Title: Celebrated, 1895-1896 Artist: Unique Quartette Label: Archeophone Formats: 10-in. Vinyl EP, Digital Release date: May 29, 2020
The Unique Quartette, a pioneering African American vocal group founded and led by Joseph M. Moore, holds the distinction of being the first black quartet to record commercially. According to newspaper accounts, the group was actively performing in the Northeast by the mid-1880s and remained quite popular until disbanding around 1899. The quartet made its first recordings in December 1890 for the New York Phonograph Company, intended for playback on coin-slot phonograph machines. Two of their early wax cylinder recordings were issued in 2005 on Archeophone Records’ GRAMMY-winning two-disc compilation, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1891–1922,which bears the title of the book by Tim Brooks. In his chapter devoted to the Unique Quartette, Brooks’ concluded: “Were it not for the few, fragile brown wax cylinders that have survived from the early and mid-1890s, we would know little of a style of black quartet singing that was polished, engaging, and highly popular in its day.”1 Archeophone’s new release, Celebrated, 1895-1896, offers the opportunity to hear six exceedingly rare and expertly restored cylinders by the Unique Quartette, all but one revealed for the first time in nearly 125 years.
“Here you will find a glimpse of the magic of a cheerful and grinning 13-year-old Frankie Lymon and his teenage friends making music that excited millions of fans all over the world.”-Peter Grendysa.
Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers were the Jackson 5 of the ‘50s, an adolescent group led by an amazingly talented and extremely young artist. Lymon started performing at an early age with his father and brothers in New York. At the age of 12 he left the family fold to form The Premiers with neighborhood boys and achieved success on the local talent show circuit, leading to an audition for George Goldner’s Rama/Gee Records. They were quickly signed to the label, changed their name to Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, and scored a major hit right out of the box with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” released in 1956.
Their popularity soared over the next eighteen months, leading to television appearances, European tours, and a spot in the Alan Freed movies Rock, Rock, Rock (1956) and Mr. Rock and Roll (1957). Marketed exclusively to a teenage audience, they exerted a major influence in shaping the course of rock ‘n’ roll and inspiring other young singers, including Smokey Robinson and Mary Wilson. Unfortunately, fame was fleeting. Frankie left the group in 1957 for a solo career, and though he occasionally reunited with the Teenagers and both continued to record, neither produced any further hits. By 1960 Frankie’s voice had changed, he’d developed a heroin addiction, and rock ‘n’ roll was fast becoming the domain of white artists. Eight years later, at the age of 25, he died from an overdose.
Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers Rock is a compilation that includes most of the hit songs recorded by the group, in addition to several of Frankie’s solo projects, and three sides recorded by the Teenagers following Lymon’s departure, with Billy Lobrano taking over the lead vocal. Among the highlights are “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” “I Want You To Be My Girl,” and three more of their top 10 hits (“Out in the Cold Again” is the only major omission). Other enjoyable selections include “I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent” (featured in Rock, Rock, Rock), “Baby, Baby” (with a smoking sax solo by Jimmy Wright), and “Fortunate Fellow” (accompanied by the Panama Francis Band), which was used for the soundtrack of Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll.
All of these tracks were taken from Bear Family’s 5 CD box set, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers” Complete Recordings (BCD 15782 EI). However, if you’re looking for a single CD overview, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers Rock is the best available compilation due in part to the extensive liner notes by Peter Grendysa and discography by Bob Hyde.
There have been many compilations devoted to the Golden Gate Quartet, one of the oldest and most beloved of all the jubilee/gospel vocal quartet groups, and the latest addition is the double disc Hommage released by Buda Records. Compiled and annotated by Christian Bonneau, the accompanying booklet is illustrated with many historical photographs and contains a chronological history of the group and its members, which have changed considerably over the 60 plus years of the group’s existence. The set seeks to pay tribute to the various “Gates,” with particular emphasis placed on live recordings made in France, the group’s official home since 1959.
Though most historical compilations are arranged chronologically, Hommage begins in 1997 following the retirement of tenor Clyde Riddick, whose tenure with the group lasted over 50 years, from 1939-1994. The opening track is a rendition of “Soon, I Will Be Done,” recorded at the St. Sermin cathedral in Toulouse, France in 1997. Ten additional tracks from this concert are interspersed throughout the set and feature Frank Davis (1st tenor since 1995), Charles West (2nd tenor from 1934-39), Henry Owens, Willie Johnson, and Orlandus Wilson. tenor, 1995-1999), Paul Brembly (baritone since 1971), and bass Orlandus Wilson, one of the founding members of the group who died a year after this concert.
Over the course of the set, the tracks skip around in time, interspersing the earlier a cappella material with later songs accompanied variously by piano, guitar, and rhythm combo. The Golden Gate Quartet’s first recording, their famous rendition of “Gospel Train” with a soaring tenor over syncopated vocalized “chugging,” is included on track 10. Recorded August 4, 1937 in Charlotte, North Carolina, “Gospel Train” features early group members William Langford (1st tenor from 1934-39), Henry Owens, Willie Johnson, and Orlandus Wilson. Other a cappella songs by this same group include an innovative version of the jazz standard “Dipsy Doodle” (one of the few secular arrangements on the set) and “Lead Me On and On” (from Jan. 24, 1938), “Let My People Go” (a.k.a. “Go Down Moses” from 1939), “Noah” (Feb. 2, 1939), and “I’m a Pilgrim” (Oct. 6, 1939).
After Langford was replaced by Clyde Riddick in 1939 the line-up was fairly stable for the next decade, except for some substitutions during WWII. Hits from this era, all recorded stateside, include “Didn’t It Rain” from 1941; a jazzy version of “Shadrack” along with “Run On,” and “Hush!” from 1946; and “Amazing Grace” and “I Want Two Wings” from 1949, among other favorites. The final New York sessions on the set feature two more secular arrangements from 1952, “Lover Come Back To Me” and “Careless Love Blues,” featuring pianist Conrad Frederick, a well-known New York session musician who also ad libbed during the 1949 sessions.
The remaining tracks on the set were all recorded in Europe between 1955-1997 and include material less generally available in the U.S. Locations range from recording studios in Boulogne, Berlin and Paris to live concerts at various churches in France. Several of their traditional numbers are reinterpreted, such as “Good News” and “Jericho” which are backed by a combo, and “Deep River,” which is accompanied by an unidentified church choir. These contemporary arrangements, though all well sung, lack the spontaneity as well as the rhythmic and stylistic variety of the earlier recordings by the group.
The set concludes with a seven minute history of the quartet narrated by Orlandus Wilson and recorded at his Paris home in 1980. Though no new information is imparted, its nice to hear the Gates story in Wilson’s own words, even though he seems to be reading from a script and the narration is punctuation by songs and applause, which is often distracting.
This recent video compilation illustrates the style of the current GGQ:
Extensive liner notes are presented in French and English, but the translation is quite stilted and would have benefited greatly from a copy editor. Though performers, recording dates and places are all documented at the end of the booklet, it’s a bit difficult to match them to the individual tracks since the order is not chronological. If you’re a traditionalist, you’ll probably be better off purchasing compilations of the Gates’ pre-1950 recordings. However, if you want a broad overview of the Golden Gate Quartet’s career and enjoy contemporary renditions of the classics, this set will deliver.