Lee Andrews and The Hearts©2004JCMarion


The sounds wafted through the halls of Bertram High School in the city of Philadelphia, which served as a counterpoint to other sounds of students going home for the day. In the rush of excitement to have another day of school become history, the young voices gave flight to dreams of a world far removed from the present situation in their lives. In fact they called themselves just that - The Dreamers - and this was a part of that fantasy world that engulfs so many young lives in the inner city just as it does today more than a half century later. These Dreamers consisted of Arthur Thompson (who would use his two middle names of Lee Andrew to form his own identity), Roy Calhoun, Butch Curry, Jimmy McAllister, and John Young, and their style was changing from a background in Black gospel music (Thompson's father was a one time member of gospel's great Dixie Hummingbirds) to the more contemporary tunes of the day by such personalities as The Ravens, Orioles, 5 Keys, Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstein, and nat Cole.

In late 1953 the Dreamers began to get serious about their musical aspirations and work on songs giving them their own local style. Early the following year they felt they were ready and approached local disc jockey and Philadelphia radio personality Kae Williams who broadcast over WHAT with his popular show "The Snap Club". Williams gave the group a listen to with a private audition and the DreaMers did their rendition of "The Bells Of St. mary's" and their take of a big pop hit from 1948 by Gordon Jenkins with a memorable vocal by Charles LaVerre called "Maybe You'll Be There". The group must have really hit their notes because Williams was visibly impressed - so much so that he decided to become the manager of the quintet and soon set up a recording session for them in downtown Philadelphia.

As the group set up for their first session they learned of a West Coast vocal group called The Dreamers (that featured lead singer Richard Berry) and so thinking about a new name, they came up with Lee Andrews and The Hearts. The songs recorded were "Maybe You'll Be There" and "Baby Come Back", and soon Kae Williams went looking for a record label. He soon set up a meeting with Philadelphia night club owner Eddie Heller. Heller coincidently was the owner of New York independent R & B label Rainbow Records. In late April of 1954, Rainbow announced the signing of the group to their label. The two songs by the group were released on Rainbow # 252 in May. The record has some initial reaction in their hometown of Philadelphia, but not much else happens for the group. A second recording of "White Cliffs Of Dover" and "Much Too Much" on # 256 does very little.

In October, the third release for Rainbow paired their old favorite "The Bells Of St. Mary's" and "The Fairest" on # 259. Because of the popularity of the Drifters version of "Bells", the Hearts never had a chance with their take on the tune. Kae Williams figured that three strikes and out with Rainbow, and so the group was now free to make a new arrangement. None was forthcoming for a number of weeks and so the quintet mostly did club work in the local area. In early 1955 Jimmy McAllister then left the group for military service and was replaced by Ted Weems (no relation to the 1930s band leader). For the rest of 1955, the group made a few personal appearances locally, but no new recordings were issued and it looked like The Hearts were destined to be a footnote to the great history of vocal group singing.

Persistence paid off for the group as they hung in and finally got a shot with Philadelphia label Gotham Records. Early in 1956 they recorded for their new label and by late May of the year Gotham # 318 was released - "Bluebird Of Happiness" and "Show Me The Merengue". In September "Lonely Room" and "Leona" two great ballads were released on Gotham # 320. For the first time the group started to get airplay on radio with "Lonely Room" becoming a favorite in the Northeast. One last side for Gotham late in the year was "It's Me" and "Just Suppose" on # 321. By now the group who had signed with Kae Williams as minors, moved on and hooked up with another Philly d.j.. the one and only Douglas "Jocko" Henderson who was now branching out to New York radio. Jocko had part ownership of another local label called Mainline Records and so The Hearts were now ready to try again.

As the group got ready for a new start John Young left the group and was replaced by Wendell Calhoun, the brother of Roy. In the spring of 1957 Lee Andrews and The Hearts recorded "Long Lonely Nights" and "The Clock" for Mainline # 102. "Nights" was an instant winner the best the group had ever recorded, and it started to take off. Jocko searched for national distribution for the record and went with Chess in Chicago which issued the songs on # 1665. Soon Atlantic released a version of the song by the now solo Clyde McPhatter, and a third version was by The Kings on Baton (who were in reality The Ravens-the record leased to baton by Chess). The Hearts battled the McPhatter version and the group had their first national hit.

The group appeared with Jocko at the Apollo Theater for a big Labor Day holiday show and made some other area appearances with the d.j. in the Northeast. Headlining the Apollo show were fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Big Maybelle, The Channels, and many others. On September 1, an all time record for box office take at the theater was set. In November "Teardrops" and "The Girl Around The Corner" were issued on Chess #1675 (and Argo # 1000 in the Northeast) and immediately became a big seller. The very pop sounding song is a great crossover hit and puts the group into select company as one of the top music acts of the day. Their appearances in dressy tuxedos and synchronized movements on stage (especially the perfectly timed tugging on their french cuffs) gave an interesting visual effect to their vocalizing.

Jocko was now unhappy with the association with Chess Records for the usual reasons - low or no royalties, sharing of publishing rights, etc.) and now had the group signed to United Artists. The next recording by the group was another lovely pop flavored ballad called "Try The Impossible". It was backed with "Nobody's Home" and was released on # 123 (except in the Philadelphia area where it is on Casino # 452 - a Jocko connected label). It did well with listeners and radio play and kept the group in the forefront of vocal popularity. Continuing with their smooth pop influenced sound, the songs (many written by Andrews) made the group one of the top performers of the late 1950s. Their next release was "Why Do I?" and "Glad To Be Here" on United Artists # 136. This side gets airplay and some sales but not as much as the previous three hits. late in the year "All I Ask Is Love" and a re-recording of "Maybe You'll Be There" on #151.

In march of 1959 Lee Andrews and The Hearts recorded their last side for United Artists with "Boom" and "Just Suppose" on # 162. Later in the year the group now listed as Lee Andrews with The Hearts recorded "I Wonder" and a reissue of their first song "Baby Come Back" on Casino # 543. The 'A' side "I Wonder" does a decent turn in the Philadelphia area, and this however spells the end for this vocal group. Six years of (mostly) struggle did provide five memorable ballad hits and two pop top sellers. From 1960 on there were various versions of the group, some with Lee Andrews and some without, but none of these lineups had much success with record buyers. Most would just rather remember the sweet sound of Philadelphia with this vocal group and relive some pleasant memories of the past

Musical memories of this great vocal quintet are available in a number of CDs all released by Collectables.

The Best Of Lee Andrews and The Hearts - from 2002 with 23 tracks

The Gotham recording Sessions - from 1990 with 13 tracks

Their Biggest Hits - from 1993 wi9th 12 tracks

and the treasure trove - "For Collectors Only-Lee Andrews and The Hearts" a three cd set from 1995 with 61 tracks including demos and out-takes

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