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Profile: Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

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Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

Formed:

1955 (Manhattan, New York City, NY)

Genres:

Doo-Wop, Rock and Roll, Pop, R&B

Members:

Frankie Lymon (b. September 30, 1942, Harlem, New York; d. February 28, 1968, Harlem, New York): lead vocal (soprano)
Herman Santiago (b. February 18, 1941, Manhattan, New York): vocals (tenor)
Jimmy Merchant (b. February 10, 1940, Bronx, New York): vocals (tenor)
Joe Negroni (b. September 9, 1940, Manhattan, New York; d. September 5, 1978, Manhattan, New York): vocals (baritone)
Sherman Garnes (b. June 8, 1940, Manhattan, New York; d. February 26, 1977, Manhattan, New York): vocals (bass)

Contributions to music:

  • First rock and roll group consisting of teenagers
  • 13-year-old lead singer Frankie Lymon was a tremendous influence on all future vocal groups in R&B, doo wop, and rock
  • Established the template for boy and girl groups
  • A fine doo-wop outfit adept at many styles of music
  • Berry Gordy of Motown modeled his assembly-line approach to vocal groups after The Teenagers
  • Lymon popularized the falsetto lead in pop, R&B, and rock

Early years:

Formed in the Washington Heights section of New York, the half-black, half-Puerto Rican Teenagers began as an assemblage of schoolmates and neighbors practicing popular R&B in the hallways of their respective apartment buildings. A performance at Edward W. Stitt Junior High School got the attention of 12-year-old Frankie Lymon, there to play bongos in his brothers' mambo band. His seemingly innocent falsetto was a perfect fit, and he was soon singing with the group -- but not always as lead.

Success:

An apartment neighbor gave the group some poems his girlfriend had written to him as letters -- partly in an attempt to get them to practice something new. One poem was worked into a song called "Why Do Birds Sing So Gay," and when a member of the doo-wop group The Valentines got the Teenagers an audition with the Rama label, it was further morphed into "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," featuring Lymon on lead. It was a smash, and the group followed up with hits like "I'm Not A Juvenile Delinquent."

Later years:

Unfortunately, despite the squeaky-clean image of the group, they were no innocents -- Harlem native Lymon had been a pimp at ten -- and when Frankie was convinced to go solo, his lack of hits and the eventual loss of his falsetto to puberty doomed him to a downward spiral. Lymon, who'd been abusing drugs at sixteen, eventually became a full-fledged heroin addict. He died in his grandmother's apartment at the age of 25; the group never matched their success with him on their own, either.

Other facts:

  • Members went to the same public school in New York as The Cadillacs
  • Previously known as the Ermines, the Coupe DeVilles, and the Premiers
  • The Teenagers recorded two dozen takes of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?"
  • Lymon got Alan Freed's "Big Beat" show canceled by dancing with a white girl during an appearance
  • The group caused a controversy by allegedly trashing their hotel rooms on a British tour
  • Lymon's two, possibly three widows fought over his estate for years

Awards/Honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1993)
  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2000)
  • Grammy Hall of Fame (2001)

Songs, Albums, and Charts:


#1 hits:
R&B:
  • "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" (1956)
Top 10 hits:
Pop:
  • "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" (1956)
R&B:
  • "Who Can Explain?" (1956)
  • "I Want You To Be My Girl" (1956)
  • "I Promise To Remember" (1956)
  • "The ABC's Of Love" (1956)
  • "Out In The Cold Again" (1957)
Other important recordings: "I'm Not A Juvenile Delinquent," "Please Be Mine," "I'm Not A Know It All," "Share," "Baby Baby," "Goody Goody," "Teenage Love," "Paper Castles"
Covered by: Diana Ross, Joni Mitchell, The Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, Gale Storm, The Diamonds, The Dovells
Appears in the movies: "Rock, Rock, Rock" (1956), "Mister Rock and Roll" (1957)
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