The Royals / Midnighters©2002JCMarion

part one : The Beginning to "Annie"
It began, as so many of these stories do, in high school. This time it was Detroit's Dunbar High in the early fall of nineteen fifty one. It was there that Henry Booth, Lawson Smith, Sonny Woods, and Charles Sutton combined voices to form a vocal group called The Royals. Keeping at it and learning to perfect their craft, the boys soon found their way to the Paradise Theater and amateur night in the inner city. Doing well in their appearance, they were soon in the company of Ralph Bass head of A & R for Federal Records of Cincinnati after being seen and recommended by Johnny Otis. Bass saw enough promise in the group to sign them to the label.

The following spring gave the group their first exposure to the world of the recording studio, and the first release was out in mid April - "Every Beat of My Heart" (a huge hit for Gladys Knight & The Pips almost a decade later) / "All Night Long" on #12064. When sales were not forthcoming, The Royals were quickly back in the recording studio for their second outing for Federal which was "I Know I Love You So" and "Starting From Tonight" on #12077. In August their third Federal release "Moonrise" / "Fifth Street Blues" was out on #12088 and it was the first to be issued also on 45 rpm. In September "A Love In My Heart" and "I'll Never Let Her Go" on #12098 followed. In October the first hint of success for the group was noted as "Moonrise" became a top R & B seller in Philadelphia.

"Are You Forgetting?" and "What Did I Do?" on #12113 for Federal closed out the year of 1952 for the group. However a new vocal group from the East Coast was making noise on the charts, and they were The Royales (with an e and from The Royal Sons gospel group ) on Apollo Records. Now the confusion set in. In February of 1953 a Georgia Superior Court ruling stated that the Federal label Royals be prohibited from impersonating the Apollo label Royales (currently riding high with their big hit "Baby Don't Do It" ) in any way and theaters were also warned. A further trial for damages from the fraud was also set. In March the group was back in the recording studio and the result was Federal #12121 - "The Shrine of St. Cecilia" and "I Feel So Blue". During this time, original member Lawson Smith left for military service and his place was taken by a area teenager who was trying to gain employment in the auto industry. His name was Hank Ballard and he made an immediate difference as he moved away from the group's reliance on ballads. He preferred the rock solid up tempo raunchy tunes that R & B was famous for and his style paid dividends very quickly. In June "Get It" and "No It Aint" (both sounding like tunes done by the Apollo Royales) was released on Federal # 12133.

In July "Get It" shows some action in the group's home town of Detroit, and in August continuing strong sales of the record in Chicago and New Orleans make the Royals the biggest seller of the month on the label. This is the first time that the group has outsold their rivals on the label, The Dominos. The group now known as The Original Royals appear at the Greystone Lounge in Detroit for a week with Dinah Washington. In October they continue across the Midwest with appearances in Gary, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio. Later that month Federal #12150 - "Hey Miss Fine" / "I Feel That-A-Way" is out. At year's end in mid December Federal releases #12160 - Someone Like You" and "That's It". After four years the Royals have mostly misses, with very few hits, but Federal keeps them on the roster. As 1954 begins, the group is probably wondering if they will ever make a splash in the R & B world. They didn't know it then, but they were about to turn the world of R & B and soon popular music, upside down and help change the landscape of popular culture forever.

In late January of 1954 Federal #12169 was released by The Royals - "Work With Me Annie" and "Until I Die". By March they knew something big was breaking. The record was breaking out all across the country. Aware that the group should have their own identity secured, they finally ditched The Original Royals name and re-christened the group The Midnighters. Now with Hank Ballard out front and Lorenzo Tucker on guitar, the group was poised for the spotlight. By late April "Annie" is the number one selling R & B record in the country. It is big everywhere, and because of its naughty notoriety it is being sought out by White music fans. The immense popularity of the record led to a whole slew of "answer" records by various artists, and by June The Midnighters had their followup - "Sexy Ways" . The flip side was "Don't Say Your Last Goodbyes".

In July of 1954 as a footnote to the whole Royals-Royales dispute, King Records contends they have a recording contract with the Five Royales (with an e ). Apollo disagrees and back to court they go. Meanwhile The Midnighters (formerly The Royals) are a red hot property as "Sexy Ways" joins "Annie" on the national charts. Around the first of August "Annie Had A Baby" is released on Federal #12195 (the flip is "She's The One"). Sid Nathan of King-Federal-DeLuxe, calls the record the biggest event at the company in the last five years. First introduced as a "joke" among R & B disc jockeys, the song had orders coming in across the country even though it did not exist. Nathan got ace writer-producer and A & R man Henry Glover to put together the tune and the group recorded it. The result is that Federal is cranking out records from a pressing plant that is running non stop to keep up with demand. The three records released so far in the "Annie" saga have found great response among White teenagers, a rarity in R & B circles. Also remarkably, all three records were million sellers, a fact that ranks The Midnighters among R & B music's most prolific record sellers.

In a strange turn on history, The Midnighters who once masqueraded as The Five Royales, now are the victim of a bogus group of "Midnighters". They respond with a court injunction against New Jersey promoters and radio stations. Now a top attraction, the group is much in demand across the country. They do a number of dates on the West Coast with Todd Rhodes and his band selling out the Savoy and the Riverside Rancho. In October they play the Oakland (Cal) Auditorium and draw the biggest crowd in years in that city. Confusion time again as a group called The Midnights release a record on Music City called "Annie Pulled A Humbug", as ads contain a little disclaimer at the bottom that reads "not to be confused with The Midnighters recordings". Yeah, right ! In October "She's The One" gets airplay and is listed as a top seller in New Orleans and Houston. Right about this time the latest in the series is out for Federal on #12200 - "Annie's Aunt Fannie" paired with "Crazy Loving (Stay With Me)". Both sides are great medium tempo rockers.

In November of 1954 as "She's The One" continues to do well, Federal does an interesting re-issue as the tune is coupled with "Moonrise" a ballad tune from two years before when the group recorded as The Royals. Syd Nathan feels that objections to playing "Annie Had A Baby" had resulted in "She's The One" being also tossed. The Midnighters close out the year with Federal #12202"Tell Them" / "Stingy Little Thing". The group becomes the biggest R & B act of the pivotal year of 1954. Federal had a big year, most of it from the three hits for The Midnighters that were tops in sales and juke box plays in the R & B field.

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