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MAUREEN GRAY was about 12 when she wandered into a record store at 60th and Market streets to listen to the music she had heard played on the air by such disc jockeys as Jocko Henderson and Georgie Woods.  It was the famous Philadelphia Sound, launched on many a street corner in the '50s and '60s by kids harmonizing on doo-wop songs. Maureen liked to sing along with the records played in the store. But it was no ordinary store. A co-owner was John Madara, a songwriter and promoter. He overheard her singing and was knocked out. "Maureen told me she could sing," he said recently. "Well, she was right. Boy, could she sing! She was only 12 years old but she had developed an amazing set of chops." Actually, Maureen, who died Jan. 7 at age 65, had been singing since she was 5. Born in New York City, she made her first public appearance at Carnegie Hall. She sang "Steam Heat," from the musical "Pajama Game," and received a standing ovation. Maureen S. Gray, who went on to an outstanding singing career in Philadelphia, New York, California and Europe, died of a rare cancer of the bile duct. She had been living and performing in California and returned to Philadelphia a few months ago to look after her mother, Louise Gray, who is 93 and lives in West Philadelphia.


Gloria Lynne, who had seven Hot 100 pop hits from 1961 to 1965-- the best known of which was 1964's "I Wish You Love" (#28)-- died Tuesday (October 15) from a heart attack in a rehabilitation center in Newark, New Jersey. The Harlem native was 83. Gloria got her start winning the Apollo Theater's talent contest at the age of 15. It led to a contract with Everest Records. She is well-remembered for her performance on Harry Belafonte's 1966 TV special, "The Strollin' 20's" and is said to have been the first artist to be listed on the Pop, Jazz and R&B Charts simultaneously. Her last stage performance was less than two months ago.


Jay P. Richardson, son of the late Big Bopper and known professionally as Big Bopper, Jr., died Wednesday (August 21) in Katy, Texas. He was 54. Jay P., born two months after the Big Bopper's infamous place crash, had a heart pump installed last June.




It's been learned that blues singer and pianist Little Willie Littlefield, who recorded the original version of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's "Kansas City" in 1952 (under its original title, "K.C. Lovin'") died June 23 in the Netherlands. The El Campo, Texas native was 81. His first recordings were in 1948 and scholars credit him with bridging boogie woogie piano into what was later called rock 'n' roll.





Lewis Lymon-- brother of Frankie Lymon, who sang in his own group, the Teenchords and later sang with Frankie’s old group, the Teenagers-- died Tuesday (July 9) at his home in Las Vegas. He was 69. While the Teenchords failed to chart nationally, they did appear in the movie, “Jamboree.” They’re best remembered for the song, “I’m So Happy,” recently used in a commercial for Google Chrome.




Johnny Smith, composer of the Ventures' hit, "Walk- Don't Run" (#2-1960 and #8-1964), died Tuesday (June 11) at his Colorado home, just shy of his 91st birthday. Johnny himself recorded the song in 1954 but it was Chet Atkins' 1957 version that served as the inspiration for the Ventures. Johnny ran a music store in Colorado in later years and made his last solo recordings in 1976.

 Cornelius "Nini" Harp, lead singer and guitarist for the Marcels, died Wednesday (June 5). The group formed in Pittsburgh in 1959 by five high school friends who named themselves after the "marcel wave" hairdo popular at the time. They made their way to New York in 1961 in a near-blizzard at the invitation of Colpix producer Stu Phillips, who never expected them to actually follow through on the gesture. But true to his word, he took them in the studio and eventually recorded an up-tempo arrangement of "Blue Moon" with them, though they were not under contract. This proved to be a problem when DJ Murray-the-K started playing a bootleg copy of the recording on the radio. Stu got them signed however, and "Blue Moon" spent three weeks at #1. The group's version of "Summertime" stalled at #78 that year, but "Heartaches"-- sounding very much like "Blue Moon"-- soared to #7 later in the year. Two more tunes reached the bottom of the charts, but by 1962 Nini had left. He returned briefly to do some recording with them again in the mid-'70s and rejoined them for the Doo Wop 50 PBS special in 1999. The Marcels appeared in the movie, "Twist Around The Clock" and were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.

 Marshall Sewell, founder and bass singer of the Edsels of "Rama Lama Ding dong" fame, has died. The doo-wop classic was recorded in 1958 but reached #21 on Billboard's charts in 1961-- due partly to the success of the Marcel's "Blue Moon". It proved to be the only hit for the Campbell, Ohio group.

Jim Sundquist, one-half of the Madison, Wisconsin duo, the Fendermen (with Phil Humphrey), died Tuesday (June 4) of cancer at his home in Fairfax, Minnesota. He was 75. The University of Wisconsin students reached reached #5 in 1960 with their version of "Muleskinner Blues", but the follow-up, "Don't You Just Know It," only topped at #110 that year. Jim went on to spend 20 years as the Music And Art Therapist at Redeemer Residence in Minneapolis.

And Joey Covington, drummer with Jefferson Airplane from 1969 to 1972 and co-founder of Hot Tuna and its drummer from 1969 to 1970, died Tuesday (June 4) in a car crash in Palm Springs, California. He was 67. After going solo unsuccessfully in 1972, Joey did return to co-write the Jefferson Starship hit, "With Your Love" (#12-1976).



According to TMZ, Paul Anka has been sued in Los Angeles Superior Court by billionaire Mohamed Al-Fayed, claiming he and his late son, Dodi Fayed, were defamed in Paul's autobiography. Dodi is portrayed as "a womanizing, drug-using deadbeat and criminal," and Mohamed is said to have bailed him over over a bounced check he wrote to Paul. Paul, however says, "We have the evidence. We're very confident in this. Everything is true."

Marvin Junior, baritone lead singer with the Dells, died Wednesday (May 29) at his Harvey, Illinois home from kidney failure and heart disease. He was 77. Born in Harrell, Arkansas, Marvin grew up in Harvey where he attended high school with Johnny Funches, Chuck Barsdale, Mickey McGill and Verne Allison. Singing on the street corner there, they perfected their harmonies as the El-Rays. A contract with Chess Records in Chicago yielded little, but a trip down the street to Vee-Jay Records and a name change to the Dells gave them the classic original recording of "Oh What A Night" (#122 pop, #4 R&B -1956). They would not see charts again for the next nine years though, with the original "Stay In My Corner" (#122 pop, #23 R&B - 1965) and shortly thereafter returned to Chess and its Cadet subsidiary. "There Is" (with Marvin on lead) became the song that launched them as crossover artists, reaching #20 pop and #11 R&B in 1968. A remake of "Stay In My Corner" (#10 pop, #1 R&B - 1968) and "Always Together" (#18 pop, #3 R&B - 1968) continued the good fortune. All told, the quintet charted 31 times on the pop surveys and 47 times on the R&B charts, including a #1 R&B remake of "Oh What A Night" in 1969. They recorded for at least five more labels over the years, essentially with the same lineup (Johnny Carter replaced Johnny Funches in the early '60s). The Mighty Dells were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. They were creative consultants to Robert Townsend's movie, "The Five Heartbeats," based loosely on their story.




Floyd “Buddy” McRae, second tenor and last surviving member of the Chords of “Sh-Boom” fame, died Tuesday (March 19) at a nursing center in the Bronx. Recorded for Atlantic Records’ Cat label, the song (written by all the members and originally a B-side of a cover of Patti Page’s “Cross Over The Bridge”) made them the first R&B group to make the pop top ten (#9 in 1954, #3 R&B). Forced to change their name for legal reasons to the Chordcats and later the Sh-Booms, the group never had another chart hit and disbanded in the early ‘60s. The Bronx named a street near where they formed “Chords Way” last year in their honor. They were inducted into the United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame in 1996.

Robert (Bobby) Smith, one of the lead singers for the Spinners, died Saturday (March 16) at the age of 76 of complications from pneumonia and influenza. He had also been diagnosed with lung cancer last November. A Detroit native, Bobby joined the group there almost immediately after its formation as the Domingoes in 1954. Discovered and signed by Harvey Fuqua in 1960 to his Tri-Phi label, their first record, "That's What Girls Are Made For" (with Bobby on lead) reached #27 on the pop charts the next year. It was Bobby who named the group after flashy Cadillac hubcaps they called "spinners." In 1964, Tri-Phi merged with Motown and the Spinners joined that label, where their biggest hit was "It's A Shame" (#14-1970). It was with Atlantic Records (and producer Thom Bell), starting in 1972, that the group achieved superstardom. They had seven top ten records from 1972-1980, including "Then Came You" with Dionne Warwick (#1-1974), "Working My Way Back To You/Forgive Me Girl" (#2-1980), "I'll Be Around" (#3-1972) and "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" (#4-1973). Even as the hits (30 in all) dried up, Bobby continued as the voice of the Spinners through his final performance last month (despite his cancer setback). With his death, Henry Fambrough remains the last surviving original member. The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999 and were nominated for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.


Virgil Johnson, lead singer with the Velvets on their classic 1961 #26 hit, "Tonight (Could Be The Night)," died Sunday (February 24) at a hospital in Lubbock, Texas. The Cameron, Texas native was 77. It was Roy Orbison who brought the group to the attention of his label, Monument Records. In fact, their second and last charted record, Laugh" (#90-1961), was written by Roy. But unlike the "Big O," fame was fleeting for the Velvets and soon Virgil (who had earned degrees in education, counseling and school administration) became a teacher, administrator and even athletic director at various Lubbock schools. His students were never aware of his early singing success. It was only after his retirement from academia in 1993 that his story was told. He once again did some performing and even did a show for radio station KDAV in Lubbock.

 Mickey "Guitar" Baker, one-half of the duo of Mickey & Sylvia, died Tuesday (November 27) at his home in Toulouse, France at the age of 87. Born MacHouston Baker in Louisville, Kentucky in 1925, he ran away from the orphanage he lived in while still a teenager and supported himself as a dishwasher and pool hustler in New York City. Buying a guitar in a pawn shop, he learned how to play from a street musician and by 24 had formed his own combo. He recorded on sessions for several artists on Savoy, King and Atlantic Records (Including Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle & Roll" and "Money Honey" from the Drifters) before deciding to form a duo of his own with Sylvia Vanderpool. Mickey taught her to play guitar and paired up with her in 1955 on a series of recordings- eight of which charted pop, including "Love Is Strange" (#11-1957), "What Would I Do" (#46-1961) and "There Oughta Be A Law" (#47-1957). By 1962 their recordings stopped charting and Mickey moved to Paris, where he continued recording in the jazz vein that was his first love. Sylvia had a successful solo career in the mid-70s including "Pillow Talk" (#3-1973). Mickey received the Pioneer award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1999. Rolling Stone magazine named him the 53rd greatest guitarist of all time.

Earl "Speedoo" Carroll, lead singer with the Cadillacs and later a vocalist with the Coasters, passed away Sunday (November 25) in a New York nursing home at the age of 75. He had been in failing health battling a stroke an diabetes for the past year. Formed in Harlem as the Carnations in 1953, they named themselves after the luxury car before recording for New York's Josie Records in 1954. Their first recording, "Gloria," failed to chart that year but they reached #17 in 1956 with "Speedoo," where Earl sang, "They often call me Speedoo but my real name is Mr. Earl." Pesonnel problems led to two groups recording unsuccessully for awhile before a re-formed Cadillacs charted with "Peek-A-Boo" (#28) in 1959. The followup, "Romeo," bubbled under at #105 later that year and the group never charted again. Earl left for awhile to form Speedoo & the Pearls and left for good in 1961 to join the Coasters, apparently in time to sing "Little Egypt (#23) with them. Even later he served as a custodian at a New York elementary school (retiring in 2005), but in later years sang with a re-formed Cadillacs on the oldies circuit. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.


Cleveland "Cleve" Duncan, lead singer of the Penguins, died early Wednesday (November 7) in Los Angeles at the age of 77. Cleve started the group in Los Angeles with tenor Dexter Tisby, bass Curtis Williams and baritone Bruce Tate in 1954. They named themselves after the Kool cigarettes cartoon penguin, Willie. Signing with Dootone Records the following year, the made their mark with their first release, the legendary "Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)" (#8 pop, #1 R&B), becoming only the second doo wop group (after the Chords) to make the pop top ten. The song was intended to be the B-side of the release, but DJs flipped the recording Angel" that "bubbled under" the charts at #101 in 1960, the Penguins never had another hit, while the Platters charted 45 times. Though of "Hey Senorita" over. The Penguins signed with manager Buck Ram, who convinced Mercury Records to pick up the group's contract (after insisting they also sign another of his groups-- the Platters). Ironically, other than a re-issue of "Earth they broke up in 1962, Cleve-- who owned the name-- re-formed the group for performances on the oldies circuit. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.

 Andy Williams, the sweet-voiced singer who starred in his own television variety show on NBC from 1962 to 1967 (plus yearly Christmas specials) and amassed 27 top 40 hits (with many more on the adult contemporary charts) succumbed to bladder cancer Tuesday (September 25) at his home in Branson, Missouri. He was 84. Born Howard Andrew Williams in 1928 in Wall Lake, Iowa, he formed a singing group with three of his brothers and made a name for themselves on radio stations in Des Moines, Chicago and Cincinnati. They first appeared on record backing Bing Crosby on 1944's "Swinging On A Star" and appeared in four motion pictures. In 1953, Andy became a solo act and was a regular on Steve's Allen's "Tonight Show." His vocal version of "Canadian Sunset" was a #7 hit in 1956 and was one of 47 chart appearances, most notably "Butterfly" (#1-1957), "Can't Get Used To Losing You" (#2-1963), "Are You Sincere" (#3-1958), "Lonely Street" (#5-1959), "The Village Of St. Bernadette" (#7-1960), "I Like Your Kind Of Love" (#8-1957) and "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story" (#9-1971). Ironically, the song he is most associated with and he named his Branson theatre after-"Moon River"-was never released by Andy as a single. He sang it on the 1962 Academy Awards the night it won an Oscar. Andy was married to actress/singer Claudine Longet from 1961 to 1975 and stood by his ex-wife as she went on trial for shooting her boyfriend the next year. Andy sang the national anthem at Superbowl VII in 1973. He hosted the Grammy Awards for seven years in the '70s. The family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network.


Bill Lindsay (passed away June 20/12) sang with a myriad of doowop groups whose footprints are deep in the rich history of doowop music. The groups he lent his voice to include Dean
Barlow and the Crickets (2nd generation) ("Your Mine"), The Cadillacs (2nd generation) ("My Girlfriend"), The Twilighters ("Half Angel" and Little Did I
Dream") and the Bachelors/Monterays. Not only did he sing, he wrote songs as
well. He was known as one of the best tenors that came out of the South Bronx.
One of his favorite lines is "I sang with any group who wanted me"...and they all wanted him.  He left the music business in the early 1960s. He was honored by UGHA with Dean
Barlow as they represented Dean Barlow & The Crickets. He returned at my request in 1999 when he was included in the historic portrait "The Pioneers of Rhythm &
Blues, Rock & Roll and DooWop" and continued to perform only when I asked. His last public performance was at the Knights of Columbus in Forestville, MD in
2010. But he loved it. He loved the music he was a part of. He was alway humbled that people in the doowop family knew who he was and respected his
talent after all these years. He always said...."how do they know me"?