There's Our Song Again : The Chantels©2005JCMarion


In the mid nineteen fifties, the hallways of St. Anthony of Padua School in the Bronx, New York, echoed with the singing harmonies of five girl students of the Catholic school. The girls were Arlene Smith, Sonia Goring, Jackie Landry, Lois Harris, and Rene Minus. After the strict practices of the school's choir, the girls would sing for themselves and develop their own special brand of music. Before long the girls would make the usual progression by appearing at local talent shows and school dances. As the girls searched for a name for their vocal group, they got an inspiration from a neighboring school called St. Francis de Chantelle. They adopted a shortened version of the name and thus became known as The Chantels.

Arlene Smith, with her training in gospel and classical music, was the lead singer for the group and also featured writer for original songs that the group worked on. They soon came in contact with Richard Barrett, the leader of The Valentines and also a talent scout and sometime producer for George Goldner. Goldner originally had the Tico, Gee, and Rama labels and was now developing Gone and End Records. The girls were finally set to record and two of Smith's compositions were chosen. "He's Gone" and "The Plea" were recorded and released on End # 1001 in the late summer of 1957. "Gone" became a radio favorite in New York and the rest of the Northeast almost immediately. Arlene Smith's powerful lead voice combined with the choir-like backup by the rest of the group made a favorable impression on many listeners. The popularity of the record led The Chantels to appear on stage with famous d.j. "Jocko" (Doug Henderson) at the Apollo Theater over the Labor Day weekend and then in Newark, New Jersey. On November 1, The Chantels share the stage with The Bobbettes and other groups at the Hunts Point Palace in the Bronx with radio personalities Hal Jackson and Jack Walker.

In early December The Chantels play the Apollo Theater again, this time with radio dj Jack Walker. While "He's Gone" was still hot, the group set up to record again. This time the session was reportedly held in a converted church to take full advantages of the unique acoustics of the interior. The songs were "Maybe" and "Come Little Baby" a forgettable 'B' side. "Maybe" took right off and had all the earmarks of a terrific national hit. The record was released in late 1957 on End # 1005 and in the first three months of 1958 "Maybe" was a national pop music smash. It got into the top fifteen best selling records in the country and topped the country on the R & B charts. In mid January The Chantels appear at St. Nicholas Arena in Harlem in a show mc'd by Paul Sherman, Alan Freed's right hand man. In February the group hits the road with a packaged show headlined by Sam Cooke. In the early spring The Chantels recorded again, and the result was "Every Night" and "Whoever You Are" on # 1015. Once again it was a good seller across the country and a top forty pop music chart entry. In March the group appeared in Philadelphia with George Woods at the Uptown Theater.

In April The Chantels sign on for "The Big Beat Show" for Alan Freed which stars Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many others. In the spring of 1958 "I Love You So" a song recorded by The Crows, and "How Could You Call It Off" on End # 1020. This was another top forty pop smash and The Chantels had become one of the top vocal groups of the late fifties and one of the best "girl groups" ever. In July the girls appear on the Alan Freed television program. In the middle of the summer The Chantels recorded a gospel flavored tune called "Prayee" and was coupled with "Sure Of Love" on End # 1026. This time the record did not sell and the group faced disappointment and failure for the first time in their career. In August "If You Try" and "Ific" (a play on Dick Clark's Saturday night TV show) is released on # 1030 and quickly replaced by "If You Try" and "Congratulations" (also on # 1030). In October The Chantels do television shows in Chicago.

In early 1959 "Never Let Go" and "I Can't Take It" are released on End # 1037. In February The Chantels back Richard Barrett on "Walking Through Dreamland" and "Come Softly To Me" on George Goldner's Gone label on # 5056. Reports out of the Midwest show that "Never Let Go" is a good seller in St. Louis and Kansas City. In March the group signs on with "The Biggest Show Of Stars of 1959" to be headlined by Clyde McPhatter and Lloyd Price. In April Gone Records releases a Chantels LP album called "We Are The Chantels" on End # 301. . In June Gone releases "Summer's Love" and "All Is Forgiven" by Richard Barrett & The Chantels. At the same time Barrett records as a single for 20th Century Fox and continues as the manager of The Chantels. In August "I'm Confessin" and "Goodbye To Love" on End # 1048. At about this time Arlene Smith left the group to go solo but the label continued to release records made by the group.

In 1960 "Whoever You Are" / "How Could You Call It Off" is released on Gone # 1069, but as with the last five records, it did not sell. Later in the year " I " and "Believe Me" as by The Chantels on Gone # 1103 is actually by another Richard Barrett group called The Veneers. "There's Our Song Again" and "I'm The Girl" on # 1105 in early 1961 was the last tunes by the original group from off the shelf. At this time Barrett took the lead singer from The Veneers Annette Smith (no relation to Arlene) and went to Carlton Records. "Look In My Eyes" and "Glad To Be Back" was released on Carlton # 555 in August of 1961. The result was a return to the top sellers list for the first time in over three years. Despite the absence of Arlene Smith, the sound of the group was a return to the choir-like ballad sound that made them such popular hit makers. "Look" was a top ten seller and remained on the charts for almost four months.

Richard Barrett tried something new with The Chantels for their next record. The song was "Well I Told You" with Richard featured on part of the vocals. It was a different take of Ray Charles "Hit The Road Jack", and was a top thirty seller for the group on Carlton # 564. In 1962 a third side for Carlton "Summertime" and "Here It Comes Again" on # 569 was a no show on the best sellers charts. Meanwhile End Records released # 1120 - "Mon Cherie Au Revoir" and "To Live My Life Again" as by The Chantels, but this time it was a solo effort by Arlene Smith. By 1963 The Chantels were basically at the end of their history even though Sandra Dawn was lead singer for a couple of recordings for the Ludix label, and various odd releases were done for Verve, 20th Century Fox, Roulette, and RCA as late as 1970. Over the ensuing years, The Chantels have appeared at a few oldies shows and on PBS specials celebrating the history of the R & B vocal groups.

Back in 1957 there was magic in the recording studio as a then fifteen year old Arlene Smith sang her heart out with her friends filling in the part of the angelic choir creating a singular sound that lives on to this day. There are available CDs that keep the sound alive. "For Collectors Only" on Collectables features 40 tracks almost all from End and includes alternate takes and early stereo takes. "Look In My Eyes" also from Collectables features the sides from Carlton and Ludix labels. "We Are The Chantels" / "There's Our Song Again" are two remastered End LPs for Westlake (UK), and for the essential hits on End and Carlton there is "The Best Of The Chantels" for Rhino.

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