Classic Urban Harmony, LLC

"We Take You Back In The Day"





    What's New?

  Mills Brothers Society

    Our Events

  Bookshelf, DVD's


Presentation and Event Photo Album

    Charlie's Bio

    Pam's Bio


    Responses to
    our Presentations

    Articles & Press
    About Us

   Our Brochure

    Articles by Us

[New!]Wally Osborne & Starfires

Satan & the Angels - Blue Eyed Soul

Tony Talent & the Coalitions

Golden Bells & Contessas

Sweet Delights

Sammy Strain & the Imperials, 1964 -, Part 4 in the series

Sammy Strain & the Imperials, 1961 - 1963 Part 3

Sammy Strain & the Fantastics Part 2

Sammy Strain & the Chips Part 1

Asbury Park Vocal Groups Pt. 2

Asbury Park Vocal Groups, Pt.1

Philly's Original Capris

Little Jimmy & The Tops

Teddy & Twilights, Deckers

Groups from Philly's Francisville - Belltones, Joe Cook's Thrillers, Royal Demons, Madison Brothers

Sensations - Part 1

Sensations - Part 2

Johnny Maestro, the Crests & Brooklyn Bridge

Johnny Stiles & the Medallions on Essex

The Plurals

The Vic Donna Story

Orioles' Deborah Chessler

Tyrone & the Nu-Ports

Windy City Harmony: Calvaes, Blenders & Accents

        The Del Larks

Richard Barrett Part 1: The Valentines

Richard Barrett
Part 2:
Frankie Lymon & Teenagers

Richard Barrett
Part 3: The Chantels, Clickettes,
Fashions Veneers

Richard Barrett
Part 4:

Little Anthony & Imperials

Richard Barrett
Part 5: Lewis Lymon
Teenchords Jimmy Castor & Juniors

Richard Barrett
Part 6: The Channels,
Isley Bros, Del Knights

Richard Barrett Part 7: The 3 Degrees, Showmen

    Visit Our

Our Photo Gallery:
Our Musical Family

Our Photo Gallery:
CUH Archives

Renovations to the Classic Urban Harmony Library

    Concert Reviews,
    Photos & Events

bullet [New!]Choice at Roxy & Dukes
bullet [New!]Philly Ringtones at Franklin Township Library
[New!]Curators Talk, Spirituals to Soul Exhibit
bullet [New!]Sonny Til's son & grandson visit Classic Urban Harmony Headquarters
bullet [New!]Re-MedmberThen at Roxy & Dukes
bullet [New!]Quiet Storm at Roxy & Dukes
bullet [New!]Spirituals to Soul Museum Exhibit, Freehold
bulletVelvet Candles in Barcelona, Spain
bulletFilming Doo Wop Documentary
bullet2015 Portsmouth VA Gospel Concert
bullet Monmouth University West Side Music Exhibit
bulletAsbury Park West Side Music Exhibit Monmouth University - Set Up
bulletAsbury Park West Side Music Exhibit, Heaven Gallery
bullet2014 Philly Doo Wop Festival
bulletTNT with Vic Donna Group & Charlie Horner
bulletAsbury Angels 2014, Bobby Thomas
bulletRichard Nader Doo Wop Concert XXV
bullet2014 Portsmouth VA Gospel Concert
bullet Billy Vera Big Band at the Cutting Room NYC
bullet VGHA Extravaganza III
bullet Asbury Park Gospel Explosion

African American
Museum Philadelphia
Gospel Awards Ceremony

bullet Ray Goodman & Brown in Plainfield
at NJ Doo Wop Singers Club 2013

bulletEncounters at Somerset Run
bulletRichard Nader's Doo Wop Celebration XXVI
2013 Asbury Angels Plaque Dedications
bullet VGHA Acappella Extravaganza II
bullet2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
bullet Time Capsule Show 50th Anniversary
2013 Portsmouth, VA Gospel Concert
at Manchester, NJ

at New Providence Library

bulletJohn Moore's Middle Room Records Closes
bulletLittle Isidore in Fair Lawn, NJ
bulletNJ Doo Wop Singers Club Jan 2013
bulletCelebrating Asbury Park's West Side Harmony
bulletDoo Wop Singers Club 4th Anniversary
bulletChuck Berry Honored by the R&R Hall of Fame
bulletQuiet Storm at Somerset Run
bulletAsbury Angels 2012 Induction Ceremony
bullet2012 Philly Doo Wop Festival
bullet2012 Lead East
bulletTNT R&B and Doo Wop Party, Aug 2012
bulletPam Nardella's Frankie Lymon Tombstone BBQ
bullet Classic Urban Harmony Celebrates Vocal Harmony & the Masqueraders 50th Anniversary
bulletFrankie Lymon Tombstone Finds a New Home
bulletStormin Norman Seldin & Return of Ray & Darchaes in Monmouth Beach NJ
bullet2012 Portsmouth VA Gospel Concert
bulletTNT North Jersey R&B and Doo Wop Party - 2nd Anniversary
bulletAcappella Extravaganza at Molloy College 2011
bulletDoo Wop Singers Club (NJ) Third Anniversary
bulletSoul of Asbury Park Concert
bulletMasqueraders Silver Star Competition
bullet6th Annual Philly Doo Wop Festival
bulletSouth Philly String Band Club After Party to 6th Philly Doo Wop Festival
bulletTymes' Norman & Peggy Burnett BBQ 2011
bullet2011 Lead East
bullet Morris Museum Acappella & Doo Wop Concert # Two
bullet Morris Museum Acappella Concert # One
bulletClassic Urban Harmony Presentation NJ Doo Wop Groups Part 2
bulletClassic Urban Harmony Presentation NJ Doo Wop Groups Part 1
bulletMorris Museum LaBamba & Quiet Storm Concert
bulletMorris Museum Jersey Rocks Exhibit Opening
bulletMorris Museum Jersey Rocks Launch Party
bulletEvening With Vocal Group Legends Concert
bulletRe-memberThen Finds Its Echo
bulletSteve Applebaum Tribute Concert
bulletWFDU Fundraiser, Teaneck, NJ March 2011
bullet Four J's Jimmy Testa Tribute & Benefit Concert
bulletVic Donna Group Rehearsal at CUH Headquarters
bulletPam & Charlie's 5th Anniversary Celebration - Multi Parts
bullet2010 Philly Doo Wop Festival
bullet"Doll Face" Musical Comedy
bulletNJ Doo Wop & Street Corner Harmony Association
bulletNick @ Nite Open Mic Night
bulletLeins Wedding
bullet"Fun-Raiser" at South Philly String Band Club
bulletRichard Nader’s Summer Doowop Reunion XXI
bulletPhilly Doo Wop Diner Mural
bulletMaking Crossroads 2
bulletCornerstone CD Release Party
bulletVirginia Legends of Gospel Concert
bulletS. Philly Stringband Club Jan 13, 2010
bulletRemembering Ronnie I. Concert Nov 2009
bulletPGHA's Heavenly Harmony XII Concert
bulletS. Philly Stringband
bulletFilming a Documentary
on Acappella
bulletAcappella Group Soul'D
Out on
Oct 2009
bulletBattleship New Jersey Dance & Concert
bulletWVLT Cruisin' 92.1 Concert
bulletTymes' Norman & Peggy Burnett 2009 BBQ
bullet2009 Charleston Beach Music & Shag Festival
bulletAcappella Group Choice at Franklin Township Public Library
bullet American Bandstand Studio Fundraiser
bulletAcappella at the South Philly String Band Club Revisited
bulletFour Man Trio at At Dover NJ's Attilio's Tavern
bulletNicky Addeo at Asbury Park's Wonder Bar
bulletASAP's First Acappella Concert
bulletAcappella at the South Philly String Band Club
bulletVisiting Radio's Past & Present at WDVR-FM
bullet Chicago SoulTrip USA
bulletR&R Hall
of Fame
Interview with
Orioles' Deborah

bulletSilhouettes' John Wilson Visits CUH World Headquarters
bulletNJ Doowop Group Harmony Club, 2009.
bullet New Years Eve 2008 with Nicky Addeo & Nite Owls
bullet 2008 European Road Trip: Deep River Quartet & Golden Gate Quartet
bullet 2008 Black Swan Burlington Concert
bullet 2008 Charleston Beach Music & Shag Festival
bullet Mills Bros,
Ink Spots
Beach Haven

bulletPhilly Doo Wop
Festival 2008

bullet Philly Doo Wop
Festival 2006


    In Tribute

bullet Dick Rietveld, Deep River Quartet
bullet Robert Murphy, Neighbors Complaint
bullet Walter McNeil, Gospel Nobleaires
bullet Jewel Akens, 4 Dots
bulletVirgil Johnson, Velvets
bulletCleotha Staples, Staple Singers
bulletDarlene McCrae, Cookies, Raeletts
bulletGregory Carroll, Four Buddies, Orioles, Dappers, Ink Spots
bulletJerome Ramos, Velours
bulletMickey "Guitar" Baker
bulletEarl Speedo Carroll, Cadillacs
bulletMajor Harris, Delfonics, Nat Turner Rebellion, R&B Soloist
bulletBilly Scott, Prophets
bulletCleve Duncan, Penguins
bulletDeborah Chessler, Songwriter,Mentor to the Orioles
bulletWilla Ward, Ward Singers, Gay Charmers
bulletBobby Thomas, Vibranaires, Vibes, V-Eights, Orioles
bulletJohn Jones, Moments Pleasure, Norristones, Copians
bulletChester Brown. The Counts
bulletJimmy Ellis, Trammps, Cordells, Exceptions
bulletJimmy Castor
bulletJack Scandura
bullet Cadillacs' Bobby Phillips
bulletBobby Robinson
bulletRobins' Grady Chapman
bullet Blue Notes' Roosevelt Brodie
bullet Moonglows' Harvey Fuqua
bulletCrests' & Brooklyn Bridge's Johnny Maestro
bulletDelroys' Reggie Walker
bulletSolitaires' & Vocaleers' Herman Dunham
bulletValentines' & Del-Knights' Eddie Edgehill
bulletChris Bartley
bulletSilhouettes' John Wilson
bulletLes Paul
bullet Castelles' Billy Taylor

    1950's R&B &
    Doo Wop


The Academics 


The Avalons


The Avons


The Blue Notes (original)


Claude Robinson & Creations


The 5 Embers


The Juveniles/ Twilights/ Embers


The Silhouettes

    1960's Soul

bulletThe Ad-Libs
bullet Jackson Five (Pre-Motown & Other Rarities)

    Carolina Beach Music

bullet The Poor Souls

    Modern Era
    Doo Wop Groups

bullet40 Years of Group Harmony: Ray Block's Photos of Vintage, Ad-Libs, Reunion, Bon-Aires, East River Drive
bulletYounger Dayz

    Gospel Groups

Angelic Gospel

bulletClaude Jeter & the Swan Silvertones

    Early Black
    Vocal Groups
    1870 -1930


The American
Jubilee Singers



The Dinwiddie Quartet

   History of


The 60th Anniversary of the Vinyl 45 RPM Single

    Rare Record

bulletHico Label

   Holiday Harmony

bullet Vocalaries' White Christmas
bulletPenguins' A Christmas Prayer
bulletDominoes' Christmas In Heaven
bulletCameos' Merry Christmas
bulletDrifters' White Christmas
Lonely Christmas


bullet Philadelphia Area Doo Wop & Acappella Groups
bulletBermuda Vocal Groups


Unknown Vocal Groups

     Great LINKS




  Classic Urban Harmony

Bookshelf (now includes DVD's & CD's)

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, booking acappella groups, putting up museum displays, writing articles, updating the website, issuing our newsletter 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.

Due to popular demand, we've also reviewed a few select DVD's and CD's here.

Should you wish to obtain a copy of any of these books (or DVD's or CD's) 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 and Listening to Now

Rock & Roll's Hidden Giant: The Story of Rock Pioneer Charlie Gracie, by Charlie Gracie with John A. Jackson, Alfred Music (2014), 293 pages including complete discography, paperback.

This is an inspiring book about Charlie Gracie's rise to fame with "Butterfly" and subsequent slump in popularity.  Charlie Gracie kept on striving to regain his 1950's popularity in both the United States and Europe.  He kept working as an entertainer, sometimes for little money, supporting his family and retaining his ethics.  Gracie is an unpretentious man who influenced countless performers including the Beatles, Cliff Richard, Graham Nash, Van Morrison and many others.  This is an engrossing story about the life of the well respected Charlie Gracie from his humble beginnings in South Philadelphia to international fame to struggles with the Philadelphia music industry.  This reviewer had the pleasure of meeting Charlie at a Philly Doo Wop Festival and found him to be an true inspiration as well as a R&R pioneer and legend.  This book is about family values, work ethic and continued persistence and drive in the face of adversity.  It's a must read! - Pamela Horner.





Unfinished Blues...Memories of a New Orleans Music Man by Harold Battiste Jr. with Karen Celestan, The Historic New Orleans Collection, (2010), numerous photos and a discography of Harold Battista arrangements and compositions. Large Hardback. 

“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

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Recorded 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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“Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You?: A Memoir,” by George Clinton with Ben Greenman, Atria Books (2014), Hardback (also available as a paperback and Kindle edition), 404 pages, photos and selected discography.

Dedicated followers of funk music will consider this book the single most important book in their library.  And how could it not be.  Here, George Clinton, the “father of funk” gives a detailed, candid and insightful, yet entertaining look at the birth, growth and development of funk music.  From his early days with the Plainfield NJ doo wop group, the Parliaments, to the rise of the Parliament/Funkadelic/P-Funk conglomerate, Clinton tells how it all happened, both musically and business-wise.  Clinton holds nothing back, from his frank tales of drug use to hilarious anecdotes about his band mates.  Like his music act, I expected this book to be outrageous, and it is.  But not only is George Clinton a music genius, he is also extremely articulate.  Highly recommended for music historians, fans of funk and 70’s black music.


[New!]“Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues,” by John Wirt, Louisiana State University Press (2014), Paperback, 294 pages, no discography.

Everyone knows the songs “Don’t You Just Know It,” Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” “Roberta” and Sea Cruise” but until now there’s been very little written about Huey Smith, the important New Orleans artist who created them.  That has all changed with the welcomed biography of Huey Smith & the Clowns written by John Wirt.  Finally we have insight into the lives of Huey and the cast that surrounded him like Guitar Slim, Bobby Marchan, Frankie Ford, Gerri Hall, John Williams, and Curley Moore, as well as Johnny Vincent (Ace Records) and Cosimo Matassa.  As a music historian, I mostly enjoyed the first half of the book that dealt with Huey’s life from the beginning through his major recordings.  The second half of the book deals mainly with the legal challenges Huey went through in numerous unsuccessful attempts to claim his due financial compensation for the records he created.  Those with an interest in workings of the music industry will be saddened by Huey’s story.  The book is well researched and well written.  It could have used a discography, but otherwise is a great addition to our knowledge of early New Orleans R&B and R&R.



CD Review: "Sonny Til & the Orioles, Live in Chicago 1951" (Uptown #27.77)

Here's a CD that came out in the Fall, that deserves special attention.  We, along with most music historians, consider the Sonny Orioles to be the first true R&B vocal group.  Their groundbreaking recording of "It's Too Soon To Know" in 1948 started it all.  In spite of the fact that the Orioles were hugely popular and made countless recordings, no live video or audio has turned up of the group from the early days.  That is until now!  While historians will continue to search for video, an audio tape has surfaced (two complete sets) from a 1951 performance by the Orioles in Chicago.  The sound quality is surprisingly good and the historical value of this CD is beyond comprehension.  Listening to the Orioles sing live in 1951 adds a whole new dimension to appreciating this iconic vocal group.  Along with the live versions of Orioles' standards like "It's Too Soon To Know," "Barbra Lee," "What Are You Doing New Years Eve" and "You Are My First Love," there are previously unheard treasures like Johnny Reed leading "Old Man River".  There are 14 tracks in all and a great 44-page  liner notes booklet by Marv Goldberg and Dave Penny.  This CD is a "must have" for fans of R&B harmony.  To link to Amazon.com where you can purchase a copy, click on the CD photo above.




“Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music,” by Barry Mazor, Chicago Review Press, 2014, hardback, 316 pages.

No matter how much we think we know, every so often a book comes along that forever alters our perception and understanding of our chosen field.  This book was a real eye-opener for me, and I’ve been studying the history of popular music all of my life.  Ralph Peer almost single handedly shaped the landscape of American popular music.  I should have known this but I didn’t.  Ralph Peer was the first A&R man and record producer & publisher to recognize the commercial potential in regional American roots music – black music like blues, jazz and gospel - and white music like folk, gospel and what would become Country and Western.  Peer recorded what he called Race Music and Hillbilly Music.  From 1919 until his passing in 1960, Ralph Peer was a giant in the recorded music industry.  His legacy stretches from Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” in 1920 (the first blues record recorded by an African American) to Buddy Holly’s  “That’ll Be The Day” – Peer had a hand it them all.  Ralph Peer made the careers of 1920’s yodeler Jimmy Rodgers and C&W pioneers, the Carter Family.  This is the first and only biography of Ralph Peer and author Mazor does a superb job in both research and writing.  No detail is omitted.  This is a deep read but music historians and those with a strong interest in early American roots music will love it. – Charlie Horner


“Philly Pop, Rock, Rhythm & Blues” by James Rosin, Autumn Road Company, 2013 (revised 2014), paperback, 340 pages, many photos.

This book is a compilation and revised version of the author’s two previous books, Rock Rhythm & Blues (2004) and Philadelphia City Of Music (2006).  It is divided into several sections.  Section one (118 pages) gives an overview of Philly’s music in the form of eleven relatively short chapters covering the early years of rhythm & blues, the beginnings of rock & roll, Bill Haley & the Comets, Bandstand, teen idols, Cameo-Parkway Records, Thom Bell & Linda Creed and the Sound of Philadelphia.  The second section contains about 100 pages of annotated photos of key singers, musicians and broadcast personalities.  The third and fourth sections lists chart records related to Philadelphia (1957 – 1966) and (1967 – 1984).  Finally there’s a 100 page section of short bios of key Philadelphia music figures.  While the photos, record lists and bios make for a nice overview of Philly music, the strength of this book is in the first section.  Don’t expect a lot of detail on each subject, because each chapter is small.  But what you do find is a tremendous amount of insight, provided by the people the author interviewed.  Rosin was astute enough to quote extensively from people like Joe Tarsia, Thom Bell, Bunny Sigler, Weldon McDougal, Dave Appell, Charlie Gracie and others.  This is an easy read for people who grew up in Philadelphia or who love Philly music. – Charlie Horner




"Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues” by Joel Selvin, Counterpoint, 2014.  Hardback, 433 pages including huge discography and comprehensive index.

"Here Comes the Night:  The Dark Soul of Bert Burns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues" by Joel Selvin is the biography of Bert Berns.  Bert Berns was one of the most important R&B songwriters and record producers of the 1960's.  He wrote songs like "Twist & Shout" (Isley Brothers), "A Little Bit Of Soap" (Jarmels), "Cry To Me" (Solomon Burke), "Tell Him" (Exciters), "Killer Joe" (Rocky Fellers), "My Girl Sloopy" (Vibrations) and hundreds more.  As a producer, he was even more prolific.  The text of his book runs 366 pages and that doesn't count the 30 pages of small print discography.  Style-wise, Joel Selvin is an excellent writer and he does a thorough job of covering Bern's life and career, putting it in context with what was happening in the record industry.  He also goes into much detail about the music industry characters that surrounded Berns.  Almost everyone in the NYC music business is covered.  At times I felt that Selvin gave too much detail on surrounding characters, but then I'm a ferocious reader and had already read books on Ahmet Ertegun, Doc Pomus, Leiber & Stoller and the like.  If I hadn't already been familiar with their stories, I would have been fascinated by this corollary info.  Certainly there's a lot to like about this book and it's a mandatory addition to any music fan's bookshelf. – Charlie Horner




“Follow Your Heart,” by Joe Evans with Christopher Brooks, University of IL Press, 2008, Hardback and paperback, 167 pages including discography of Carnival Records.

The fascinating biography of the Joe Evans, famous saxophonist, record producer and owner of Carnival Records (the label that gave us the Manhattans and much more).  This book has something for everyone, from jazz enthusiasts to fans of sixties soul music.  Joe Evans began his career as a sax player in Pensacola FL as a youngster in the 1920’s.  During his 30+ years as a big band musician, he played with such stars as Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Charlie Parker, Jay McShann, Andy Kirk, Lionel Hampton and many more.  He was a member of the house bands at the Savoy Ballroom and Apollo Theater.  In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s he toured with many of the “Biggest Show of Stars” R&R tours.  In the 1960’s, Joe continued in the music business as a record producer and label owner.  He wrote, arranged, produced and handled promotion for his friend Clarence Johnson’s Cee-Jay label.  That label gave us great R&B tunes by Mike & the Utopians, the Vines, the Four Kings and DeRoy Green & the Cool Gents.  When Clarence Johnson died suddenly, Joe Evans started the Carnival label.  Carnival is best known for first recording the Manhattans but the label also featured great soul records by the Trenteens, Lee Williams & the Cymbals, Barbara Brown, the Topics, Lovettes, Pretenders, Phil Terrell and many others.  Joe Evans dies on January 17, 2014, at the age of 97.  While this book came out in 2008, copies are still available as both hardback and paperback on Amazon – one of the best autobiographies I’ve read. – Charlie Horner 




“Old 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    




“Who 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 didn't know. 




“Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus”  by Alex Halberstadt, Da Capo Press (2007, 2008), paperback, 254 pages, some photographs and partial discography.

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."



“Girl 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. 





“The 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




“The Encyclopedia of Early American Vocal Groups: 100 Years of Harmony 1850 –1950,” Douglas E. Friedman & Anthony J. Gribin, (2013).  Soft cover, 573 pages.

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 in perspective.

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


"A 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 DVD visit 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.]



“The 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 pages.

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 read. 

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      




[New!]“Street Corner Harmony,” Mellow Sounds Productions, DVD (2010), Length: 63 minutes.

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 Groups”. [We’ll 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 and others.
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).




"To Do This You Must Know How: Music Pedagogy in the Black Gospel Tradition" by 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



"Willie 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.



"Just 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


"Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Adkins,” by Cholly Adkins & Jacqui Malone, Columbia University Press, (2001), Paperback, 260 pages

I’ve 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

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"Chuck Berry: The Autobiography” by Chuck Berry, Harmony Books, (1987), Hardback, 346 pages.

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.

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"Tighten 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

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“Give ‘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

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“The 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 Horner

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“Behind 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

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"You 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 crusader.

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


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"Hal 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.  During the 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.

Hal Jackson 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.  

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"The Ditch Digger's Daughters: A Black Family's Astonishing Success Story" by Yvonne S. Thornton, M.D., Kensington Publishing Corp., (1995), Paperback, 262 pages.

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. - Pamela Horner

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"The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun" by Robert Greenfield, Simon & Schuster, (2011), Hardback, 354 pages.

Atlantic Records 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 came about.   

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

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"Fever: 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

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“Etta 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.

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“Midnight 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.

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“Only 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.

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Ain't 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

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