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Vintage Harmony Vocal Groups

In the pre- and post-WWII era, the term “popular” music took on a whole new meaning. Performing groups of that age were some of the first to have the mass commercial appeal the current generation is so accustomed to their stars having. And these vintage harmony groups deserved their status! They inspired generations of close harmony groups to emulate their sound, and current groups owe much of their history to these exquisite, talented singers who paved the way for them. Explore the history, and enjoy it, too. Consider these recordings museums on CD!

Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 items.


Formed by tenor Jinny Osborn in 1949 (whose father was national president for The Society For The Preservation And Encouragement Of Barbershop Quartet Singing In America Inc) the Chordettes - Janet Ertel, Carol Bushman and lead singer Dorothy Schwartz - got their in 1949 winning an audition for a spot on Arthur Godfrey's prestigious Talent Scouts daily TV show. Godfrey pronounced them "air worthy" and "truly radiophonic" and the girls began a four-year stint as Godfrey regulars, sticking to a traditional a cappella barbershop repertoire and even cutting some records for Columbia. Unsurprisingly they also became the new stars of the barbershop convention circuit, and when Dorothy left the Chordettes in 1951, she was replaced by barbershopper Lynn Evans from Youngstown, Ohio.

Comedian Harmonists

In some ways Comedian Harmonists might be called the first German boy group. Inspired by the American group 'The Revelers', Harry Frommermann published an ad in a local newspaper, auditioned and finally founded an ensemble consisting of 3 tenors, a baritone, a bass and a pianist.

After considerable training they met with initial success and rose to immense popularity. Sold out shows, records and movie appearances crowned their success.

However, the advent of Hitler's regime smashed their plans, as three group members were Jewish. They split and both parts tried to repeat the success with replacements - the Jewish members in the United States and the other three in Germany. Neither of them succeeded.

Five Blind Boys of Alabama

Much in the world has changed since the original version of the Blind Boys of Alabama first raised their voices together. That was in 1939, when the members were just kids at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind in Talladega, Ala. Today, more than 70 years later, founding member Jimmy Carter can look back on a career far beyond what he and his colleagues could imagine at that time. The group has won a long list of awards, including Lifetime Achievement honors from the Grammys and the National Endowment for the Arts, entertained around the world, been profiled on 60 Minutes, sung for two Presidents at the White House and been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

Though the group has recorded and performed with a few country artists, along with others as diverse as Ben Harper, Tom Petty, Peter Gabriel and Prince, they never crossed the line and committed to doing a project inspired by the country genre until now, with the release of Take The High Road on Saguaro Road Records. This landmark recording draws from modern and traditional country to enrich the group's gospel-rooted sound with fresh and illuminating insight.


Cousins Jacob Carey (Jake) and Ezikial Carey (Zeke) formed the group in Chicago, Illinois, after meeting Paul David Wilson and Johnny Carter at a black Jewish church. Earl Lewis soon joined, and after a series of name changes (The Swallows, El Flamingos, The Five Flamingos) wound up being known as The Flamingos. Sollie McElroy soon replaced Lewis (who joined The Five Echoes). Their first single (for Chance Records), "If I Can't Have You", was a moderate success, and the follow-ups "That's My Desire" and "Golden Teardrops" cemented their reputation. They left Chance Records sometime after their December 1953 session and signed with DJ Al Benson's Parrot Records. Sollie McElroy was on their first Parrot session, but left the group in December 1954, to be replaced by first tenor Nate Nelson (who was on their second Parrot session; he's lead on "I'm Yours," released in January 1955). In early 1955, the Flamingos transferred over to Chess Records, to record for their Checker subsidiary. They started to have national R&B hits in 1956 ("I'll Be Home," "A Kiss From Your Lips," "The Vow," "Would I Be Crying"), but both Zeke Carey and Johnny Carter were drafted (Johnny in September). They were also part of the 1956 Alan Freed movie Rock, Rock, Rock.

Four Freshmen

The Four Freshmen were one of the top vocal groups of the 1950s, and formed the bridge between '40s ensembles like Mel-Tones and harmony-based rock & roll bands such as the Beach Boys as well as groups like Spanky & Our Gang and the Manhattan Transfer. The group's roots go back to the end of the 1940s and a barbershop quartet-influenced outfit called Hal's Harmonizers, organized at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Butler University in Indiana by two brothers, Ross and Don Barbour. Their repertoire centered on standards such as "Moonglow" and "The Christmas Song," and they began to show an unusually free, improvisational approach to their harmony singing. A couple of membership changes brought Bob Flanigan, a cousin, into the fold alongside Hal Kratzsch, and suddenly the Four Freshmen were assembled in all but name, and that fell into place a little later.


One of the most innovative jazz/pop vocal groups of all time, the pioneering Hi-Lo's influenced countless pop, R&B, and doo wop groups from the '50s right up to the present.

They formed in December 1953 when Gene Puerling of Milwaukee and friend Bob Strasen met Clark Burroughs and Bob Morse. The latter two were vocalists with the Encores, the vocal group for the Billy May Band. When Billy's band stopped traveling, the Hi-Lo's were born. Reportedly named because of their extreme vocal and physical ranges (Strasen and Morse were tall, Gene and Clark were short), the Hi-Lo's practiced at Clark and Gene's Los Angeles apartment, refining their revolutionary voicings. The group were themselves influenced by such artists as The Four Freshmen, The Modernaires, and Mel Torme's Mel-Tones.

Los Zafiros

Formed in 1962, Los Zafiros were a vocal quartet augmented by the guitarist and arranger Manuel Galban. Originally inspired by American vocal groups such as the Platters and the Coasters, they soon added their own Cuban flavour to create a unique and heady mix of doo-wop, ballads and boleros, soul and samba, tumbaos and twists. They were unique among vocal groups in that they had three lead singers amongst Ignacio Elejalde and his sweet, high tenor, Eduardo Elio Hernandez, Miguel Cancio and Leoncio 'Kike' Morua. But in many ways it was Galban who was the architect of the Los Zafiros sound, as instrumentalist, composer and, with Kike, arranger of the vocal parts. "I don't know why they chose me," he says. "To play the guitar with a vocal quartet was a novelty and therefore rather difficult. But pianos were starting to disappear from a lot of venues so a guitar was a good alternative. They also needed a musical director. They were a success from the moment they appeared and my job was to support them and perfect and develope the sound."


Among the most seminal R&B and doo wop groups of all time, the Moonglows' lineup featured some of the genre's greatest pure singers. The original lineup from Louisville included Bobby Lester, Harvey Fuqua, Alexander Graves, and Prentiss Barnes, with guitarist Billy Johnson. They were originally called the Crazy Sounds, but were renamed by disc jockey Alan Freed as the Moonglows. The group also cut some recordings as the Moonlighters. Their first major hit was the number one R&B gem "Sincerely" for Chess in 1954, which reached number 20 on the pop charts. They enjoyed five more Top Ten R&B hits on Chess from 1955 to 1958, among them "Most of All," "We Go Together," "See Saw," and "Please Send Me Someone to Love," as well as "Ten Commandments of Love." Fuqua, the nephew of Charlie Fuqua of the Ink Spots, left in 1958. He recorded "Ten Commandments of Love" as Harvey & the Moonglows with Marvin Gaye, Reese Palmner, James Knowland, and Chester Simmons before founding his own label, Tri-Phi. Fuqua created and produced the Spinners in 1961 and wrote and produced for Motown until the early '70s. The Moonglows disbanded in the '60s, then reunited in 1972 with Fuqua, Lester, Graves, Doc Williams, and Chuck Lewis. In 2000 The Moonglows were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Singers Unlimited

The Singers Unlimited were born out of a strange combination of stark commercialism and rare innovation that somehow yielded some pretty high art. Gene Puerling was the vocal arranger as well as a singer with The Hi-Lo's, and later moved into jingle singing and arranging in Chicago. Don Shelton had been a Hi-Lo as well, and joined Puerling in the commercial field. Along the way they joined with Len Dresslar (the voice of the Jolly Green Giant) and vocalist/voiceover artist Bonnie Herman. This led to the formation in 1967 of a ready-to-go jingle-singing quartet. Then Puerling began experimenting with the new technology of multi-track recording, and the Singers expanded their four voices into eight, twelve, sixteen, and later into practically a hundred or more! The Singers produced around 15 LP's in the period between 1971 and 1981.


Collectors have made the Swallows one of the most beloved of R&B groups. Their haunting ballads and risque up-tempo novelties are perennial favorites. The origin of The Swallows goes back to 1946, when a bunch of 13-year-olds from Baltimore formed a group called the "Oakaleers." The members were: Lawrence Coxson (lead tenor), Irving Turner (tenor and baritone), Earl Hurley (first and second tenor and bongos), Norris "Bunky" Mack (bass, piano, guitar, and drums), and another tenor named Gavin. They were thus a self-contained unit in terms of vocals and instrumental accompaniment.

The Oakaleers practiced on street corners for a couple of years. Then, around 1948, they ran into a couple of guys who also sang on the corner: Eddie Rich (first tenor) and Frederick "Money Guitar" Johnson (baritone and guitar). (Rich and Johnson were childhood friends and eventual brothers-in-law.) Interestingly, Johnson, a lefty, taught himself to play a right-handed guitar held upside down.


The Tokens are well-known for one giant hit song that they put on the charts in late 1961, and the members of the group continued on in the music business in various capacities following the success of that hit.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight, also known as Wimoweh, is a Zulu song that had been sung by a tribe in South Africa. There are indications that the song originated with Solomon Linda, who wrote it as Mbube and had a hit with it on Gallotone Records in South Africa, in 1939. The Weavers recorded it as Wimoweh before the Tokens picked up on it and recorded their own spirited version of the song for RCA in 1961.

Following the success of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the Tokens put nine more songs in the top 100 from 1962 to 1970, two of which made it to the top forty: I Hear Trumpets Blow on their own B. T. Puppy label and Portrait Of My Love on Warner. Portrait Of My Love had been a top ten hit for Steve Lawrence earlier in the decade.

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