Cleveland's Voices : The Coronets©2004JCMarion


The Coronets vocal group were from Cleveland, Ohio, and hit their first notes of harmony in 1952 in the halls of Thomas Edison High School ( now named in memory of Martin Luther King Jr.). The original members of the group were baritone George Lewis, bass Will Griggs, his brother Sam Griggs on second tenor, and Lester Russaw on first tenor. Other sometimes members of the group from high school included two who would later find success in acting - Greg Morris and Leonard Parker. Supposedly another part time member of The Coronets was opera singer Cullen Maiden. In early 1953 they finally settled on a lead singer and a name. The new lead was Charles Carruthers , and the name they chose for themselves was The Coronets. Sam Griggs who was recently married, now looked to the income potential by singing in a vocal group and pushed for the boys to make their move. They entered some local talent contests in the Cleveland area, and had some early successes.

The first professional gig for The Coronets was at a local club in Cleveland as an opening act for The Orioles. They didn't know it at the time, but the Orioles liked their original performance of the song "Don't You Think I Ought To Know". In fact they liked it so much that it turned up on the 'B' side of their recording of "Crying In The Chapel" for Jubilee. When the Coronets realized this, it gave the group a much needed confidence boost to produce their own record, which they proceeded to do. They recorded two original songs by Charles Carruthers - "Nadine" and "I'm All Alone", and knew there was one person to see about getting the record on the radio. Alan "Moondog" Freed was the R & B king of Ohio (and soon the country) in 1953. It was at the studios of WJW in Cleveland that The Coronets pushed their demo recording onto Freed. They got a glad hand and a "don't call us, we'll call you" response, but surprisingly representatives of Freed got back to them and connected them with the people at Chess Records. The group made a new recording of the two songs for the Chicago R & B independent with the Sax Mallard combo and then waited for reaction. They soon had two surprises - "Nadine" acquired a new composer (Alan Freed), and the group had a new manager (Alan Freed).

First airplay (on Chess # 1549) was courtesy of Al "Ol Swingmaster" Benson on WGES radio in Chicago in July. That original boost set off a selling spree for the record. Freed used his position as manager for the group by signing them to a series of one nighter tours on the R & B circuit in the Midwest. By September the record is on the top ten best sellers in the country on the R & B charts. On labor Day night, The Coronets and The Flamingos engage in a good hearted "battle of the groups" at the Park City Bowl. Late in the year Chess releases "It Would Be Heavenly" and "Baby's Coming Home" on # 1553, but this time the airplay and the sales are not forthcoming. Through early in 1954 The Coronets do not see much in the way of earnings for their personal appearances and break with Freed. Soon two members of the group Carruthers and Russaw, are drafted into the army, and with new members record two new songs. The Chess label shows little interest in the group, the songs are never released, and cuts them loose. A new lead singer named Bobby Ward joins the group, and soon The Coronets are ready to give recording another shot.

The Coronets go back to their roots by winning a talent contest at Chicago's Flame Lounge which was sponsored by Irving Lief the owner of Sterling Records. Sterling signs the group and records some masters by the Coronets. They almost immediately sell the masters to RCA Victor in New York. In July of 1955, The Coronets now on New York based Groove Records (an R & B subsidiary label of RCA Victor) releases two songs from the Sterling masters - "Crime Does Not Pay" and "I Love You More" on # 0115. In August Groove follows up quickly with The Coronets version of Don Cornell's big pop hit "The Bible Tells Me So" and "Hush" on # 0116 (also from Sterling). Strangely, in November, one last Sterling release by The Coronets with the Bill Reese Quintet on the songs "The Little Boy" and "Don't Deprive Me" on #903 is issued. None of these sides had any success and the days of The Coronets were numbered. There was one last record by the group that came out in 1960 on the Job label listed as by Sammy Griggs & The Coronets- "Footsteps" and "Long John Silver" on # 100, and with it The Coronets faded into history.

They are remembered today for their one great tune that captures so much of the essence of the music as it was back in 1953. Every worthwhile compilation of vocal group sounds from the early and mid fifties includes "Nadine" by The Coronets which is because it has become such a signature sound of the times.

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