Remember when… R&B was king for 1950s teens at the Northside “Y”

Written by MCJStaff   // November 1, 2013   // 0 Comments


The Coasters

By Richard G. Carter

“In my bed each night I get dreaming, that you were here by my side. And lately I haven’t been sleeping, I just lay there in sorrow and cry. Oh, oh darling dear…” The Counts, “Darling Dear” (Dot Records-1956)

Back in my Milwaukee teens, I was a champion party-goer and party-thrower. As a matter of fact, Ben and Marlene Johnson -- noted former local politicians -- met at one of my house parties when we were all in high school in the mid-1950s.  For Black teenagers, our music was original Black rhythm and blues — a.k.a, doo-wop — the real thing. We grooved to it at Saturday night parties and sung along and danced to it on Friday “Canteen Nights” at the Northside YMCA at N. Sixth St. and W. North Ave.

In those days, we were a passel of people constituting a dynamic, youthful Black social structure. There was Alvin Russell, Pat Flowers, James Reed, Evelyn Bailey, Billy Reed, Loretta Walker, Bobby Thomas, James (Chief) Juniel, Beverly Pitts, William Wade, Gloria Harpole, Willie Buford, Julia Tarver and Jack Byrd, among many others. Our music, especially the records and artists we knew and loved, was the greatest. And so was how we closely embraced all that good stuff — and each other — at the “Y” under the watchful eyes of the respected Ralph Jefferson and the great Bob Starms.

The lights were down low, but not too low, when Ruth Brown’s “Daddy, Daddy” and the Drifters’ “Whatcha’ Gonna’ Do” got us going. By the time the Counts’ “Darling Dear;” Johnny Ace’s ”Pledging My Love;” the Moonglows’ “Most of All,” and the Clovers’ “Comin’ On’” (“I’m the latest edition of the Woman’s Home Companion…”) were played, we were warmed up and more than ready to slow down and grind. The likes of Loretta Juniel, Erna Hampton, Chuck (Smalltime) Johnson, Howard Fuller, Odell Christon, Middleton (Bart) Wilson, Annette Benson, Richard Huff, Charles (Dapp) Wilson, Joe Butts, Cornelius (Peter) Shedd and Mardree (Jim) Harpole got down with “Have a Good Time” by Ruth Brown; ”The Wind” by the Diablos”; “Cherry Pie” by Marvin and Johnny, and “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” by Pookie Hudson and the legendary Spaniels -- the iconic 1954 tune that introduced Black R&B to white America.

By mid-evening, the cramped dance floor was filling with fine folks such as Loretta Jones, Beverly Beckley, Joanne Witherspoon, Jesse Nixon, Barbara DeWalt, Wellington (WW) Warren, Fostina Pinnix, John Givens and Barbara Cochran. Everyone swayed to “Chop Chop Boom” by the Danderliers; “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Roy Hamilton; “My True Story” by the Jive Five, and “I’ll Be Forever Loving You” by the El Dorados. Things got even better as more Lincoln and North Division peers arrived, as well as Edison Scott, of West Division. But wherever we partied -- from my pal Sam Johnson’s house, to mine to the fabled Northside “Y” -- original Black R&B was right there with us. Tunes such as “You’re Still My Baby” by Chuck Willis; “Come Go With Me” by the Del-Vikings; “I’ll Be True” by Faye Adams; “Sexy Ways” by the Midnighters; “Show Me the Way” by the Five Notes; “Maybe” by the Chantels, and “Please, “Please, Please” by James Brown and his Famous Flames, made us know we were home.

Over the years, I’ve been asked by old friends to list my choices as the best original Black R&B sounds -- owing in part to the hundreds of 45s I’d accumulated since my introduction to the music in 1953. I started to think more about this in the summer of 1991 during extensive interviews in Gary, Indiana for my authorized biography “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight: The Story of the Spaniels” (August Press-1995). So here goes, my fantastic 15. And with so many greats, it was a very difficult task: 1- “Baby, It’s You” (Spaniels); 2 - “Baby, I Need You” El Dorados; 3 - “I Only Have Eyes For You” (Flamingos); 4 - “When I’m With You” (Moonglows); 5 - “You Gave Me Peace of Mind” (Spaniels); 6 - “White Christmas” (Drifters) 7 - “Good Lovin’” (Clovers) 8 - “Night Train” (Jimmy Forrest); 9 - “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” (Spaniels); 10- “Blue Moon” (Marcels); 11 - “Goin’ Out of My Head” (Imperials); 12 - “Duke of Earl” (Gene Chandler); 13 - “Sincerely” (Moonglows); 14 - “Since I Fell For You” (Harptones), and 15 - “For Your Precious Love” (Impressions).

Many of these songs and recording artists were, and still are, unfamiliar to white people who think it all started with Elvis Presley and the Beatles. No way. We all know it was original Black R&B from the golden era of 1953-63. And we lived it at 6th and North. People like Ben and Marlene, Tonish Jones, Annette (Polly) Williams, Tommie Gee, Eleanor Wilson, Betty Bynum, Geraldine Matthews, Maurice Beckley, Ann Miller, Eula Newsome, O.C. Murray, Richard Wiley, George Earl (Mickey) Mitchell, Jeanne Levy, Bert Revels, Floree Junior, Wilbur Dixon, George Lott, Stella Wilson, Lester Baldwin, Rita Rembert, Mylum (Bubbles) Kelly, Mildred Nelson and Carl Ray Witherspoon. During our Friday night “Y” days, the popular Chuck Dunaway -- a young, local white disk jockey -- knowingly played original Black R&B on WMIL’s “Rockaway With Dunaway.” He knew the score, was honest about it and attracted droves of listeners. But the soulful voice of Black piano man Dooley Wilson had presaged our notable times-to-come in 1942’s classic “Casablanca.” To wit: “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. The fundamental things apply, as time goes by…”

Milwaukee native Richard G. Carter is a freelance columnist


Dot Records-1956

Northside YMCA at N. Sixth St. and W. North Ave


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