1950 : The Orioles
The Orioles were founded as The Vibranaires in Baltimore in 1946 and consisted of lead Sonny Til (Erlington Tilghman), Alexander Sharp (tenor), George Nelson (baritone), John Reed (bass) and Tommy Gaither (guitar). Deborah Chessler became their manager, and provided the song for their first recording on It's A Natural called "It's Too Soon To Know". Jerry Blaine soon changed the name of his label to Jubilee, and a long string of hit records began. By 1950 they were the most popular R & B vocal group in the country and were the most influential performers of this music.
In January, the Jubilee recording of "Forgive And Forget" #5016, topped the national Rhythm & Blues charts. On the heels of that hit recording Jubilee #5018 followed "My Heart Is Wasting Time" / "Would You Still Be The One In My Heart". The Orioles have a happy homecoming in Baltimore at the Regal Theater with Hal Singer and his combo, and the Three Flames. Jubilee Records announces that "Forgive And Forget" has passed the one hundred thousand mark in sales, a good figure for the R & B market in 1950. In a unique and interesting program, the Orioles appear with the full Duke Ellington Orchestra with Al Hibbler at the Chicago Opera House in February. In mid March Jubilee releases "At Night" and "Every Doggone Time" on #5025. One month later #5026 is out pairing "Moonlight" and "I Wonder When". Both are not immediate hits but will become steady sellers over a period of many months. At the end of April the Orioles begin an extensive tour of the South with blues singer and pianist Amos Milburn. The tour opens in Savannah, Georgia, and has sold out its three dates at the Municipal Auditorium in Atlanta. In Savannah in support of their appearance in that city, they do a radio show with Larry Shields. The appearance turns into chaos as the group is mobbed by a huge turnout of fans and they have to retreat and leave for their own safety.
On Memorial Day week, the group does tremendous box office at New York's Apollo Theater, and follows that with shows at the Starlite Arena in their hometown of Baltimore. In June another Jubilee release is out. It is #5028 - "Everything They Said Came True" / "You're Gone". In mid June the Orioles will embark on another tour of southern states, this one beginning in Suffolk Virginia. At the end of the southern tour, the Orioles appear in Asbury Park, New Jersey. There Jubilee owner Jerry Blaine presents the group with a brand new Cadillac and a royalty check for fifty thousand dollars for recent record sales for the label. At the Maple Grove Inn outside of Philadelphia, the Orioles appear with Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams and his band. In August Jubilee releases #5031 "I's rather have You Under The Moon" / "We're Supposed To Be Through". In mid August the group begins a tour of Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Tennessee.
The power of the presence of the Orioles and especially the magnetism of lead singer Sonny Til is shown at an appearance at the Lyric Theater in Lexington Kentucky in September. Hordes of female fans rush the stage and mob the group at the beginning of their performance. The show had to be stopped and it took more than a half hour for order to be restored so that the show could continue. At the end of their tour Jubilee #5037 hits the streets. It is the group's version of the hit folk song by Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) "Goodnight Irene" and is backed with "I Need You So". Early in the morning of November 5, tragedy strikes the Orioles. The group was driving from a date on Long Island to Washington D.C., when about five miles outside of Baltimore a serious automobile accident occurred and it claimed the life of guitarist Tommy Gaither and seriously injured members George Nelson and Johnny Reed. Sonny Til and Alex Sharp were in another car and were not injured. The accident devastated the group but in the show business tradition the show must go on, and so the Orioles fulfilled a contracted engagement at Philadelphia's Earle Theater shortly afterward. Ralph Williams was the replacement for Tommy Gaither.
In mid November Jubilee releases #5040 which pairs "I Cross My Fingers" with "Anymore". At the Starlite Ballroom in Baltimore, the Orioles headline a benefit show for the widow and children of Tommy Gaither. Disc jockey Chuck Richards acted as the mc. At year's end Jubilee releases #5045 "The Lord's Prayer" and "Oh Holy Night" and re-releases #5017 "Lonely Christmas" and "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve". The Orioles close out the year as part of a show held at New York's Carnegie Hall that was broadcast over the Armed Forces Radio Service for those in military action in Korea. The show featured John Kirby's orchestra, and Wilbur DeParis' Jazz band. Art Ford was the master of ceremonies.
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