They Say : The Rainbows©2002JCMarion


In 1951 a group of Washington, D.C. teenagers called themselves The Serenaders were practicing their harmony, and dreamed the usual dreams of fame and fortune. They were hoping to become a popular vocal group group such as their idols The Orioles, The Midnighters, and The Clovers and maybe become good enough to get a recording contract. The group consisted of Henry Mont ,"Shorty" Womble, Frank Hardy , Leroy Henderson and Robert Neil . This group of Serenaders made some demo recordings in 1952 but they were never released and should not be confused with the group of the same name that recorded for Coral Records at this time, and for Red Robin Records in 1953. The D.C. Serenaders broke up in March 1953, and they all joined other vocal groups in the area. Henry Womble and Frank Hardy joined up with a new group known as The Rainbows. The other members of the group were Ronald Miles, John "J.B." Berry, James Nolan and Donald Watts who played piano behind the vocals. They decided to go to New York City and make the rounds of the independent record companies to see if they could get a shot at a recording contract. They soon went to Harlem and stopped off at the 125th Street offices of Red Robin Records and its president Bobby Robinson. He did not like the sound of the group at all thinking that they were totally unprofessional and lacking any originality in either their music or their vocal sound. After that deflating experience the six returned to Washington D. C. and see what their next move would be and if music would still be part of their plans.

Surprisingly, about one year later the group was back in New York and once again at the door of Red Robin Records. They must have asked Bobby Robinson "remember us ?", and this time they were received a lot more favorably. They had worked on their harmony and presentation and both were much improved from a year ago. The biggest difference was the possession of a couple of original tunes that were impressive. The songs were the uptempo "Mary Lee", and the dramatic ballad "Evening". And so in November of 1954 The Rainbows recorded both tunes for Robinson and they were released on Red Robin #134. Both sides immediately found favor in Harlem, the rest of New York City, and Newark. John Berry sang lead on both tunes and his distinctive voice was a great part of the popularity of the record. Henry Womble left for college soon after the tunes were recorded. As the record sold in the Northeast, Robinson sold the master to Pilgrim Records who released it on #703. James Nolan and Donald Watts soon also left the group in the spring.

Later in the year of 1956, The Rainbows now consisting of Ronald Miles, John Berry, Don Covay, and Chester Simmons, returned to the recording studio and the result was a new record with the tunes "Shirley" and "Stay". The record was released on Pilgrim on #711, and is supposedly also available on Red Robin #141. Pilgrim Records gave very little support for the second issue by The rainbows, perhaps all their time and energy was spent on the promotion of their hot new group from Connecticut, The G-Clefs. The group gave it one more go on a tune called "They Say" with Chester Simmons on lead. The flip side of the record was a tune called "Minnie", and the songs were recorded for George Goldner and released in the spring of 1957 on Rama #209 without much success. Soon after the group broke up formally, but for years in the D.C. area there was a group of Rainbows making occasional personal appearances. There were many stories about other "sometimes" members of the group such as Marvin Gaye, Marv Johnson, and Billy Stewart that may or may not be true. But there is one connection that is on record. James Nolan, Chester Simmons, Reese Palmer, and Robert Hawkins formed a group called The Marquees. They had two records released in 1957 on the Okeh label. The first was "Baby You're My Only Love" and "Billy's Heartache" with Billy Stewart on lead on #7095. The second was "Hey Little Schoolgirl" and "Wyatt Earp" with Marvin Gaye on lead on #7096.Soon The Marquees would form the basis of a new group of Moonglows put together by Harvey Fuqua with the addition of Chuck Barksdale of The Dells.

That is the short history of The Rainbows, leaving us with one great two sided original recording and some illustrious members and friends along the way. Harvey Fuqua, Billy Stewart, and certainly Marvin Gaye all went on to solo greatness of varying degrees, and Don Covay became one of the better songwriters ("Chain Of Fools" for just one example) in rock 'n roll. But it all had a genesis in a little remembered vocal group from the nation's capitol, The Rainbows.

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