The Scarlets and Red Robin Records©2001JCMarion


The story begins with a local group in the city of New Haven, Connecticut called The Canaries. One young member of the group named Fred Parris did not particularly care for the direction and musical style of the group and left to put together some voices that were more attuned to his tastes. He found what he was looking for among the students at Hill House High School in the fall of 1953. The other members of the new vocal group were Sylvester Hopkins, Bill Powers, Nate Mosley, and Al Denby. Fred had written two ballad tunes that the new unit worked on - "Dear One" and "I've Lost" , and he was also lead singer and took on the task of business manager and agent all rolled into one. That was quite a start in the recording field for a seventeen year old. Undaunted, young Fred Parris walked the streets of New York looking for a record label that would take a chance on him and his fledgling group of vocalists. This search led him to Bobby Robinson and Red Robin Records in Harlem. Already having moderate success in the New York area with vocal groups such as The Mello-Moods, Vocaleers, Du Droppers, and Velvets, Robinson gave the new group now called The Scarlets, a shot at studio time after much convincing. The result was Red Robin #128 on the two Parris tunes. "Dear One" features a Parris lead with a touch of the echo chamber accompanied by a piano and a barely audible bass and drums. The flip side of "I've Lost" is also a ballad with a less rhythmic and more wistful sound featuring a guitar intro. On both tunes the lead by Fred Parris is clear and true. The 'A' side, "Dear One" was an immediate regional seller for Red Robin and the group started to get some in person work in the area. One such appearance was a moonlight sail on the Hudson River where they shared the stage with The Velvets and Cadillacs. By late July the record started to go national with good sales in Chicago and especially in Los Angeles.


The success of the record brought more live appearances and also the push for a followup on Red Robin. Late in 1954 The Scarlets recorded "Love Doll" and "Darling I'm Yours" for #133. Although today most fans love both sides as classic group harmony, at the time the record sunk without a trace. The Scarlets quickly returned the following February with "True Love" and "Cry Baby" on #135, and although it fared somewhat better than their previous release getting good trade press notices, it was the uptempo flip "Cry Baby" that became a footnote because of the success of a lame pop music cover of the tune by three Bellvue nurses called The Bonnie Sisters a year later. On the live version with Alan Freed (who pushed the record extensively) even a blistering sax break by Sam "The Man" Taylor couldn't save the Bonnies, and hopefully Parris received some composer royalties to help ease the pain. By mid 1955 Uncle Sam in the form of the U.S. Army intervened and The Scarlets were scattered throughout the country. That fall they did manage to get together for one last session for Red Robin Records and the result was another fine ballad called "Kiss Me" and it was coupled with a typical early-mid fifties jump tune called "Indian Fever" for #138 which was also one of the last releases for the label. Although the ballad side was another excellent vehicle for Parris and the group, the jump side had an irresistible hook that caught the ear of listeners. Now the time for The Scarlets was over as military service was the main reason for the demise of the group. In an interview some years ago with the editors of Bim Bam Boom magazine, Parris believed that total sales of recordings by The Scarlets were in the neighborhood of one million copies, for which he received one royalty check for thirty five dollars ! Such was the life and times of an R & B vocal group in the fifties.


While in the army and able to spend weekends back home in New Haven, Fred Parris decided to keep on the vocal group scene but with a new cast of vocalists and create some new opportunities. This is when The Five Satins were formed. There was one more recording listed as by The Scarlets which was released in 1958 on the Klik label ( #7905) that featured Fred on lead with original Scarlet Sylvester Hopkins, original Satin Lou Peeples, and Rich Freeman and Wes Forbes. The tunes were "She's Gone With The Wind" and "The Voice", but neither side made an impression with the record buying public. And so, The Scarlets are consigned to history but they should be considered as a group of vocalists who stand out on their own and not as a prelude to the much more famous and successful Five Satins. Fred Parris is certainly a talented force to be accorded his rightful place in history, but always remember the part played in that history by The Scarlets.


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