Forever I Vow : The Chestnuts©2004JCMarion

The Chestnuts were named for their home state, Connecticut. They were from New Haven and the original members of the group were Reuben White, Lymon Hopkins, his brother Frank, and Jimmy Williams. When they thought they were ready for a shot at recording, they made the rounds of a number of independent record companies in New York City without much success. The group thought about their status and felt that if they featured a female lead singer, they would have a more unique sound and have a better chance for a recording contract. At this time they contacted someone whom they thought would be the perfect addition to the group, and so Ruby Whitaker became the lead voice of the group.

Now the Chestnuts were set and they were put in contact with long time record producer and company owner Joe Davis. He had previously went out on his own with the Beacon label, and then Jay-Dee Records, and had good sellers with The Mellows and Dean Barlow and The Crickets. The Chestnuts were set to record on another label, this one called Davis Records. In June of 1956 Davis # 447 is released featuring The Chestnuts on "It's You I Love" and "Love Is True". The 'A' side "Love Is True" gets good airplay in New York and Philadelphia, especially from Herman Amis and Doctor Jive in the Big Apple, and Jocko in Philadelphia. Although the song is an excellent group ballad featuring Whitaker's lead, sales do not dent the top hit charts and Joe Davis readies another try for the group. In September of the year, The Chestnuts record "Brother Ben" and "Forever I Vow" on Davis # 452. "Vow" is another superior group ballad with another truly fantastic performance by Whitaker on lead. Her voice up front with the four male backups give the group an unmistakable sound that they can call their own. Unfortunately, not enough record buyers followed through on this great song and Davis dropped the group from the label.

In February of 1957, the group signed on with a Connecticut outfit called National Enterprises which featured a record label called Standord Records located in the group's home town of New Haven. Standord would become famous as the original label for The Five Satins epic hit "In The Still Of The Night". Martin Kugell, the head of Standord Records, promotes the Chestnuts recording of "Who Knows Better Than I" on # 100. The flip side is "Mary Hear Those Love Bells". By the next month all subsequent releases by Standord had the release number of 7701. By May Standord # 7701 featured "Who Knows Better Than I?" as by Ruby Whitaker & The Chestnuts, and the new flip side was "Mary Hear Those Love Bells" as by Lymon Hopkins & The Chestnuts. The song "Who Knows Better Than I?" was also released on Eldorado Records on # 511 with "I Feel So Blue" on the flip side. The Chestnuts who recorded "Wiggle Wiggle" and "This Is My Love" for Aladdin Records in late 1958 are not the same group.

In early 1959, Ruby Whitaker had left the group, but the Chestnuts carried on with a lineup of Lymon Hopkins, Frank Hopkins, a third brother Arthur Hopkins, Reuben White, and new lead singer Bill Baker who had spent some time in New Haven's Five Satins. A Connecticut record producer named Clarence Drum began two local labels in 1958, Elgin and Drum Records. He signed The Chestnuts to his label and in February of the year Elgin # 007 is released featuring "Won't You Tell Me My Heart" and the flip side is listed as by Bill Baker & The Chestnuts on the song "Tell Me Little Darling". During May of the year Elgin Records releases "Chit Chat" and a version of The Five Satins song "Wonderful Girl" listed as by Bill Baker & The Chestnuts on # 021. Neither of the Elgin releases did much for the group or the label. Further sides for the labels by the group with new members Marvin and Hayes Baskerville and Vickie Lee included "Chapel In The Moonlight" by Marvin Baskerville & The Five Chestnuts, and "Billy My Kind Of Baby" by Hayes Baskerville & The Five Chestnuts both on the Drum label. In 1959 "Tell Me Little Darling by Bill Baker & The Chestnuts on Elgin, and "Crying My Heart Out" by Vickie Lee & The Chestnuts on Drum Records. An older Chestnuts side with Ruby Whitaker called "I'm So Glad" was owned by Drum but never released. There was one last record for Coral that was thought to be by the group - "Wobble Shank" and "Endless Love" on Coral # 62176.

The Chestnuts, despite their shortage of hits are responsible for two of the classic sounds of the Rhythm & Blues vocal groups of the fifties. Their two sides for Davis are the sounds of the era and represent the great style and talents that were found on so many street corners and high school halls of the time. The Davis sides are found on many compilation CDs, and "Who Knows Better Than I" is on "A Million Dollars Worth of Doo-Wop" volume 3. The Drum and Elgin sides are included in a retrospective CD of those labels output that was released in 2002.

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