Street Scenes - New York and New Jersey ©1998 JCMarion



There were many opportunities to see the great vocal groups in their prime in the New York metro area. There were of course the theaters that hosted the radio disc jockey revues - The Brooklyn Paramount, home of most of the Alan Freed shows, Loew's State near Times Square where Freed and Jocko held forth, the old vaudeville house on 14th street called at that time the New York Academy of Music which was home for a Freed show, and the landmark Apollo in Harlem, home of many R & B revues and home to Dr. Jive and Hal Jackson shows. But there were other places where the sound of the harmonizing groups held forth. One of these was the wonderfully named Rockland Palace in Harlem, where Dr. Jive (Tommy Smalls) put on an early R & B revue to compete with Alan Freed's first big show at the Brooklyn Paramount. Another venue in Harlem that saw some stage show talent was St. Nicholas Arena. The most famous date there was the first Alan Freed show after he came to New York's station WINS. I remember St. Nick's as a big old barn and heard that it was the site of many professional prize fights over the years, but that magical night in January of 1955 it was the center of the universe. It was my indoctrination into the world of R & B performers, the likes of which I had never seen.

Another part of the big city that was the scene of many musical moments during the heyday of the vocal groups was in the Bronx-The Hunt's Point Palace. This was known mostly as a mambo fiend's hangout in the early fifties rivaling Manhattan's Palladium for that honor. This was also a place for jazz and early fifties R & B shows. I used to live in the neighborhood of the big room which was located on Southern Blvd. near 163rd street. A big Saturday was catching a movie at the Spooner and then head for the Palace to hear groups such as the Limelighters, Ladders, and Rob Roys. In the borough of Queens, one place that I remember seeing vocal groups do their stuff was at Lost Battalion Hall. One particular show back in 1956 was a benefit show with many amateur and professional vocal groups and performers. The Cleftones were supposed to be the headliners but they begged off at the last moment and were replaced by The Velours, which was fine with me since I had seen the Cleftones many times, but this was my first (and as it turned out my only) time to see Jerome Ramos and his boys.
If you were adventurous and loved the music enough back in the mid fifties, you would even find your way across the Hudson River to Newark, New Jersey. The biggest city in the state was also a hotbed of doowop activity in those days. The big hall was the Mosque Theater in the middle of the city. Whenever they could stage a revue without going into the Big Apple, the Mosque was the place. Some of the NJ radio deejays held their shows there such as Ramon Bruce and Jocko Henderson. Another place that held some great musical moments was the High Street Community Center. The Center ran a program for local talent that featured many area groups and performers. One visit to the center provided great memories of seeing the Young Lads and possibly the Metronomes (the memories are a little hazy over the years). A friend and I also tried to gain entry to a famous NJ night spot called Major's Lounge in an attempt to see the Five Pennies, but we weren't even close to being 21 so it was see 'ya later, alligator !

These were some of the places in and around the city of New York that featured the sound of the rhythm & blues vocal groups during the vintage years of the mid fifties.

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