Both prolific and seminal in their influence and impact, The Flamingos may
have been the greatest harmonizing vocal ensemble ever, and were certainly among the
premier units of the doo wop/R&B era. Cousins Jake and Zeke Carey moved to Chicago
from Baltimore in 1950. They met Paul Wilson and Johnny Carter at the Church of God and
Saints of Christ Congregation, a black Jewish church. They began singing in the choir, and
the foursome met Earl Lewis (not The Channels' lead vocalist) through one of the members'
sisters, who was his girlfriend at the time. They originally called themselves The
Swallows, but had to change names when they found out that a Baltimore group already had
the name. Carter suggested El Flamingos, which was changed to The Five Flamingos, and
later The Flamingos. Ralph Leon of the King Booking Agency eventually became their
manager. Sollie McElroy replaced Lewis as their lead singer in the early '50s, with Lewis
joining The Five Echoes. They recorded with Chance in 1953, and "If I Can't Have
You" attracted some attention and did well in the Midwest and on the East Coast.
"That's My Desire" and "Golden Teardrops" were marvelously sung
numbers, particularly "Golden Teardrops," with its sweeping harmonies on top and
bottom framing McElroy's wondrous lead. But none of their great Chance recordings
generated enough national attention to make the R&B charts, nor did the three numbers
they recorded for Parrot. McElroy departed and was replaced by Nate Nelson. They enjoyed
their first chart success with Checker in the late '50s, scoring a Top Ten R&B hit
with "I'll Be Home" in
1956. They temporarily disbanded in 1956 and regrouped in 1957 with Nelson, Jake Carey,
Paul Wilson, and Tommy Hunt as the lineup, and the group now a quartet. Zeke Carey
returned in 1958, and they signed with End late that year. "I Only Have Eyes for
You" in 1959 was their biggest hit, peaking at number three R&B and number 11
pop. It was a cover of a song that had been a huge hit for Eddy Duchin in 1934, and was
the start of a productive period that saw The Flamingos issue four albums for End and get
two more R&B Top 30 singles, one the Sam Cooke composition "Nobody Loves Me like
You" in 1960. Hunt left in 1961, and the group returned briefly to Checker in 1964.
They later recorded for Phillips, Julman, and Polydor, but couldn't regain their former
standing. They remained among the genre's most beloved groups, and anthologies of their
material on Chance and Checker have been reissued. In 1993, The Flamingos Meet the
Moonglows was reissued by Vee-Jay. ~ Ron Wynn, All-Music Guide
Despite not landing on the R&B or pop charts for their entire careers, the Harptones were a superb doo wop ensemble. They initially emerged from a 1953 union of members of the Harps and Skylarks. Willie Winfield and his brothers Jimmy and Clyde first teamed with Bill Galloway and Johnny Bronson as the Harps. When Galloway sought a pianist for the Harps, he found Raoul Cita in the Skylarks. Eventually a new group with Winfield and Galloway plus former Skylarks Cita, Curtis Cherebin, and Bill Dempsey became the new Harps. Unlike most doo wop and R&B units, the Harptones (who took that name in 1953 after Bruce Records executives Morty Craft and Monte Bruce informed them there was already a group on Savoy called Little David Baughn and the Harps) were more jazz-oriented in their harmonies and arrangements, thanks to Cita. But they weren't so sophisticated that they lacked earthiness or grit, thanks to Winfield. "I Want a Sunday Kind of Love" featured Winfield's silky vocals and the group's magnificent harmonies. It was a big regional success, but never got national attention. That was the story for virtually every Harptones single.Though they were popular enough to be included in the historic 1955 Rock and Roll Ball at St. Nicholas Arena in New York alongside the Drifters, Clovers, Fats Domino, Moonglows, and Big Joe Turner, they never scored a national hit. They recorded for Essex, Old Town, Rama, Tip Top, Gee, Warwick, Coed, Cub, Comp, and Raven, among others, besides Bruce. The Harptones cut an LP, Love Needs the Harptones, for Ambient Sound in 1981. They continued playing clubs and oldies shows into the '90s. -- Ron Wynn, All-Music Guide
Lee Andrews and the Hearts
They first got together in high school, and for a group of young black kids from 49th & Woodland in Southwest Philadelphia, music was a way out of a life of poverty. All born and raised in Philadelphia, except for South Carolina native Lee Andrews, they were neighborhood friends singing in gospel groups before uniting as The Dreams.
It was their legendary harmony and extraordinary talent that led Rory
Calhoun, Wendell Calhoun, Ted Weems, Butch Curry, and Lee Andrews in 1954 to an audition
with WHAT-AM DJ Kae Williams, and in turn to rainbow Records. the wife of Rainbow's
owner discovered a plastic heart on her desk, and accidentally found the name that would take them to the top and change their lives.
Specializing in smooth ballads, this Philadelphia R&B vocal quintet notched three hits in 1957-1958. Andrews formed The Hearts in 1953, and they debuted the next year on the Rainbow label. Chess picked up their first big seller, Long Lonely Nights," from the tiny Mainline label in 1957. Mainline also originally issued their biggest hit for Chess, "Teardrops." Moving to United Artists, the group charted for the last time in 1958 with the typically polished "Try the Impossible." Andrews and a shifting lineup of Hearts continued to record through the '60s. ~ Bill Dahl, All-Music Guide
Lead singer James "Shep" Sheppard cowrote a series of velvety doo-wop ballads for The Heartbeats during the mid 50s; one entry, "A Thousand Miles Away," was a huge R&B seller in 1956. The Queens, NY, quintet began their string of street-corner classics with "Crazy for You" and "Darling How Long," culminating with "A Thousand Miles Away." The Heartbeats recorded for Hull, Rama, Roulette, Gee, and Guyden before packing it in. In 1961 the lead singer formed a new trio, Shep & The Limelites, and scored on the charts with a heartwarming sequel to his first hit, "Daddy's Home," for Hull. "Our Anniversary" also sold well for the trio the next year, but they broke up soon thereafter. Sheppard was found dead in his auto on the Long Island Expressway in 1970. ~ Bill Dahl, All-Music Guide