Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd West in the Bronx, kicks off the New Year bringing in acts such as Barbara Harris and the Toys, Herbie Cox and the Cleftones, Kenny Vance and The Planotones: Cleveland Still and The Dubs, and Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs as part of their Unforgettable Doo-wop program at 8:00 p.m. on January 19th.
The melding of rock ‘n roll and street corner music known as doo-wop, captivated a generation in the 1950s and early ‘60s, continuing around the world to this day. People watched American Bandstand where kids danced to the music of live performers. For example, Cleveland Still and The Dubs, initially a Harlem-based group comprised of singers Bill Carlisle, Tom Grate and Jim Miller, founded by the late Richard Blandon in 1957, put out Top 40 Doo-Wop classics such as “Don’t Ask Me To Be Lonely,” “Be Sure My Love,” “Could This Be Magic,” and “Chapel of Dreams.” Who can forget enduring classics such as “Little Darlin,” “Stay” and “Return,” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs or the excitement that “A Lover’s Concerto,” and “Attack” caused when the girl group Barbara Harris and the Toys released their hit songs. The tradition continued with Kenny Vance who has been singing with the Planotones first formed in 1978. The group released CDs featuring “Teenage Jazz,” “Out of This World,” and “Looking for An Echo,” among others.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to two stars among the Lehman Center doo-wop show lineup, Herbie Cox who with the Cleftones recorded “Heart and Soul,” “Little Girl of Mine and “Your So Fine,” and eclectic singer Barbara Harris (Toys).
“I am excited about the show at Lehman. It gives me a chance to see some of the other groups whose music I admire but haven’t seen in a while. I think it’s a great lineup of performers,” said Herbie Cox, the lead singer for the Cleftones. “You know, I believe at this point, what we term as Rock ‘n Roll and doo wop, have merged into one thing. I am happy about that. We’re all busy. We have been all over the world – Italy, UK, and Barcelona. We’ve played everywhere. And this music is still popular. We had a crowd of 4,000 in Italy and a similar crowd in the UK. We have been traveling overseas about 9 years but it’s always good to return home,” said Herbie.
“I used to be a New Yorker but live in Atlanta, Ga now. However, I am always in NY and am still a Yankee and Giant fan. I was a student in Jamaica, Queens when the group got started. We were all young 16 and 17 year old students. Some kids who never won an election thought it would be a good idea if we wrote a campaign song for them. In those days, it was against the rules in our school to play rock ‘n roll music. So, we took a rock ‘n rock song and guised it as the campaign song. It went over big and won the election for the students who had engaged us,” chuckled Cox. “I was 16 when I joined the Cleftones and now this year makes our 58th consecutive year of performing. We’ve had a long stretch. Oh yes, there have been plenty of barren times but we have always had something to do… like nightclubs, touring or making records etc. In the early stages of our career back in the 1950s, we did get our education, that was important, but The Cleftones spent several years criss-crossing across the country working with folks like Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, and Laverne Baker who used to watch over us like a mother. As kids we were just happy to have our records played on the radio. We started off as the Silvertones but decided the name was not right for us so we became the Cleftones. The original group consisted of Warren Corbin (bass), Charles McGhee James, Berman Patterson, and William McClane (one of the founding members). Later, Gene Pearson and Pat Spann joined us. Pat was our only female member,” recalled the charming Mr. Cox.
“I started out in church. Our family came to NY where I went to school in Queens. While there, I met the other two Toys. We started making the rounds looking for background work and eventually met Eddie Chase who said he was going to make us stars. “We began to record songs and “A Lover’s Concerto,” took off in 6 weeks. It took us all over the world. A Lover’s Concerto was taken from Bach’s Minuet in G. The writers put a Motown beat to it. “Attack was also another concerto piece. We later left Bob Crew’s label and signed with Musicore, where we put out “Sealed With A Kiss,” explained R&B singer Barbara Harris who released her first CD, “Barbara Now.” “I am very proud of “Barbara Now,” it represents all the music I love to sing. In fact, I am presently back in the studio working on an additional CD. I hope folks will flock to Lehman Center because all the groups are wonderful and if you are a lover of Doo-wop you will not be disappointed.”
Tickets for Unforgettable Doo-wop can be purchased on line at www.Lehmancenter.org or by calling 718-960-8833.
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