Remembering The Basin Street Boys©2004JCMarion


The origins of the Basin Street Boys go back to a musician that we are all familiar with. That person is Steve Gibson - yes the Steve Gibson who gained everlasting fame with The Red Caps. The singer - guitarist joined by Louis Dandridge, Joe Walls, Lloyd Mitchell, and Pods Hollinsworth. The group performed under a number of names including The Four Dots and The Esquiress. According to Marv Goldberg's article on The Red Caps, band leader Jean Calloway gave the quartet the name Basin Street Boys. This group had an odd history in the business as they recorded only one obscure side but were present on a number of motion pictures and animated shorts. One picture was released in 1938 and called "The Bronze Venus" (also known as "The Duke Is Tops") and starred Lena Horne. An interesting sidelight of this picture is the appearance of another pioneering Black vocal group The Cats & the Fiddle. Animated shorts that featured the musical talents of the original Basin Street Boys were "Clean Pastures" which also featured the voices of Fats Waller, Stepin Fetchit, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and believe it or not, Al Jolson ! Another was the unfortunately named "Swing Monkeys, Swing".

A few years later, a long time friend and associate of Gibson named Ormond Wilson formed a vocal foursome in the mid nineteen forties. Along with Wilson in the group were Gene Price, Artie Waters, and Reuben Saunders. Wilson had remembered the name of the quartet from back in the thirties and changed their name from The Dreamers to The Basin Street Boys. By late in 1945 the group had signed a recording contract with Exclusive Records in Los Angeles, one of the very few Black owned independent record labels. In early 1946 their first effort was in a backup role accompanying singer Judy Carroll on the tunes "Changes" and "I Want To Love and Be Loved" on #215. Soon after the first recording featuring the group on its own was "Jumpin at the Jubilee" and "Nothing Ever Happens To Me" on #225. That summer however, the group found success at last. Ormond Wilson singing lead put over the song "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman" on #225. Favorable airplay and word of mouth rather than heavy sales was the responsible factor that gave the group name recognition and box office appeal. The flip side was the jivey novelty "Voot Nay on the Vot Nay" owing a nod to Slim Gaillard. Five more sides for Exclusive followed in the next year and a half, but none made the impression that "Junkman" had. "This Is The End Of A Dream" on #229, "Josephine" / "I'm Gonna Write A Letter To My Baby" on #239, "I'll Get Along Somehow" on #247, "Summertime Gal" on #19x, and "Near You" / "You're Mine Forever" on 21x.

The Basin Street Boys continued to perform in club dates during the late forties. From the strength of their recording of "Junkman" they got spots as mostly opening acts on the TOBA circuit of Black theaters in the Northeast and Midwest. By mid 1948 Mercury Records bought some unreleased masters the group had recorded for Exclusive and gave the group, now called Ormond Wilson & The Basin Street Boys, two records for the label during the last half of 1948. "If I Can't Have You" and "Come To Me" was released on Mercury #8106, and "Please Give My Heart A Break" and "To make A Mistake Is Human" on #8120. Neither recording made its mark on sales or airplay but the group continued to make personal appearances in the Northeast.

In January of 1950 Leon Rene suspended operations of the Exclusive Records label. The label then sold off many of its master recordings including some by the Basin Street Boys, to other companies. The group as announced in trade publications was represented by the famed Jolly Joyce agency in Philadelphia. They continued to appear in area clubs but did not have further success on record and in early 1951 Ormond Wilson called it quits for the group and the Basin Street Boys were no more. They remain little more than a footnote to the history of the founding of the music that has dominated the world for more than a half century, but the memories and the songs remain.

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