Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd. West in the Bronx, kicks off the new year by 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 “Ultimate Doo-Wop” program at 8 p.m. on Jan. 19.
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 including 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 the Toys released their hit songs. The tradition continued with Kenny Vance, who has been singing with the Planotones since it 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 “You’re So Fine”–and eclectic singer Barbara Harris.
“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,” said Cox. “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, the 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 nine years, but it’s always good to return home,” Cox said.
“I used to be a New Yorker, but I live in Atlanta now. However, I am always in New York and am still a Yankees and Giants 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 song and disguised it as the campaign song. It went over big and won the election for the students who had engaged us,” Cox remembers, chuckling.
“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. 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 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 on bass, Charles McGhee James, Berman Patterson and William McClane. Later, Gene Pearson and Pat Spann joined us. Pat was our only female member,” recalled the charming Cox.
Barbara Harris, lead singer of the Toys, remembers, “I started out in church. Our family came to New York, 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 six 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 another concerto piece. We later left Bob Crew’s label and signed with Musicore, where we put out ‘Sealed With a Kiss,’ Harris recalls.
In 1998, Harris 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,” she says.
Having amassed decades of experience as a musician since her start as a girl in Queens, she says, “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 “Ultimate Doo-Wop” can be purchased online at www.Lehmancenter.org or by calling 718-960-8833.