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The Entertainers We Love



This Page is Paying Tribute to Doo-Wop

This Information is from the East Coast Groups

Thank You Joe Rivera for locating this site.

Paying Tribute to Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were true trendsetters, in the early days of rock and roll. They were the yardstick by which hundreds of "kiddie" vocal groups gauged their capabilities in order to bring themselves to the publics attention. Groups like the Students (Checker), THE CHANTERS (Deluxe), RONNIE AND THE HI-LITES (Joy), Nicky and the Nobles (Gone), THE KODAKS (Fury), THE DESIRES (Hull), Tiny Tim and the Hits (Roulette), and even Frankie's brother's group LOUIS LYMON AND THE TEEN CHORDS, are just some of the many who tried for the brass ring in the footsteps of Frankie and company. Some of those fans that made it big include Diana Ross, Millie Jackson, Ronnie Spector, and Tim Hauser (THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER).

Their story began in the Washington Heights section of New York City in 1954 as Jimmy Merchant (second tenor) and Sherman Garnes (bass), both ninth graders at Edward W. Stitt Junior High School, formed a group called the Earth Angels (named after THE PENGUINS' hit). That group was shortlived, but the two black teens were not discouraged and they were soon talking with two neighborhood Puerto Ricans, Herman Santiago (first tenor) and Joe Negroni (baritone), whom Sherman had met.

A fateful meeting on 164th Street (where Sherman lived) led to the foursome calling themselves the Coupe De Villes. Across the street lived a family with four brothers, Howie, Timmy, Louis, and Frankie Lymon, all of whom would sing with groups in the future. The four Coupe De Villes became the Premiers and alternated their practices between Joe's hallway on 153rd Street, Sherman's on 165th and Edgecombe Avenue, and Jimmy's on 156th, depending on how long they lasted without being chased away by complaining neighbors. Their practices led to performances at neighborhood talent shows, and one was scheduled for the school auditorium. The Premiers decided to get in some extra practice after a dress rehearsal and entered one of the classrooms. A young teen who was also scheduled to perform with his brother's mambo band came in and asked to sing a few songs with the group. It was Herman's neighbor from across 164th Street, 12year-old Frankie Lymon. They sang "Why Don't You Write Me" (THE JACKS), "Painted Pictures (THE SPANIELS), and "Lily Maebelle" (THE VALENTINES), and had such a good time they agreed to do it again, but no one formally asked young Frankie to join.

After the talent show (where Frankie played bongos and his brother Howie played congas with their Latin group), Frankie just started hanging out with the older guys and became first tenor to Herman Santiago7s lead. Frankie came from a gospel background. His father Howard sang with the Harlemaires and Frankie, Louie, and Howie sang with the Harlemaires Juniors. This seemed to have little impact on his early occupation as a 10-year-old hustler of prostitutes in Harlem. His father was a truck driver and mother a domestic, and it wasn't easy to feed a family of seven. Frankie also worked in a grocery on his corner as a delivery boy, so pimping was not necessarily his preferred source of income.

By 1955 the quintet was calling themselves the Ermines when they weren't lapsing back to the Premiers. On one fateful evening the hallway kids (as they were designated by neighbors) were practicing in Shermads hall when they were confronted by a man named Robert, who often stopped and listened to them before entering his apartment. According to author Phil Groia, he said, "My old lady [her name was Delores] sends me letters in the form of poems. Being that you're always singing the same old songs, why don't you get some original material of your own? I'm giving you some of these poems; see what you can do with them." The Premiers/Ermines sorted through them and started working on one in particular called "Why Do Birds Sing So Gay." Frankie worked on a melody line and the others formulated a harmony while tenor Jimmy Merchant came up with a vocal bass intro. It started out as a ballad but soon evolved into an uptempo rocker.

Many evenings later they were rehearsing their repertoire at Stitt's Night Community Center when in walked the revered Valentines, who also practiced there. Lead singer Richard Barrett had heard there was a hot neighborhood group doing his song and was very impressed by the Premiers' interpretation. Barrett's version of his meeting with the group is slightly different: he claims they camped under his 161st Street window and sang until he came down and agreed to hear them audition at Stitt's the following Monday.

There are also three versions of how they went from Barrett to George Goldner's Gee Records. The Barrett version states that on the day of the audition for Goldner, Herman Santiago caught a cold and the only one who knew the words was Frankie. Barrett knew Goldner was preoccupied with recording a new group called the Millionaires, so he threatened that he would not rehearse the group if George didn't sign his new find, the Premiers. Supposedly, the Gee exec agreed and let the Premiers record two songs during the Millionaires' dinner break. (The Millionaires were actually Ben E. King and several of THE FIVE CROWNS, who later went on to become THE DRIFTERS.).

Another version is attributed to Hy Weiss, a legendary figure of the golden days of rock and owner of the Old Town label. He claimed that Barrett brought the Premiers to him, but Hy had too many acts so he recommended the group go see his friend George Goldner.

The final (and most probable) version was that Barrett took the group to Goldner, auditioned right after THE CLEFTONEs had done so, and were told they had a deal. Herman sang lead on "Why Do Birds Sing So Gay," "Thafs What Yodre Doin'to Me" (THE DOMINOES), and one of his originals, "I Want You to Be My Girl." He also sang a duet with Frankie. Then Lymon sang a song he'd done with brother Howie's group. Goldner then suggested Frankie sing "Why Do Birds," changed the title to "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," moved Herman to first tenor, and told the teens they had a deal.

In the spring of 1955 the Premiers began recording at Bell Sound Studios with Gee musical director and sax man Jimmy Wright. He decided they needed a more imaginative name, so he suggested they become the Teenagers.

By the fall of 1955 all but Frankie were attending George Washington High School and their record had still not come out. They went downtown to find Goldner busy with other projects. By Christmas their school friends doubted they had ever recorded at all. Then in January 1956 Jimmy Merchant strolled through the school corridor when he heard a girt singing a very familiar refrain. He asked where she heard that and she replied, "On the radio last night." The record had been released on January 10, 1956, and the floodgates had opened. "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" sold a hundred thousand copies in three weeks. Billboard wrote, "Here's a hot new disc, which has already sparked a couple of covers in the pop market. The appealing ditty has a frantic arrangement, a solid beat and a sock lead vocal by 13-year-old Frankie Lymon. Jockeys and jukes should hand it plenty of spins and it could easily break Pop."

The original first pressing read "The Teenagers featuring Frankie Lymon," with Frankie's name printed at twice the size of his vocal mates. The song credit listed "Lymon-Santiago-Goldner," but George took care of that quickly: the second pressing read only "Lymon-Goldner."

In February 1956 the Teenagers played their first paying gig at the State Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut, alongside the Valentines, Bo Diddley, THE BONNIE SISTERS, THE HARPTONES, THE TURBANS, Fats Domino, and their idols, THE CADILLACS. In fact it was Earl Wade of that group who took them aside between shows to give them a few pointers on dance steps and instructed them to seek out Cholly Atkins, who had taught the Caddies their dance routines.

Within months the record and group were international hits: "Fools" reached number one in En-gland, the first R&B/rock and roll record by an American vocal group to do so. Not bad for three 16-year-olds (Jimmy, Joe, and Sherman), one 15-year-old (Herman), and one 13-year-old (Frankie).

In April their second 45, "1 Want You to Be My Girl," hit the airwaves. Once again the first printing read "The Teenagers featuring Frankie Lymon," but the second was changed to read "Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers." Herman Santiago wrote "Girl"; given the typical practices of the day, its not surprising that the writer's credit was given to Goldner-Barrett. "I Want You to Be My Girl" skyrocketed like its predecessor, reaching number 13 (#3 R&B).

Their first big tour started on a dubious note: the Teenagers and co-billed acts THE FLAMINGOS, THE PLATTERS, THE CLOVERS, THE FLAIRS, and Carl Perkins all stood around the Hotel Theresa in New York ready to hit the road except for one small detail. Frankie Lymon was nowhere to be found. Sherman Garnes then marched the group up to the High School of Music and Art to recruit their friend Jimmy Castor (of the Juniors, Wing), who had a style similar to Frankie's. Jimmy left school that same day and the tour got underway. Frankie showed up later on with little in the way of explanation. A similar incident happened on another tour when Richard Barrett stepped in as lead in Detroit.

In the summer of 1956, Gee cajoled the group into doing Jimmy Castor and the Juniors' "I Promise to Remember." It reached only number 56 (#10 R&B) and its solid rocker flip "Who Can Explain" made R&B number seven. The "ABCs of Love" was another strong jump tune that Frankie and the group put over solidly, and it reached number eight R&B but only number 77 Pop. The flip side "Share" showcased the Teenagers' polished harmonies and Sherman's bass. (Almost 30 years later the U. G. H. A. organization did a massive East Coast vote-in for the 500 most popular oldies among devotees of group harmony, and "Share" was voted number one.)

The group appeared in Alan Freed's classic teen film Rock, Rock, Rock, which was filmed in the Bronx at the Bedford Park Studios and the nearby botanical gardens. They sang "I'm Not a juvenile Delinquent" (written by Bobby Spencer of the Cad-illacs and the Valentines, though the label credit read "Goldner") and "Baby Baby," which became their next single.

The group also did a British tour in 1956 that included a performance at the world-famous London Palladium and a command performance in the Queen's chambers for Princess Margaret. The outstanding ballad "Out in the Cold Again' became their last R&B chart record, reaching number 10. While still on the six-week European tour, Goldner started tampering with the chemistry that made the quintet so successful. Frankie began recording solo; the results were languid and desperately in need of the Teenagers' enthusiastic backing. Though the label of the 1957 single "Goody Goody" read "Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers," the Harlem teens were nowhere to be found on the released recording. It reportedly had the pasteurized harmony of the Ray Charles Singers accompanying Frankie. It reached number 20 Pop and number 24 in England but never made the R&B chart.

The quintet continued to tour through mid-1957 and Gee then moved Frankie to Roulette Records for a series of lackluster singles like "So Goes My Love," "Little Girl," "Footsteps," and Elvis's "Jailhouse Rock." In 1960 Frankie charted for four weeks with a remake of Thurston Harris's "Little Bitty Pretty One" (#58).

Meanwhile, the Teenagers were mismatched with Billy Lobrano, a white-sounding cross between Frankie Avalon and an imitation Elvis, for two singles, "Flip Flop" (which it did) and "Mama Wanna Rock" (which didn't wanna rock). In 1960 they recorded a credible cover of THE SHIRELLES' "Tonight's the Night" with Kenny Bobo, formerly of the Juniors, on lead and a second single (both for End), "A Little Wiser Now" with Johnny Houston upfront sounding like Jackie Wilson leading the Flamingos. The Teenagers certainly had diversity, but it didn't help them sell records.

The Teenagers and Frankie reunited in 1965 for a brief period but no recordings resulted. The four Teenagers performed one last time in 1973 with Pearl McKinnon of the Kodaks on lead (whose vocal likeness to Frankie was startling). Sherman Garnes passed on after a heart attack in 1977, and Joe Negroni died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1978.

In 1981, the 25th anniversary of their first hit, the Teenagers were re-formed at the suggestion of Herbie Cox and Charlie James (the Cleftones) ' Ronnie Italiano (U. G. H. A. founder), and Joel Warshaw. The members were Jimmy Merchant, Herman Santiago, Eric Ward (of the soul group Second Verse), and Pearl McKinnon. The group, managed by Warshaw and helped by Ronnie L, began performing to overwhelming adulation. By 1983 Ward had been replaced by Derek Ventura, and in 1984 Phil Garrito took over for Derek. Roz Morehead replaced Pearl, and Marilyn Byers moved into Roz's lead spot.

In the early '80s , they opened for Manhattan Transfer, thanks to Tim Hauser, who tracked them down and arranged the gig. The group did a PBS documentary as a tribute to their music and to Frankie, who died of a drug overdose in his grandmother's apartment at the age of 26. The show was aired on August 14, 1983.

In 1983 Pearl McKinnon discovered that Frankie was buried in an unmarked grave at St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx. In September 1985, thanks to Ronnie Italiano, a benefit was held to raise money and a headstone was bought. It now sits in the window of Ronnie's Clifton Music at 1135 Main Avenue in Clifton, New Jersey, while three so-called widows of Lymor;s, Emira Eagle, Zola Taylor (formerly of the Platters), and Elizabeth Waters, fight over Frankie's half a million dollars in royalties.

"For more in-depth information on this and other great vocal groups see the "Da Capo book of: "American Singing Groups (A History 1940-1990)" by Jay Warner available at all major book stores or on-line at Amazon .com."

Web Authors Notes

A movie entitled "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" was released in 1998. The movie focused on the legal battles waged between the three woman but did little justice to the legacy of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. It has been reported that one of the wives finally did place a tombstone on Frankie's gravesite. The "real" tombstone bought by contributions from Frankie's admirers still sits in the window of Ronnie Italiano's Clifton Records in Clifton New Jersey. Herman Santiago still performs with a Teenager's group fronted by Jimmy Castor (author of "I Promise To Remember".). Jimmy Merchant still performs with a NYC group.


Paying Tribute to Louis Lymon and The Teenchords

Louis Lymon, brother of legendary Teenagers lead FRANKIE LYMON, was 12 years old when he and some neighborhood friends took a cue from the big guys and started singing in 1956. The members of the Harlem quintet included Louis (lead), Rossilio Rocca (19, second tenor), Lyndon Harold (15, baritone), and David Little (17, bass). They came up with the name the Teenchords in keeping with Louis's famous brother's group.

One day in the fall of 1956 the four were hanging out at the back of the Apollo Theatre where Frankie was performing. In need of a first tenor, the Teenchords were about to audition 15-year-old Ralph Vaughan when Charles Sampson of the Velvets (Red Robin) passed by. Charles told his friend Ralph that his manager Bobby Robinson of Red Robin Records was looking for talent and asked if that was his group. Wanting to record, the Teenchords told Sampson that Ralph was their first tenor, and all involved went around the corner to Robinsods record shop on 125th Street near 8th Avenue to audition. Singing "Who Can Explain," a Teenagers recording, the Teenchords appealed to Robinson, and he liked Louis's vocal similarity to his brother. Soon he was rehearsing them on a song he wrote expressly for the Teenchords called "I'm So Happy," which captured the high-energy exuberance of the group. Louis wrote a lyric about a girl in his building, Lydia Perez, which Robinson finished as the B side.

In November 1956 he launched his new Fury label with the Teenchords' "I'm So Happy" b/w "Lydia." Radio response was immediate, and an ad for Fury in the trade papers stated that over 40,000 singles were sold in the New York, Philadelphia, and Boston areas in the first 10 days. "I'm So Happy" later became a New York doo wop street-corner classic that was sung as a warmup by hundreds of groups. The song also became Phil Spector's first New York doo wop production (see THE DUCANES).

On Friday January 3, 1957, Louis Lymon and the Teenchords performed on the Apollo stage with THE CHANNELS, Jerry Butler and THE IMPRESSIONS, THE HEARTBEATS, Jesse Belvin, Clarence "Frog-man" Henry, Micky and Sylvia, all emceed by WOV's Jocko Henderson. Because they were natu-rally energetic performers who actively wooed the tough Apollo audiences, they wound up playing the historic venue many times over the next year and a half They also did shows with WLIB's Hal Jack-son, WWRL:s Dr. Jive, and others.

In February 1957 their second single, "Honey, Honey," received a strong response on East Coast radio but did not do as well as their first. Their last single for Fury was "I'm Not Too Young to Fall in Love" recorded on July 22nd and issued soon after. In July they performed at Alan Freed's Summer Festival at the New York Paramount along with Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, THE DUBS, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Screaming Jay Hawkins, and Jodie Sands. They were billed above the Everly Brothers but below Jodie Sands. Their stage outfits were black pants with red sweaters (imprinted with the word "Teenchords") along with white shirts, black bow ties, and white bucks.

During the summer, David and underaged Lyndon were caught sitting in a stolen car and David was hauled in. The group quickly enlisted Jimmy Merchant to sing bass for a four-week tour of Jamaica in the West Indies, and when they returned, according to a trade paper announcement of September 14, 1957, George Goldner had signed Louis et al to End Records. But Louis never actually signed; his mother refused to let him do anything if David was associated with the group. David was then eliminated from the lineup, but Lymons' mother never got around to signing for Louis (though she did let him record). The first single on End, "Your Last Chance" b/w "Too Young," had actually been recorded earlier by Robinson, indicating that he and Goldner must have struck a deal.

The group's high point was a performance in the Warner Bros. rock and roll film "Jamboree" with Jerry Lee Lewis, THE FOUR COINS, Fats Domino, Connie Francis, Frankie Avalon, Slim Whitman, Charlie Gracie, and more disc jockeys in the film than recording artists (18), including Dick Clark, Joe Smith (WVDA-Boston, later a honcho at Warner Bros. Records), Barry Kaye (WJNS-Pittsburgh), Jocko Henderson (WOV-New York), Robin Seymour (WKMK-Detroit), and Dick Whittinghill (KMPC-Hollywood). The group sang "Your Last Chance."

In November 1957 the Teenchords did an answer record to the Teenagers' "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" called "I Found Out Why," but it wasn't a real contender. Another song that was a contender came out in 1958. The Les Cooper penned "Dance Girl" was the original version of this song, not released until after THE CHARTS' classic recording. In less than two years the group broke up.

In 1961 Louis recorded with the Townsmen ("I Can't Go," P.J. Records). In 1962 he appeared at the Apollo singing duets with Frankie, but the collaboration lasted only one day; he and his brother never got along due to the older Lymon's adult attitude in a young teen body.

In 1971 Louis formed a new Teenchords for Rock magazine's "Collectors' Show" with Ralph Ramos (first tenor), Louis Vasquez (second tenor), Velmont Miller (baritone), and Frank San Pietro (lead). Louis sang baritone and occasional lead.

In 1973 the reformed Teenagers did a show in Philadelphia with Louis singing lead on "I'm So Happy," but it never developed into a regular thing as Pearl McKinnon took over Frankie's old spot. Over the years, Louis worked as a typist, a mail clerk, and a messenger and in the early '80s was a waiter. He re-formed the Teenchords in 1983 and in 1984 recorded a sparkling a cappella treatment of the Teenagers' "I Want You to Be My Girl" for Starlight Records.

In 1985 they did an a cappella 45 of their original "Dance Girl." The members then were Louis (lead), John O'Keefe (first tenor), Mike Nicoletti (second tenor), Thomas Camuti (baritone), and Andre Games (bass and brother of Teenagers bass Sherman Games). Louis later left to co-author a book (unpublished as of 1991), and Beverly Warren took over lead.

"For more in-depth information on this and other great vocal groups see the "Da Capo book of: "American Singing Groups (A History 1940-1990)" by Jay Warner available at all major book stores or on-line at Amazon .com."

Web Authors Note

Louis Lymon is alive and well and just released a new CD with newly recorded Teenchords material.


Paying Tribute to Arlene Smith and The Chantels

0ne of the first female R&B vocal groups to have nationwide success, the Chantels are also considered by many to have been the best female group of all time. Their choir-like sound and close-knit harmony brought a new dimension to rock and roll and R&B songs.

Arlene Smith (lead), Lois Harris (first tenor), Sonia Goring (second tenor), Jackie Landry (second alto), and Rene Minus (alto/bass) began their musical journey in their preteens while attending choir practice at St. Anthony of Padua school in the Bronx. By 1957 the members, aged 14 through 17, had been singing together more than seven years. A staple of their musical diet had been Gregorian chants taught to such perfection that changing notes and trading parts were second nature.

In contrast to their male counterparts, the girls weren't able to "hang out' on a street corner at all hours practicing; five young Catholic schoolgirls live a more restricted lifestyle. So in 1957 much of their practice took place in the unlikely surroundings of the girls' locker room at St. Anthony's. Being one of the taller girls in school, Arlene Smith became a member of the girl's basketball team and, win or lose, the group would sing after each game. The choir-like quintet began doing talent shows with the Sequins (Red Robin Records) and The Crows (Rama Records) at the PS. 60 Community Center and at St. Augustine's church. That same year their school team went up against the hoop-sters of St. Francis de Chantelle. One of the girls (to this day no one remembers which) suggested they end their long search for a group name by calling themselves the Chantelles. It soon became the Chantels.

The girls had a strength apart from their angelic vocal presence: the writing ability of lead singer Arlene Smith. There weren't many girl groups around in the mid-'50s and even fewer that contrib-uted to the recording process with their own lyrics and melodies (although THE ROBBETTES come to mind, but all five of their members pooled their writing resources). Arlene contributed both words and music, and the combination of her classical

and gospel background with simple yet poignant lyrics would make her more successful than she could possibly imagine at the tender age of 16.

"He's Gone," Arlene's first song, was written with a boyfriend in mind while she was working her way through piano practice. Legend has it that the five classmates were on the second floor of the Broadway Theatre building on Broadway and 53rd Street in Manhattan when several of THE VALENTINES passed by underneath the window. The girls recognized them from an Allen Freed Show performance and scampered down to hunt for autographs. Amid the chatter it came to Valentines member David Clowney's atten-tion that the girls were a singing group. Producer/ writer/arranger and Valentines' lead Richard Bar-rett entered the conversation. Thinking he was putting the girls on the spot he asked them to sing right there under the Broadway Theatre marquee, and sing they did. He was floored at the sound of the girls singing a hymn, and with his leaning toward rhythm and blues, he perhaps wondered how they would sound singing that kind of music. He took their phone number.

The girls were thrilled at Barrett's interest; they knew he was the right-hand man of record entrepreneur George Goldner, owner of Gee and Roulette Records.

Ironically, they had tried to sing for Goldner only weeks before, but he hadn't been in when they showed up for their audition at Gee Records' 42nd Street office. Several weeks passed after the Broadway The-atre meeting without a call from Barrett. Not being timid, Jackie Landry told a friend of hers in THE TEEN CHORDS of their encounter and he gave her Barrett's address. The entire Chantels cast dropped in on Barrett and reminded him of their meeting.

This time the multi-talented producer wasted no time in calling rehearsals, meeting the group's mothers, and arranging the teens' first two songs, the Arlene Smith compositions "The Plea' and "He's Gone.

By the early summer of 1957 the girls were signed to Goldner's End label, which he had just formed after selling off the Roulette/Rama/Gee organization. In fact, the girls' first single was the second release (Malcolm Dodds and the Tunedrops' "It Took a Long Time" was the first) on the label that was to be the future home of such stalwarts as LITTLE ANTHONY AND THE IMPERIALS, THE FLAMINGOS, THE MIRACLES, Little Richard, THE TEENAGERS, the Bobbettes, THE VELOURS, THE DEL-SATINS, and the one and only Wilt "The Stilt' Chamberlain ("By the Riverside," 1960).

The Chantels' first single was "He's Gone," released in August 1957. From the four-part acappella chime harmony intro topped by Arlene's floating falsetto to its duplicate ending, "He's Gone" instantly set a new standard of quality for female group recordings. By September 30, the record was on the Billboard national Top 100 charts but inexplicably stopped at number 71, spending a mere six weeks in competitive company. Still, it was a major breakthrough. This record charted only seven weeks after the Bobbettes hit the top 100 with their first release, the infamous "Mr. Lee." Ironically, these two trend-setting groups of the '50s lived less than a few miles from each other.

The Chantels' first live performance was at a Jocko show at the Apollo Theatre (Jocko was a legendary New York disc jockey at the time) in which the group was not even on the bill. Richard Barrett brought them backstage and waited for an opportune time for Jocko to present them to the world. For Arlene, her classical recitals at Carnegie Hall must have felt like a far cry from this; the Chantels' wowed the enthusiastic audience with "He's Gone."

Their next recording session, on October 16, 1957, was scheduled not at a regular studio but at a refurbished church in midtown Manhattan, apparently for its acoustics. Richard Barrett played the piano along with supportive bass and drums for this Chantels recording of the Arlene Smith composition "Maybe." The single was released in December; by January 20, 1958, it was heading up the pop charts and a week later was climbing the rhythm and blues charts. "Maybe" reached number 15 Pop by late winter and number two R&B. Interestingly (though not uncustomarily for the time) the original record's writer credits read Casey (whoever he was) and Goldner (we know who he was). Later issues and reissues had "Arlene Smith and Goldner." As recently as 1987 a Chantels compilation appeared on a Murray Hill three-LP set with "Maybe" listed as being written by R. Barrett.

Two days after "Maybe" hit the pop charts the group was recording again. Barrett was now heavily devoting his attention to the girls, even dropping his own group the Valentines by summer 1957. On January 22, 1958, the most productive recording session of the Chantels career generated five sides, all eventually released on singles or EPs: "Sure of Love," "I Love You So," "Every Night," "Whoever You Are," and "Memories of Nod' (the old HARPTONES classic). (In the girls' sessions, Barrett would always rehearse the Chantels, to perfection, yet when it came to the musicians, on-the-spot arrangements and one or two rundowns would suffice.)

The Chantels' third single for End was "Every Night (I Pray)," another gem that sounded suspiciously like Arlene's writing style although it showed George Goldner's name on the record. "Every Night" hit the pop charts on March 31, 1958, and reached number 39 (#16 R&B).

That spring the Chantels became the first female rhythm and blues aggregation to release an EP; it included "Sure of Love," "Prayee," "I Love You So," and "How Could You Call It Off." The latter two became their fourth single in April. "I Love You So" was the first non-Arlene Smith composition to be released as an A side. It was written by Watkins and Davis, the latter a member of the Crows (it was featured as the B side of their April

1954 hit "Gee"). A further piece of information in the continuing "whats in a name" game has an early '60s 45 rpm pressing listing G. Goldner and Davis as writers, while a 1972 LP containing "I Love You So" as performed by the Crows lists writing credits of M. Levy (the now deceased presi-dent of Roulette Records, Morris Levy) and D. Norton (Daniel "Sonny" Norton, lead singer of the Crows).

Regardless of who wrote it, "I Love You So" was another perfect Chantels musical confection (#42 Pop, #14 R&B), but it would turn out to be their last hit on End. After "I Love You So," the label released a second group EP, an unprecedented move for an act that had only released four singles. It was an honor usually reserved for acts like THE CLOVERS or COASTERS who had been having hits for years. End seemed to be trying to capitalize on the group's current visibility (rather than planning on a long-term justification for an EP release). The cuts included "Memories of You' from the January 22 session, along with "Congratulations," "I'll Walk Alone," and "C'est Si Bon," all cut on July 24. "Sure of Love" and a reworked gospel song entitled "Prayee" were released in July and became the first Chantels single to fail. Three more singles followed (and failed) through the end of 1958 and early 1959, including a beautiful recording of "Goodbye to Love," immortalized in 1961 in a powerful arrangement by THE MARCELS.

The success of Little Anthony and the Imperials and the Flamingos kept End Records preoccupied in late 1958 and 1959, meaning less promotional support for the Chantels. (End stood to earn more from a touring group of male vocalists than they could from five high school girls still tied to their parents.) Although the Chantels became one of the first female vocal groups of the rock era to have an LP under their own name (We Are the Chantels in September 1958), they were dropped from End by April 1959.

Arlene Smith decided to go it on her own while Lois Harris went on to college. Chantels records were still being issued, except that the lead was one Richard Barrett and the label was Gone, an affiliate of End. In May 1959 "Come Softly to Me" (the former FLEETWOODs hit) came out and quickly failed. In July 1959 a most unusual record hit the marketplace entitled "Summer's Love." The label again read Richard Barrett and the Chantels. Recorded in late 1958, the ballad had all the earmarks of a hit but only went to number 93 Pop (#29 R&B). It has shown up on three different labels over the years, with three distinctly different background vocal arrangements. Each included the Chantels with Richard Barrett on lead, but that's where the similarity ended. The original Gone release had the Chantels holding sustained chords behind Barrett's lead. An End "battle of the groups" EP from the early '60s had a male group doing a call-and-response backup with an occasional "shoo-do" and "shoo-be-do?' (similar to THE FIVE SATINS' "In the Still of the Night") while the Chantels held their sustained harmony. A third version on Crackerjack Records in 1963 had the girls without the male backup vocals, but the 'Chantels were now singing "shoo-do' and "shoo be-do" along with their sustained harmony.

In 1960 Barrett started his own label and recorded a new girl group similar to the Chantels which he called the Veneers. Their release of "I" b/w "Believe Me (My Angel)" went unnoticed but it helped him solve his Chantels problem by matching Veneers lead singer Annette Smith (no relation to Arlene) with the three remaining Chantels, Sonia, Jackie, and Rene. In April 1960, still trying to capitalize on the group's name, End released "Whoever You Are," formerly the B side of "Every Night"; it had all the original Chantels magic but still lacked the driving commitment of the label.

In the summer of 1961 George Goldner apparently got wind of Barretts move to take the revamped Chantels to Carlton Records; running low on Chantels tracks in the can, he decided to pass off a bogus group to the public, issuing the Veneers recording "I" under the name of the Chantels. His move didn't work but Barretts did. "Look in My Eyes," the first release on Carlton for Annette and company, went all the way to number 14 on the pop charts (#6 R&B). The ballad was reminiscent of the Chantels' early classics though the arrangement was a more modern string-laden affair. Annette's lead, which was very similar to Arlene's, blended well with the group and only the most discerning ear could tell that a switch had taken place.

The group's fortunes were once again on the rise, and everyone connected tried to get a piece of the action. End Records released an LP of canned tracks that including the Veneers' two cuts (as the Chantels, of course), entitled There's Our Song Again (End LP 312). By 1962 Carlton had released their own more honest LP entitled The Chantels on Tour that contained seven Chantels cuts and songs by Chris Montez, the Imperials, and Gus Backus. Gus Backus was a member of the DEL-VIKINGS, and the Imperials recording was without Little Anthony. The LP included their second Carlton single, an answer to Ray Charles' number one record "Hit the Road Jack" called "Well, I Told You." It was the Chantels' first up-tempo single, and from a creative standpoint would probably have served their reputation better had it never been released. The song had the group confined to unison call-and-response vocals while a Ray Charles imitation sang the lead. Still, it made number 29 Pop by December 1961 and the group wasn't about to argue with success.

They couldn't have known it was to be their last big record. One more single for Carlton, the ethereal jazz-tinged ballad "Summertime," and they were off the recording scene until landing at Luther Dixon's Ludix label.

Meanwhile, Arlene Smith had hooked up with a young hotshot producer named Phil Spector for a Big Top Records one-off of the Clovers hit "Love Love Love" backed by the Paris Sisters song "He Knows I Love Him Too Much."

The Chantels began their Ludix association with the song "Eternally" (#77, March 1963), produced by longtime believer Richard Barrett. It was the third time in six years that their initial release on a label had charted. Still, there were more Chantels records coming out and failing than there were successes. George Goldner released "I'm the Girl" (October 1961) and "Mon Cherie Au Revoir" (February 1963), and Ludix tried again with "Some Tears Fall Dry" (April 1963). Then it was on to 20th Century-Fox, Verve, and finally RCA before the group disbanded in 1970. The charts had become almost oblivious to fine harmonies and melodic ballads, now favoring records with a harder edge.

In 1973 Arlene Smith, who had gone on to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, reformed the Chantels with newcomers Barbara Murray and Pauline Moore for some oldies revivals shows. By the early '80s Sonia Goring, Lois Harris, Rene Minus, and Jackie Landry were all married and living in the New York area. Arlene went on to become a school teacher in the Bronx and continues to sing as a solo act today.

"For more in-depth information on this and other great vocal groups see the "Da Capo book of: "American Singing Groups (A History 1940-1990)" by Jay Warner available at all major book stores or on-line at Amazon .com."