Little Anthony : The Beginning©2004JCMarion


As with so many of our musical histories of the R & B vocal groups of the nineteen fifties, this one begins in the halls of a high school in the inner city. This time it is Boys High School in Brooklyn, New York. From the streets of the Fort Green section of the borough in 1955, the group of friends from the neighborhood - Anthony Gourdine, and the three Williams : Bracey, Delk, and Dockery got together to make music. They knew that some other groups from the area had recently recorded and so they were local idols. Groups like The Fi-Tones, Velours, and Hurricanes, had achieved what the new group looked up to. And so there they went to that "Emerald City" of hopefuls, the Brill Building at 1650 Broadway in Manhattan. The group finally settled on a name that they saw on a can of chemical cleanser from a local grocery store. The name was Dupont, and so the would be vocalists were now known as The Duponts.

After they had been together close to a year, they came in contact with a budding record company owner and producer named Paul Winley. He was one of the few Black businessmen in the industry and thought the new group showed promise. They set up a session and the group prepped a couple of Winley originals called "You" and "Must Be Falling In Love". The backing musical combo at the session proved to be the top names in the R & B field in the New York area. Alan Freed stalwarts Sam "The Man" Taylor, Mickey "Guitar" Baker, Panama Francis, and Percy Heath. Also on the session was pianist Dave "Clowney" Cortez, a favorite of Paul Winley who would be in on many of subsequent recording dates for him. Both songs were released on Winley # 212 and hit the street in August of 1956. Unfortunately for the Duponts, nothing much came of their first record even though it did get some radio airplay.

Through some connections in the entertainment industry by relatives of one of the members of the group, they were contacted by performer and writer Otis Blackwell (who would go on to great fame as writer for Elvis Presley) and through his ties in record circles the group was given a shot with Royal Roost Records. This label made their name in modern jazz music, but every now and then dabbled in the sound of R & B as with The Mellomoods and The Four Pals. The Duponts recorded "Prove It Tonight" and "Somebody" which was released on Royal Roost # 627 in mid 1957. This record also was a failure and did not get very much airplay in the New York area. Anthony Gourdine then called it quits with the group, but The Duponts kept at it. In February of 1958, they recorded a rock 'n roll novelty tune called"Screamin Ball At Dracula Hall" for the Madison label. Roulette Records quickly bought the master from Larry Uttal of Madison, as Roulette hoped to cash in on the success of John Zacherle's "Dinner With Drac" on Cameo Records of Philadelphia. Roulette released the tune on # 4060 in March. The flip side was "Half Past Nothing". In the end, The Duponts record did not catch on as Roulette had hoped, and this spelled the end for the group.

In the meantime, Anthony Gourdine still had hopes to make it big in music. He persevered and soon formed a new vocal group consisting of neighborhood guys - Clarence Collins, Tracy Lord, Nat Rogers, and Ernest Wright, and they called themselves The Chesters. They hoped to record for George Goldner at Gone / End Records, but he was not impressed with the presentation or style of the group. Meeting with a successful group from the neighborhood, The Cellos, Gourdine seemed to think that the group had a better shot with Apollo Records, a longtime R & B independent that had been at the forefront in New York for many years. A recording session was set up at soon "Lift Up Your Head" and "The Fires Burn No More", two originals written by Gourdine were recorded by Apollo and released on # 521 in early 1958. It began selling moderately in New York and was featured by disc jockey Bill Powell at WEEP in Pittsburgh. "Fires" was a great vocal group performance by the Chesters, featuring call and response patterns on the bridge, and Anthony lapsing up into falsetto as he transitions into the last chorus. He really hits the high note on the last wortd for a dramatic ending. It had all the makings of a substantial hit but as the record suddenly tailed off, the Chesters felt that Apollo had dropped the ball and did not do enough to promote the record. In their minds, this inaction caused it to become lost in the shuffle of so many new records released every week. They began to look elsewhere for a new label and perhaps a better shot at success.

The group had been working on an Ernest Wright written song called "Two People In The World". They gave George Goldner and Gone / End another chance this time championed by Richard Barrett, formerly of The Valentines, and now a record producer and talent scout. They were given a second song called "Tears On My Pillow" and after a few takes, Goldner changed the arrangement around a bit and had Gourdine alter his delivery using a clipped shortened style rather than the elongated crooning effect used by most lead vocalists. When everyone was satisfied with the proper "take" of both songs, the record was set for release on End # 1027. Almost immediately, those at End decided they didn't like the name Chesters, and settled on Imperials for the group. Most of the sides naming The Chesters were recalled, and the group finally had hit their stride. On the second pressing of the record, the group had another name change, this time as Little Anthony & The Imperials. Where the "Little Anthony" came from is not clear. Some say it was the idea of Richard Barrett, others claim that George Goldner gave the group that name hoping to create another "Frankie Lymon type group", and still others say that it was the idea of Alan Freed. Whatever the truth, the group would become world famous with that name in the years ahead.

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