The Unforgettable Doo Wop

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Doo-Wop Groups appear at Lehman Center in the Bronx, January 28th


Lehman Center for the Performing Arts is bringing
Doo Wop to the Bronx on Saturday, January 28th at 8:00 p.m., featuring
the Coasters, The Herb Reed Platters, The Drifters featuring Charlie Thomas, the
Chiffons and Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners as part of “Unforgettable Doo Wop.”  Doo wop emerged from the streets of New York
and Philadelphia as a distinct African American sound.

I had the opportunity to talk to two group originals,
Judy Mann of the Chiffons, and the Drifters’, Charlie Thomas.

75 year old Charlie Thomas was eager to talk about
his upcoming show at Lehman Center, especially since he spent much of his youth
in New York.   “I still got my rock ‘n
roll shoes on,” quipped Charlie. 

Charlie Thomas became a Drifter in 1956, when his
group, the Five Crowns, won Amateur Hour at the Apollo. “I was part of the Five
Crowns.  A group known as the Drifters, were
performing the same night as us.  Some
problem resulted between them, the theatre owner and manager George
Treadwell.  So we were asked if we wanted
to become Drifters.  I thought to myself
-- how can we become the Drifters when we are standing on the stage performing
with them.  But somehow or another we got
a contract and they put us under the name “The Drifters.”  Ben E. King wrote the song, “There Goes My
Baby,” we recorded it, and there we were.” 
The Drifters had several hits like: “Under the Boardwalk,” “This Magic
Moment,” “Save the Last Dance,” and “Up on the Roof,” et al.”

Charlie Thomas has been with the Drifters for 55
years and has traveled all over the globe. 
“I’ve been a Drifter since I was 16 years old.  I came to New York when I was 12.  I met The Five Crowns at 13, and became a
Drifter at 16,” explained the famed singer. 
“I used to live on 121st Street, 167th Street and Grand
Concourse and I also lived in Long Island and Brooklyn. I am a big Giants fan
and true New Yorker.”

Charlie talked about his beginnings. “We used to
hang out on the street corner on 8th Ave and 119th St.  Groups hung out on the street corners singing
back then. Sometimes the bigger celebrities used to come up 8th
Avenue and watch the groups perform. 
Actor Jeff Chandler came and Billy Eckstein.  So did Sammy Davis, Jr., and Tony Bennett.
They used to throw money to the best group,” recalled Thomas. 

Over the years, Charlie appeared with and/or met
luminaries such as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. “I have
met so many people who have influenced my life. Back in the day, I met Ella
Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Pigmeat Markham, Red Foxx, Malcolm X, and Cab
Calloway.   I used to hang out with the
Beatles at the Cave in England. All of them looked out for me and gave me good
advice.  They kept me away from the drugs
and taught me how to present myself on stage. 
In fact, before appearing at Lehman on Jan. 28th, I am
working a cruise for a week with the Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders,”
remarked Charlie.  “I’ve lived a full
life.  I have had some wives, some
girlfriends and been in the White House 3 or 4 times.  I am delighted that President Obama is now
the president.  I’m married to a
beautiful woman who’s interviewing for a job in the White House.  I hope she gets it.  As for me, I’m a drifter who has to take care
of family, so I am moving around the globe,” chuckled Thomas.  

Lou Bailey, Jerome Manning, Stephen Brown and Jack
Columbo are the Drifters performing with Charlie at Lehman Center.

Mr. Thomas was inducted in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of
Fame. He also won a Rhythm and Blues Award. 

Ronnie Mack who wrote “Puppy Love,” and “He’s So
Fine,” discovered the Chiffons, who at the time he met them were 3 Bronx
teenagers with a penchant to sing.   Ronnie dreamed of being a success as a
songwriter. He peddled his songs to record company after record company and
despite numerous rejections, kept at it until he met producers Phil and Mitch
Margo, Jay Seigel, and Hank Medress a.k.a., The Tokens. The Tokens liked Mack's
song, "He's So Fine." Mack brought in the Chiffons to sing it and
consequently the song was released on Laurie Records. 

“When we started out, we were just doing it for
Ronnie.  He wanted success so badly but
Barbara, Pat and I were teenagers, so we didn’t take it as seriously as Ronnie.  Stardom was Ronnie’s dream, we were just
having fun,” recalled Judy Mann, the Chiffons lead singer.  “We never expected success, but of course
were thrilled when Ronnie’s song became a hit. 
We grew up in the Bronx, so all we knew was the Bronx, success changed
us a lot.  We got to go overseas and many
different places.  We appeared on
American Bandstand with Dick Clark which was very exciting and also appeared on
Murray the Ks show,” said the Chiffon.   Also, recording artists, The Tokens, as
producers, split up the group, giving them an additional name to sing
under.  They were also “The Four
Pennies.”  While Ronnie Mack did realize
his dream of becoming successful, he succumbed to Hodgkins disease and passed
away at age 25.  Some of the songs made
famous by the Chiffons are:  “He’s So
Fine,” “I Have A Boy Friend,” “One Fine Day,” “Sweet Talkin Guy,” “Will You
Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and “Dream, Dream, Dream.”  While the original Chiffons consisted of Judy
Craig, Barbara Lee and Pat Bennett, the current Chiffons are still Judy, but
now Dawn Mann and Ulena Morris.

The Chiffons were inducted into the Walk of Fame in
2005.

For tickets to Unforgettable Doo Wop on January 28th
at 8:00 p.m., call 718-960-8833 or go on line at www.LehmanCenter.org.

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