgeable music authorities and using
performances by a number of great acappella groups as illustrations. The
film contains performances by the vocal groups Choice, A Perfect Blend,
Shades of Soul, Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town, TruSol and even a cameo
appearance by Charlie Horner. Very informative and at the same time
entertaining with a lot of acappella singing. Another great addition
to your DVD library! To view a preview of the DVD click the YouTube below.
To order a purchase of the
www.aboutvcg.com and click Films at the top. [Teachers and
educators wishing to use this DVD as an educational tool are eligible for
a free copy.]
Melody Man: Joe Davis and the New York Music Scene, 1916 – 1978” by Bruce
Bastin with Kip Lornell, University Press of MS, (2012), Hardback, 332
Without question, Joe Davis was a major figure in American popular music
for more than sixty years. Born in 1896 when recorded music was in its
infancy, Joe Davis excelled as a promoter, music publisher, performer,
label owner (Gennett, Beacon, Celebrity, Jay-Dee, Davis, etc.) and A&R man
from before there was radio through the R&R eras of the fifties, sixties
and into the seventies. It’s hard to think of anyone else in the music
business that successfully survived that long and saw the changes that Joe
Davis saw. What makes Joe Davis so important to us, was his fondness for
black music and his willingness to pioneer the promotion of black music
along with his other musical interests. Joe Davis influenced the careers
of everyone from Fats Waller to Otis Blackwell. Perhaps of most interest
to vocal group harmony fans, were Joe Davis’ effects on the careers of the
Red Caps, Deep River Boys, Blenders, Dean Barlow & the Crickets, Lillian
Leech & the Mellows and many others.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the fact that Joe Davis died before
anyone thought of interviewing him for a biography. His insight would
have been priceless. Fortunately, Bruce Bastin was able to gain access to
Joe Davis’ enormous volume of personal and business files, from which this
book was written. For this painstaking and laborious job, Bastin is to be
commended. It is a magnificent collection of facts and information that
would have otherwise likely have been lost forever. The authors make
every attempt to paint a picture of Joe Davis through his notes and
files. Still, the absence of Davis’ personal input (not the authors’
fault) leaves this book an excellent reference book but not a casual
Having read “The Melody Man” from cover to cover, I learned a lot, though
my interest peaked in the last third of the book when the subject matter
advanced to eras I was more familiar with. This is a long overdue
addition to our library. – Charlie Horner
Corner Harmony,” Mellow Sounds Productions, DVD (2010), Length: 63
The DVD “Street Corner Harmony” tells the story of doo wop acappella singing
in the 1960’s. This is an area that has largely gone undocumented until
Abraham Santiago and Steven Dunham 2006 book “Acappella Street Corner Vocal
be reviewing that book shortly on our Bookshelf Page.] This DVD
is a welcomed companion to the book.
Let’s be clear about what genre is covered here. It’s not meant to cover
1950’s R&B groups that sang acappella on the street corners but recorded
with instrumentation. Nor does it attempt to include the doo wop acappella
singing inspired by Ronnie I. and the United in Group Harmony Association
which began in the late 1970’s and continues today. The subjects of this DVD
(and the book) are the doo wop groups of the 1960’s that sang acappella and
were recorded acappella. These groups were located primarily in
NYC, New Jersey, Connecticut and Philadelphia. The genre seems to have
started at Slim Rose’ Times Square Records and spread rapidly, thanks to the
efforts of people like Wayne Stierle, Donn Feliti, Eddie Gries, Stan Krause
In covering this genre, the DVD “Street Corner Harmony” does an outstanding
job. It explains the development of the 1960’s doo wop acappella field in an
informative and entertaining way. It mixes recordings, live singing and
interviews with many of the key singers of the time, including the
Persuasions, Five Jades, Chessmen, Five Sharks, Heartaches, Concepts and
many more. If you lived in New York, or Newark, or Jersey City or Seaside
Heights or Philly in the 1960’s and remember the acappella scene, or if
you’d like to learn about it, this DVD is a must have. To watch a trailer to
the DVD click the YouTube (below). To go to Amazon.com
and purchase a copy click on the photo of the DVD (above).
Do This You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Tradition"
Lynn Abbott & Doug Seroff, University Press of MS, (2013), Hardback. 366
pages of text; 62 more pages of notes; full index; numerous photos.
I have just finished reading Lynn Abbott
and Doug Seroff's monumental new book, "To Do This You Must Know How:
Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Tradition". The book traces "the
currents of black gospel quartet instruction from the halls of Fisk
University to the mining camps of Birmingham and Bessemer, Alabama, and on
to Chicago and New Orleans." It follows the history of black gospel
quartet singing through a detailed study of those who taught the quartet
singers the songs and how to sing them. While many will be tempted to use
this book only as a reference book (it's not light reading), I read it
from cover to cover and found it fascinating. For the first time I gained
comprehensive insight into how spiritual and gospel quartet singing
changed from the earlier more traditional barbershop harmonies to the more
rhythmic vocal styles of the 1940's and the emotional styles after that.
It was amazing to me to follow how Birmingham quartet styling was spread
to Chicago and New Orleans through the efforts of relatively few teachers
and singers. This book fills a prior gap in our understanding of quartet
harmony history and Misters Abbott and Seroff should be commended for
their 30+ years of painstaking research and documentation. Without them,
this important piece of history would most certainly have been lost. As
one old singer expressed to the authors upon learning that someone had
finally come to interview him, "I knew you were coming. I didn't know who
you would be, but I knew you were coming." The book is an incredible
reference book and a must have for any serious vocal quartet music
researcher's library. It is now available for purchase through Amazon.
Click the book's photo (above) to go to Amazon.com - Charlie Horner
T: The Untold Story of Willie” “Bill” Johnson and his life before, during,
and after The Golden Gate Quartet," by Chandra J. Johnson, self published,
(2012), Paperback, 239 pages, including CD discography.
The Los Angeles Times named the Golden Gate Quartet’s lead Willie Johnson
“the Gospel innovator of Rock N’ Roll”. The Golden Gate Quartet was so
much more than the previous statement indicates. The “Gates” were the
most important Gospel and Spiritual vocal quartet of the 20th
Century. They gave rhythm and a beat to Gospel music and influenced
thousands of vocal groups in all musical genres. The Gates performed
close-harmony black spirituals with rhythmic accents and narratives. It
took thirty years for Chandra J. Johnson to finish writing the life story
of her father, Willie “Bill “Johnson. Ms. Johnson only found out how
important her father was by reading an obituary on him. He never spoke to
her of his involvement in Gospel singing. The GGQ formed in Eddie “A.C.”
Griffin’s Norfolk VA barbershop. Barbershops in the Tidewater area of
Virginia were a hot bed of quartet singing in the 1930’s. Willie left The
Golden Gate Quartet in 1947 to join the Jubalaires. This book begins with
great detail about Willie’s family genealogy which is a little hard to
follow due to the difficulties of tracing black family history through the
1800’s. However, when the book gets to Willie Johnson’s involvement with
the Golden Gate Quartet it provides fascinating insight into the Gates’
music career, especially in context with what was happening historically.
The book is very complete with a chronology of events, a bibliography, and
vital records and census materials section. Many people helped Ms
Johnson delve into her father’s past including our friend Doug Seroff who
was called a folk artist and author. This is an incredible story that is
well researched, well told and very detailed.
Walkin' In The Rain: The True Story of Johnny Bragg & The Prisonaires," by
Jay Warner, Renaissance Books, (2001), Hardback, 251 pages and discography.
The Jay Warner authored “Just Walkin’
in the Rain” tells about the inspirational and yet tragic story of Johnny
Bragg who was incarcerated in The Tennessee State Penitentiary in
Nashville. Johnny joined a quintet that named itself the Prisonaires and
eventually sang for the governor of Tennessee and recorded for Sam
Phillip’s Sun Record label. The Prisonaires would become one of
the classic R&B vocal groups of the 1950’s. Everyone knows the song “Just
Walkin’ in the Rain” by Johnny Ray which became a blockbuster hit. Well,
it was written by Johnny Bragg. Warner’s saga is an eye opener, yet very
enlightening on how music can lift one up. - Pamela Horner
Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Adkins,” by Cholly Adkins &
Jacqui Malone, Columbia University Press, (2001), Paperback, 260 pages
studied R&B and Doo Wop vocal groups all my life, and thought I knew quite
a bit. Reading “Class Act” made me realize I’d missed a vital part of
what made the great vocal groups so great. Singing is only one part of
entertaining. Lots of groups could sing harmony. But the great groups,
the Cadillacs, the Moonglows, the Dominoes, the Five Keys, the Teenagers,
the Heartbeats, the Temptations, the Miracles, the Pips and the O’Jays,
all learned stage presence and choreography from Cholly Adkins. And
hundreds of other groups learned their steps by watching the groups that
Cholly taught. Cholly Adkins was a master of jazz dance and tap. During
the 1930’s and 1940’s he was one of the best, often teaming with Honey
Coles, he would tour the country with the great jazz bands led by Louis
Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Count Basie. By the mid-1950’s tap had peaked
and was in decline in popularity. Coles took a job as stage production
manager at the Apollo Theater and Adkins began teaching choreography to
R&B and doo wop vocal groups. First he worked with the Regals and
Cadillacs. Then Richard Barrett and George Goldner hired him to teach
choreography to the Teenagers, Cleftones, Imperials and Chantels. From
there it was the Moonglows and dozens of other well known groups. When
teenage vocal groups showed up to play the Apollo after having their first
hit record, they often had no stage presence. Honey Coles would send them
down to Cholly Adkins to prepare them for a week at the Apollo. As the
doo wop age ended, Moonglows’ lead Harvey Fuqua hired Cholly Adkins as
Choreography Director at Motown Records. There he taught and directed the
stage moves of the Temptations, Supremes, Miracles, Contours, Spinners,
Martha & Vandellas, Marvin Gaye – well you get the picture. After Motown,
Cholly Adkins worked with the O’Jays, Gladys Knight & Pips, Tavares,
Manhattans, New Kids on the Block, Blue Magic and many more. In fact, at
the end of this book there’s a list of 80 well known vocal groups (and 25
single artists) that Cholly Adkins taught steps to.
This is a
great read and Cholly Adkins deserves much credit for the Golden Age of
Vocal Groups. While vocal groups come into play until half way through
the book, the first half is necessary, and enjoyable, reading to give you
an idea of how Cholly’s life (and the choreography) evolved. There’s even
a Glossary in the back for those of us not real familiar with jazz dance.
If you want to really understand how and why vocal group music came to
popularity in the fifties, sixties and seventies, this book is a must
read. – Charlie Horner
Berry: The Autobiography” by Chuck Berry, Harmony Books, (1987), Hardback,
Seeing Chuck Berry perform in Cleveland recently, gave me incentive to
re-read his autobiography that’d I’d read some years back. Without
question, Chuck Berry is one of the most important figures in Rock & Roll
and understanding where his music came from is vital to understanding Rock
& Roll itself. Chuck Berry’s autobiography is the life of Chuck Berry
through the eyes of Chuck Berry. As a music historian, I might have put
more emphasis on other aspects of his career, but then this is what Chuck
felt was important to his life story. The book is at times fascinating
and at times a little too candid for me, especially regarding his
relationships with the women in his life. But when a true R&R legend
writes an autobiography, it’s always a must read. Nice discography at the
end. I have the hardback copy from 1987 but I believe there’s a paperback
reprint from 2001. You should be able to find a copy on Amazon at a
reasonable price. Click the photo of the book to look for one.
Up: The Autobiography of Skipper Lee” by Skipper Lee Frazier, Trafford
Pub., (2001/2006), Paperback, 200 pages.
Don’t know how I missed this one when it came out but I’m glad I bought
it. An easy read on the Houston (TX) radio personality and artist manager
who was responsible for the success of Archie Bell & the Drells and many
other Houston soul artists of the 1960’s. Nice stories about Archie Bell
& the Drells and the TSU Toronadoes. I would like to have read more about
other Houston artists on the Ovide label like the Masters of Soul,
but then I’m a historian and a stickler for detail. When you have an
autobiography you get insight into the times from someone who was there.
Lots of great photos! I could have skipped the last chapter about the
funeral business in Texas, but then I’m not from Texas. Otherwise, it’s a
nice read. I picked it up and read it in two nights. – Charlie Horner
‘Em Soul, Richard: Race, Radio & Rhythm & Blues in Chicago,” by Richard E.
Stamz with Patrick A. Roberts, University of Illinois Press (2010),
Paperback, 139 pages.
Richard Stamz was one of Chicago’s first African American radio
personalities in Chicago and his reflections in this book add a lot to our
knowledge of black radio in Chicago. Born in a barge on the Mississippi
River in 1906, Richard grew up in Memphis. Though brief, his stories of
life on Beale Street and racism in Memphis are invaluable. Richard moved
to Chicago in the early 1920’s. He toured with Ma Rainey and began
broadcasting from a sound truck, playing music over a loudspeaker in the
late 1930’s and early 1940’s before becoming involved in radio. His
involvement with music soon connected him with the United/States and
Chance labels By 1954 he was producing shows with the Five Chances.
Richard was perhaps best known for his radio show on WGES and later WVON.
His stories of another Chicago radio legend, Al Benson, are fascinating to
those of us who thrive on music history. An enjoyable book full of
insight to Chicago radio in the 1950’s and 1960’s. – Charlie Horner
Man Behind The Music: The Legendary Carl Davis,” by Carl Davis Sr., Life
To Legacy LLC (2011), Paperback, 210 pages.
We just lost Carl Davis a short time ago, and I wish I had published this
review before he passed. We met and corresponded with Carl and we
treasure the copy of this book that he autographed for us. For anyone
interested in Chicago soul music, this is a must read! Carl was active in
the Chicago music scene in the 1950’s so his stories of Chicago radio
icons George Benson and others are priceless. But by the 1960’s Carl
Davis had become one of the hottest R&B music producers in the country,
beginning with Gene Chandler’s “Duke Of Earl” and including his work with
Walter Jackson, Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance, the Artistics, the Opals,
Otis Leavill, Jackie Wilson, Barbara Acklin, the Chi-Lites and dozens of
others. Responsible for the success of the OKeh and Brunswick
labels of the 1960’s, Carl Davis was a giant on Chicago’s Record Row.
This book is not afraid to “tell it like it was” and is full of the
details we historians love, yet it is still a fascinating read. – Charlie
The Curtains: With The Volcanos and The Trammps,” by Stephen C. Kelly,
Friesen Press (2011), Paperback, 78 pages.
A very interesting read. This is a “tell all” book from the viewpoint of
Stephen C. Kelly, former member of the Philadelphia R&B groups the Superbs
and Volcanos. It gives insight into the Philly black music scene of the
late 50’s and 1960’s from someone who was there. Many times, artists who
write memoirs remember things differently than historians, so we can
forgive Stephen for a few mistakes on record release dates, etc. And we
would have liked to know a little more about the Superbs (“Rainbow Of
Love”). But overall, this book adds greatly to what we know about the
Vocanos (“Storm Warning”) and Trammps (“Disco Inferno” and many others).
We can neither confirm nor refute Stephen’s assessments of some of the
real life characters in the book, though in a few cases we’ve heard
similar opinions from other Philadelphia music people. – Charlie Horner
Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke" by Daniel Wolff, Wm Morrow & Co.
Inc, (1995), Hardback, 424 pages; Virgin Publishing (2011), 368 pages.
Daniel Wolff’s well researched book, 4th of July:
Asbury Park - A History of the Promised Land was on our must
read list of books for our presentation “West Side Harmony: Asbury Park’s
Vocal Group Legacy 1948-1968”. A chance meeting took place with Mr. Wolff
in Asbury Park. He reminded us that he had also written a book about Sam
Cooke. The book happened to be in our library but I had not yet read it.
I found this to be a definitive biography of this legendary figure in
American music and a very informative read!
It was especially enjoyable learning about Sam’s early singing experiences
with his siblings in a gospel group called “The Singing Children.” Sam
then went on to sing with the Highway Q C’s. He rose to be the lead of
the Soul Stirrers. Sam was very successful as the Soul Stirrer’s lead but
left gospel music and went on to sing and write secular music. He is
known as The King of Soul. This book delves into gospel music, civil
rights and Sam’s secular career. It also covers his early years. His
father was a minister and gospel music was how Sam started his career.
This singer, song writer, and record label owner was also a civil rights
After his early death at age 33, some of his songs were released including
“A Change is Gonna Come” which was an early protest song. Some people
regard this song as Sam Cooks’ greatest composition. Sam’s untimely end
(which remains an unsolved mystery) is a sad ending to a very triumphant
career. You’ll have to read the end of this book to make up your own mind
about what ended Sam Cooke’s life. - Pamela Horner
Jackson: The House That Jack Built" by Hal Jackson and James Haskins,
Amistad Press, (2001), Paperback, 201 pages; Colossus Books, (2003),
Hardback, 232 pages.
Hal Jackson, the legendary black radio pioneer died in New York City on
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at the age of 96. Jackson voice could be heard on
NYC radio for the past 50 years. He continued broadcasting up until several
weeks before his death. Fortunately, Jackson left us a fascinating
account of his life and career, in his autobiography, "Hal Jackson: The
House That Jack Built".
Born November 3, 1915 in Charleston, SC, Hal Jackson, started in radio in
Washington, DC, in 1939, at a time when blacks were generally not given a
chance to be on-air personalities.
1950’s Hal Jackson pioneered R&B and jazz on New York radio, quickly gaining
a huge following among white as well as black teenagers. His influence on
R&B music popularity was immense.
was a champion for civil rights and opened many doors for black
entertainers. He started the “House That Jack Built” radio show on WLIB in
NYC in 1949. He also produced and hosted R&B concerts at the Apollo
Theater, Carnegie Hall and at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. (Can
you imagine bringing the Five Keys, Clovers and Otis Williams & the Charms
to Carnegie Hall?)
This is an important read for
anyone wanting to understand what went on behind the scenes of R&B radio.
We read the hardback version that came out in 2001, though we surmise from
its 30 page longer re-release in paperback it has been updated. Mostly
out of print, but some used copies are still available through Amazon.
With Hal Jackson's passing, they may go fast. Click on the photo of
the book above to check availability.
Ditch Digger's Daughters: A Black Family's Astonishing Success Story" by
Yvonne S. Thornton, M.D., Kensington Publishing Corp., (1995), Paperback,
This very inspiring and well-written
true life story of a black family growing up in Long Branch, NJ is a story
of sheer will-power to survive and excel. The family survived prejudice
and all the daughters in the family excelled in their chosen fields.
Betty who was a ward of Nanna, became a member of the family after Nanna
died. Author Yvonne Thornton writes an amusing, powerful story of how the
family survived and persevered through difficult times. Yvonne became a
medical doctor, Rita is the head of the science department in a private
school Betty became a nurse. Linda is a dentist, Donna is a court
stenographer, and Jeanette has a doctorate in counseling psychology.
During the daughter’s high school years, the Thornton Sisters
played music to help support the family and put each sister thought post
high school studies. The Thornton Sisters played for students at Princeton
and other colleges and even The Apollo in NYC.
We’ve seen many vocal groups struggle
to maintain a career in music. Here’s an example of a group that used
music as a stepping stone to lifetime achievements outside of music. -
Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun" by Robert Greenfield,
Simon & Schuster, (2011), Hardback, 354 pages.
is unquestionably the greatest Rhythm & Blues record label of all time.
After all, this is the independent record company that made us aware of
the Clovers, Drifters, Cardinals, Chords, Coasters and Sensations as well
as single artists like Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, Lavern Baker, Chuck Willis
and Ivory Joe Hunter. While the bios of these major artists are well
known, until now we’ve been missing a behind the scenes look at how R&B
Robert Greenfield’s biography of Atlantic’s cofounder, Ahmet
Ertegun, is a very detailed romp through music history as well as the
personal life of Ahmet. Atlantic Records is the house that Ahmet
built with help from Herb Abramson and Jerry Wexler. Greenfield brings us
a look at the music business as it was in the 1950’s and beyond when
Atlantic moved into Rock music.
Ahmet Ertegun was a writer, producer, talent scout and businessman. Among
numerous other awards, he’s been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame. This is a fascinating read. For a very detailed look at Amhet
Ertegun’s life, don’t miss The Last Sultan. – Pamela Horner
Little Willie John, A Fast Life, A Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul"
by Susan Whitall with Kevin John. Titan Books, (2011), Hardback, 214 pages
with great discography.
This book is an absorbing story of the life of Little
Willie John! I was immersed in John's life story from the first page.
It's a book that was long overdue. Sue Whitall tells of his rise to
stardom and his distressed later years when he died at the age of 30.
Sue interviews his family and contemporaries. This book is not to be
missed. It is a captivating easy read that is packed with information
on Willie John's personality, recordings, stage appearances and friends in
the music business. Little Willie John was a huge influence on R&B and
soul music. - Pamela Horner
James: Rage to Survive” by Etta James & David Ritz, Villard Press, (1995)/Da
Capo Press (2003). Paperback, 271 pages.
A great read on this well written, honest and detailed
autobiography of Etta James, who just passed away, January 20, 2012.
Covers her troubled childhood, her singing with the Peaches in her early
teens and her discovery by Johnny Otis who recorded her and her group
singing Etta's composition, "Roll With Me Henry". Etta is very
forthcoming about her struggles with drug addiction, a topic covered in part
in the film "Cadillac Records". Known for songs like "At Last," "All I
Could Do Was Cry" and "Tell Mama," Etta's singing career in R&B, jazz and
soul music spanned more than 50 years. This book is also valuable for
the insights it gives into the lives of those around her, such as Johnny
Otis, Jesse Belvin, Leonard Chess, Sam Cooke, etc.
At The Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story” by George Lipsitz, University of
Minnesota Press, (2010). Hardback, 235 pages.
Johnny Otis, was a legendary West Coast radio personality,
musician, band leader, record producer and civil rights advocate, who died
January 17, 2012 at the age of 91. Johnny Otis was to the West Coast
what Alan Freed was to the East Coast and so much more. The list of
singers Johnny Otis discovered and assisted with their careers is staggering:
the Robins, Little Ester, Johnny Ace, the Royals/Midnighters, Mel Williams,
Arthur Lee Maye, Little Julian Herrera, and dozens more. Johnny Otis
owned the Dig label and produced scores of great vocal group songs. His
Johnny Otis Show led to hits like "Willie and The Hand Jive". This is
the most detailed source of info on Johnny Otis yet published. For
casual readers and music historians alike.
Human: Tommy Hunt” by Tommy Hunt with Jan Warburton, Bank House Books
(2008). Paperback, 310 pages.
Autobiography of the life of Tommy Hunt, one of the more important members
of R&B vocal group harmony as well as a solo soul recording artist. Group
harmony enthusiasts will be most interested in Tommy’s memories of the
Five Echoes and Flamingos, though those these go fast and are completed
the first 71 pages. Of course, who can forget Tommy’s stirring version of
“Human”. An easy read covering Tommy’s struggles in life and in the
entertainment industry, much of the later years being spent in the UK.
Too Proud To Beg: The Troubled Lives and Enduring Soul of The
Temptations, by Mark Ribowsky, John Wiley & Sons, Inc (2010).
- Hardback - 326 pages.
Everything you ever wanted to know about the legendary
Motown vocal group, the Temptations, plus a few things about them you may
not have wanted to know. A lot's been written about the Temptations in
the past, but never in such detail. A no holds barred, tell all, bio
that should captivate the casual fan as well as the fact-hungry music
historian. Well researched and written. Nice discography at the
end. - CH
In Hollywood: The John Dolphin Story, by Jamelle Baruck Dolphin,
CreateSpace, (2011). - Paperback - 198 pages.
John Dolphin was one of the key figures in the rise of R&B
music in the 1950's, and this book is a welcomed addition to our bank of
knowledge, especially since Dolphin was murdered in 1958, long before
researchers began documenting group harmony history. John Dolphin's
legendary record store in South Central Los Angeles quickly became a
phenomenon in the 1950's, with crowds of teenagers surrounding the store
24/7 to hear the radio broadcasts of Huggie Boy and Hunter Handcock, live
from the store's window. Dolphin also recorded many of Los Angeles'
most important 1950's vocal groups on his record labels like Recorded In
Hollywood, Cash, Money, etc. This book is an easy read.
There are a few factual errors that will annoy historians, (ie., the Turbans
on the Money label are not the "When You Dance" group), but the book
clearly makes up for that by giving us the feel for what it was like on
Central Avenue in the 1950's. - CH
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