Billy Dawn Smith and The Billy Dawn Quartette©2002 JCMarion


Billy Dawn Smith was an aspiring singer and composer who grew up on the streets of Brooklyn in a section known as Fort Green. In the early nineteen fifties Smith put together a vocal group that consisted of himself, his brother Tom, and two friends Donny Myles and Sonny Benton . Billy dropped his last name in naming the foursome and was now known as The Billy Dawn Quartette. One of the sometime members of the group was pianist and vocalist Al Browne who in later years become famous for his work for many record labels in New York, especially Hull Records. While the vocal group worked on their harmony and presence, they also worked hard on coming up with original material. In the spring of 1952, they made their way to Harlem to see Lexy "Flap" Hanford, a well known entertainment entrepreneur in the neighborhood. He thought enough of their talent to send them to an acquaintance of his named David Levitt who owned a small independent record label called Decatur Records. After meeting with Levitt and some more work on their songs, they went into a small recording studio and the result was two songs "This Is The Real Thing Now" and "Crying For My Baby" which was released by the label on #3001. The first copies were listed as by The Dawn Quartette, but that was soon changed to The Billy Dawn Quartette.

During the summer of 1952, there was not much action on the record with airplay or sales and within two weeks the record was hard to find. This lack of success has made this one of the rarest record from the vocal group era. The group took their initial failure in stride and felt that they should turn to others who might be able to help. They went to see Bobby Robinson of Red Robin Records who in turn led them to radio personality and music business manager Joel Turnero. He got the group an audition for Memphis based Duke Records and in late 1952 they recorded the songs "Why Can't I Have You" and "No Other Love". Just before the record was released, the label decided to rename the group as The Mighty Dukes to feature the label name on the record. The release was on Duke #104. This was another record by the group that did not do well, but the label gave them another shot early the following year. They recorded the songs "Crying In The Chapel" a cover of the Orioles version of the tune, and an up tempo novelty "I Done Done It". The group's version of "Chapel" featured Donny Myles on lead, and on the original release the label listed the group as The Four Dukes, and the later pressings were as by Donny Myles & The Dukes. The record was issued on Duke #116. Once again the group just could not get their record proper promotion, even though it had decent sales in Memphis and New Orleans. By now Duke Records decided to cut the group loose and they were without a label.

The searched for another shot with a new label well into 1954, and hooked up with New York's R & B independent Herald Records of Al Silver. Two more Billy Dawn written songs were chosen for their recording session for Herald. The songs were "Eternal Love" and "I'm Gonna Love You Every Day". Once again a name change was presented to the group, and again it was a way to highlight the label name, and thus The Heralds. The new recording was released on Herald #435 and unfortunately for the group, it was once again a failure. Billy Dawn Smith however was retained by the label as a writer, arranger, and assistant producer. The quartette was sometimes used as a backup group for solo artists, but they did not issue any more records. The group also appeared on local New York television, and backed up solo performers on stage in nightclubs and theaters.

Billy Dawn Smith gained his greatest fame as a writer of songs for various artists. He wrote a number of songs for The Crests in the late 50s including "Step By Step" and "The Angels Listened In", he also wrote "To The Aisle" (not Fred Parris as most assume), "This Is My Love" by The Passions, and in the pop field "Just Born (To Be Your Baby)" written with Luther Dixon for Perry Como. Billy was also one of the founders of Hull Records famous for recording The Heartbeats, The Avons, and others in the late fifties. In October of 1958 Billy was still at it as he recorded a solo release with the songs "This Is Real: and "Susie We Goofed Again" ( a sequel to "Wake Up Little Susie" ?) which was issued on Coed Records #504 as by Billy Dawn.

Billy Dawn Smith did not meet with much success as a recording artist but was more successful as a writer and arranger. The Billy Dawn Quartette is seen as a kind of footnote to R & B history in the early fifties. He and his group remain a part of history of the music and should not be written off or forgotten.

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