Doo Wop, originated in the streets of New York and Philadelphia, with groups standing on street corners harmonizing. It developed into a distinct music genre, originally sung by African Americans, then later other ethnicities adopted the genre.
Lehman Center for the Performing Arts is bringing Doo Wop to the Bronx on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 8:00 p.m., featuring the Coasters, The Herb Reed Platters, The Drifters featuring Charlie Thomas, the Chiffons and Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners as part of “Unforgettable Doo Wop.”
I spoke with two group originals, Judy Mann of the Chiffons, and the Drifters’, Charlie Thomas.
Ronnie Mack who wrote “Puppy Love,” and “He’s So Fine,” discovered the Chiffons, who at the time he met them were three Bronx teenagers with a penchant to sing.
Ronnie dreamed of being a success as a songwriter. He peddled his songs to record company after record company and despite numerous rejections, kept at it until he met producers Phil and Mitch Margo, Jay Seigel, and Hank Medress a.k.a., The Tokens. The Tokens liked Mack’s song, “He’s So Fine.” Mack brought in the Chiffons to sing it and consequently the song was released on Laurie Records.
“When we started out, we were just doing it for Ronnie. He wanted success so badly but Barbara, Pat and I were teenagers, so we didn’t take it as seriously as Ronnie. Stardom was Ronnie’s dream, we were just having fun,” recalled Judy Mann, the Chiffons lead singer.
“We never expected success, but of course were thrilled when Ronnie’s song became a hit. We grew up in the Bronx, so all we knew was the Bronx, success changed us a lot. We got to go overseas and many different places. We appeared on American Bandstand with Dick Clark which was very exciting and also appeared on Murray the Ks show,” said the Chiffon. Also, recording artists, The Tokens, as producers, split up the group, giving them an additional name to sing under. They were also “The Four Pennies.”
While Ronnie Mack did realize his dream of becoming successful, he succumbed to Hodgkins disease and passed away at age 25. Some of the songs made famous by the Chiffons are: “He’s So Fine,” “I Have A Boy Friend,” “One Fine Day,” “Sweet Talkin Guy,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and “Dream, Dream, Dream.” While the original Chiffons consisted of Judy Craig, Barbara Lee and Pat Bennett, the current Chiffons are still Judy, but now Dawn Mann and Ulena Morris.
The Chiffons were inducted into the Walk of Fame in 2005.
Seventyfive-year-old Charlie Thomas was eager to talk about his upcoming show at Lehman Center, especially since he spent much of his youth in New York. “I still got my rock ‘n roll shoes on,” quipped Charlie.
Charlie Thomas became a Drifter in 1956, when his group, the Five Crowns, won Amateur Hour at the Apollo. “I was part of the Five Crowns. A group known as the Drifters, were performing the same night as us. Some problem resulted between them, the theatre owner and manager George Treadwell. So we were asked if we wanted to become Drifters. I thought to myself — how can we become the Drifters when we are standing on the stage performing with them. But somehow or another we got a contract and they put us under the name “The Drifters.” Ben E. King wrote the song, “There Goes My Baby,” we recorded it, and there we were.” The Drifters had several hits like: “Under the Boardwalk,” “This Magic Moment,” “Save the Last Dance,” and “Up on the Roof,” et al.”
Charlie Thomas has been with the Drifters for 55 years and has traveled all over the globe. “I’ve been a Drifter since I was 16 years old. I came to New York when I was 12. I met The Five Crowns at 13, and became a Drifter at 16,” explained the famed singer. “I used to live on 121st Street, 167th Street and Grand Concourse and I also lived in Long Island and Brooklyn. I am a big Giants fan and true New Yorker.”
Charlie talked about his beginnings. “We used to hang out on the street corner on 8th Ave and 119th St. Groups hung out on the street corners singing back then. Sometimes the bigger celebrities used to come up 8th Avenue and watch the groups perform. Actor Jeff Chandler came and Billy Eckstein. So did Sammy Davis, Jr., and Tony Bennett. They used to throw money to the best group,” recalled Thomas.
Over the years, Charlie appeared with and/or met luminaries such as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. “I have met so many people who have influenced my life. Back in the day, I met Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Pigmeat Markham, Red Foxx, Malcolm X and Cab Calloway. I used to hang out with the Beatles at the Cave in England. All of them looked out for me and gave me good advice. They kept me away from the drugs and taught me how to present myself on stage. In fact, before appearing at Lehman on Jan. 28, I am working a cruise for a week with the Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders,” remarked Charlie.
Thomas was inducted in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame and won a Rhythm and Blues Award.