(A.K.A.) - Also Known As : The Five Crowns©2000JCMarion


The Five Crowns were formed in Harlem, New York in 1951. The members of the group were Will "Yunkie" Paul - lead; Doc Green - bass and baritone; and the three Clark brothers - "Poppa", Johnny, and Nicky. After honing their sound in neighborhood sessions with other local groups, the Crowns were signed to the independent label Rainbow Records in July of 1952. The group was managed by Lover Patterson who contacted Eddie Heller about his new quintet and so the first session for Rainbow was set. The song "You're My Inspiration" was the 'A' side as the ballad seemed to take off in the New York area almost immediately. The flip side was "A Star" and was released on #179. Rainbow hoped to break the record in the Midwest but their plans were sidetracked momentarily by a trucker's strike, and so the label shipped the sides by air believing that The Crowns had hit potential. The label was correct in this assessment as the record got into the top ten R & B sellers charts that October in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Because of this reception The Five Crowns performed at a number of night spots and theaters in the Northeast. Riding the success (as limited as it was ) of the record Rainbow issues "$19.50 Bus Ride" and "Who Can Be True" which is reportedly released only on 78rpm because of very poor sales (45s evidently issued only to records that sell) by Rainbow.


Near the end of the year in early December, Rainbow Records released the third side by the group. This was Rainbow # 202, a cover of Joni James MGM pop hit "Why Don't You Believe Me?" and on the other side another ballad - "Keep It A Secret". This release by the group also did not do nearly as well as their first time out and by the time February of 1953 rolled around Rainbow Records had their fourth record ready. It was # 206 - "Alone Again" and "I Don't Have To Hunt", and was to be premiered on New York's Doctor Jive radio show. In July Old Town Records announces the signing of The Five Crowns after a financial disagreement (what other kind is there between groups and their label) with Rainbow Records. The initial release on the Old Town label by the group was #790 - "You Could Be My Love" and "Good Luck Darling". Again the record is not a big seller, but the group makes many personal appearances in the East especially in New York such as the Dawn Casino with Joe Medlin and the Hot Lips Page orchestra, and Pep's in Philadelphia. At about this time Nicky Clark leaves the group and joins Willie Winfield in the Harptones. In early 1954 Old Town follows with #794 - "Lullaby Of The Bells" and "Later Later Baby". Once again for the group, sales and airplay were minimal and the group's status with Old Town was up in the air.


By early 1955 The Five Crowns recorded again for Rainbow Records as announced (once again by Eddie Heller) in February of 1955, but this time on the label's subsidiary Riviera Records with Eddie Wilcox formerly of Derby Records as musical director. The tunes were "You Came To Me" and "Ooh Wee Baby" on #990. When this record also failed to get anywhere the group called it quits. Doc Green now joined Yunkie Paul, and new members Elsberry Hobbs, Jess Facing, and Benjamin Nelson for the 1956 version of the Five Crowns. They recorded "God Bless You" and "Do You Remember" for Gee #1001, and "Popcorn Willie" and "I Can't Pretend" which was issued on TransWorld #717. Neither record did anything and are today collector's items attesting to their obscurity.
By the start of 1958 the group was still around, only this time they were a six man outfit consisting of original beginner Doc Green, rejoined by two of the Clark brothers James and Nicky, Elsberry Hobbs, Benjamin Nelson, and new member Charlie Thomas and now known as The Crowns. Soon Nicky returned to The Harptones and the remaining five had a recording session for a new indie label called R and B Records headed by the songwriting team of Doc Pomus and Mort Schuman. The release numbered 6901 was out in March and featured "Kiss And Make Up" and "I'll Forget About You". The uptempo side "Kiss" was an immediate hit and one of the great jump tunes released in the late 50s. Sales and airplay were good and soon the group was riding a crest the likes of which they hadn't seen in six long years. One night as legend would have it, they were on the same bill with The Drifters at the Apollo Theater. Drifters manager George Treadwell liked the Crowns so much that he canned the Drifters as a unit and signed The Crowns to become his new version of The Drifters. Crowns sometime lead singer Benjamin Nelson renamed as Ben E. King led the new renamed group, and the rest as they say, is history.


So after a struggle to survive in the music business by the Five Crowns since 1951, they finally attained fame and (perhaps) fortune as a group known as The Drifters in 1959. What a long strange trip it had been, once again showing that perseverance has its rewards. The Five Crowns, a six year long footnote to R & B history.


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