Elvis Aaron Presley[a] (January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977) was an American singer and actor. Regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as “the King of Rock and Roll”, or simply, “the King”.
Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and when he was 13 years old, he and his family relocated to Memphis, Tennessee. His music career began there in 1954, when he recorded a song with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records. Accompanied by guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, Presley was an early popularizer of rockabilly, an uptempo, backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues. RCA Victor acquired his contract in a deal arranged by Colonel Tom Parker, who managed the singer for more than two decades. Presley’s first RCA single, “Heartbreak Hotel“, was released in January 1956 and became a number-one hit in the United States.
He was regarded as the leading figure of rock and roll after a series of successful network television appearances and chart-topping records. His energized interpretations of songs and sexually provocative performance style, combined with a singularly potent mix of influences across color lines that coincided with the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, made him enormously popular—and controversial.
In November 1956, he made his film debut in Love Me Tender. In 1958, he was drafted into military service. He resumed his recording career two years later, producing some of his most commercially successful work before devoting much of the 1960s to making Hollywood movies and their accompanying soundtrack albums, most of which were critically derided.
In 1968, following a seven-year break from live performances, he returned to the stage in the acclaimed televised comeback special Elvis, which led to an extended Las Vegas concert residency and a string of highly profitable tours. In 1973, Presley was featured in the first globally broadcast concert via satellite, Aloha from Hawaii. Several years of prescription drug abuse severely damaged his health, and he died in 1977 at the age of 42.
Connie Francis was born in the Italian Down Neck, or Ironbound, neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, the first child of George Franconero, Sr., and Ida Franconero (née Ferrari-di Vito), spending her first years in a Brooklyn neighborhood on Utica Avenue/St. Marks Avenue before the family moved to New Jersey.
Growing up in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood, Francis became fluent in Yiddish, which would lead her to later record songs in Yiddish and Hebrew.
In her autobiography Who’s Sorry Now?, published in 1984, Francis recalls that she was encouraged by her father, George Franconero, Sr., to appear regularly at talent contests, pageants and other neighborhood festivities from the age of four as a singer and accordion player.
Francis attended Newark Arts High School in 1951 and 1952. She and her family moved to Belleville, New Jersey, where she graduated as salutatorian from Belleville High School Class of 1955.
During this time, Francis continued to perform at neighborhood festivities and talent shows (some of which were broadcast on television), appearing alternately as Concetta Franconero and Connie Franconero. Under the latter name she also appeared on NBC’s variety show Startime Kids between 1953 and 1955.
During the rehearsals for her appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, Francis was advised by Godfrey to change her stage name to Connie Francis for the sake of easier pronunciation. Godfrey also told her to drop the accordion – advice she gladly followed, as she had begun to hate the large and heavy instrument. Around the same time, Francis took a job as a singer on demonstration records, which were brought to the attention of established singers and/or their management who would subsequently choose or decline to record the song for a professional commercial record.
At what was to have been her final recording session for MGM on October 2, 1957, she recorded a cover version of the 1923 song “Who’s Sorry Now?”, written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Francis has said that she recorded it at the insistence of her father, who was convinced it stood a chance of becoming a hit because it was a song adults already knew and that teenagers would dance to if it had a contemporary arrangement.
Francis, who did not like the song at all and had been arguing about it with her father heatedly, delayed the recording of the three other songs during the session so much, that in her opinion there was no time left on the continuously running recording tape. But her father insisted, and when the recording “Who’s Sorry Now?” was finished, there were only a few seconds left on the tape.
The Platters formed in Los Angeles in 1952 and were initially managed by Ralph Bass. The original group consisted of Alex Hodge, Cornell Gunter, David Lynch, Joe Jefferson, Gaynel Hodge and Herb Reed. Reed created the group’s name.
In June 1953, Gunter was replaced by lead vocalist Tony Williams. The band then released two singles with Federal Records, under the management of Bass, but found little success. The band then met music entrepreneur and songwriter Buck Ram. Ram made some changes to the lineup, most notably the addition of female vocalist Zola Taylor; later, Hodge was replaced by Paul Robi. Under Ram’s guidance, the Platters recorded eight songs for Federal in the R&B/gospel style, scoring a few minor regional hits on the West Coast, and backed Williams’ sister, Linda Hayes.
One song recorded during their Federal tenure, “Only You (And You Alone),” originally written by Ram for the Ink Spots, was deemed unreleasable by the label, though copies of this early version do exist.
Despite their lack of chart success, the Platters were a profitable touring group, successful enough that the Penguins, coming off their #8 single “Earth Angel,” asked Ram to manage them as well. With the Penguins in hand, Ram was able to parlay Mercury Records’ interest into a 2-for-1 deal. To sign the Penguins, Ram insisted, Mercury also had to take the Platters The Penguins would never have a hit for the label.
Charles Hardin Holley (September 7, 1936 – February 3, 1959), known as Buddy Holly, was an American musician and singer-songwriter who was a central figure of mid-1950s rock and roll. Holly was born in Lubbock, Texas, to a musical family during the Great Depression; he learned to play guitar and to sing alongside his siblings.
His style was influenced by country music and rhythm and blues acts, and he performed in Lubbock with his friends from high school. He made his first appearance on local television in 1952, and the following year he formed the group “Buddy and Bob” with his friend Bob Montgomery. In 1955, after opening for Elvis Presley, Holly decided to pursue a career in music. He opened for Presley three times that year; his band’s style shifted from country & western to entirely rock and roll. In October that year, when he opened for Bill Haley & His Comets, Holly was spotted by Nashville scout Eddie Crandall, who helped him gain a contract with Decca Records.
Holly’s recording sessions were produced by Owen Bradley. Holly was unhappy with Bradley’s restrictions and the results of their work, and decided to visit producer Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico. Attracted by the success of the records produced by Petty, Holly traveled with his band to the studio where, among other songs, they recorded a demo of “That’ll Be the Day”. Petty became the band’s manager and he sent the demo to Brunswick Records, who were impressed. The label decided to release the song without re-recording it. Because Holly’s name was still linked to Decca, Brunswick credited the single to “The Crickets”, which became the name of Holly’s band.
In September 1957, as the band toured, “That’ll Be the Day” topped the US “Best Sellers in Stores” chart and the UK Singles Chart. Its success was followed in October by the release of “Peggy Sue”, which reached number three in “Best Sellers in Stores” chart, number three on the rhythm and blues chart and number six on the UK Singles Chart. In November, the album Chirping Crickets was released; it reached number five on the UK Albums Chart. By January 1958, Holly had appeared twice on The Ed Sullivan Show. Following his last performance, he embarked on a tour of Australia, which was followed in February by a tour of the UK.
Brenda Mae Tarpley (born December 11, 1944), known as Brenda Lee, is an American performer and the top-charting female vocalist of the 1960s. She sang rockabilly, pop and country music, and had 47 US chart hits during the 1960s, and is ranked fourth in that decade surpassed only by Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Ray Charles. She is perhaps best known in the United States for her 1960 hit “I’m Sorry”, and 1958’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, a United States holiday standard for more than 50 years.
At 4 ft 9 inches tall (approximately 145 cm), she received the nickname Little Miss Dynamite in 1957 after recording the song “Dynamite”; and was one of the earliest pop stars to have a major contemporary international following.
Lee’s popularity faded in the late 1960s as her voice matured, but she continued a successful recording career by returning to her roots as a country singer with a string of hits through the 1970s and 1980s. She is a member of the Rock and Roll, Country Music and Rockabilly Halls of Fame. She is also a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. Brenda currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Don was born in Brownie, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, in 1937, and Phil two years later in Chicago, Illinois. Their parents were Isaac Milford “Ike” Everly, Jr. (1908–1975), a guitar-player, and Margaret Embry Everly. Actor James Best (born Jules Guy), also from Muhlenberg County, was the son of Ike’s sister. Margaret was 15 when she married Ike, who was 26. Ike worked in coal mines from 14 but his father encouraged him to pursue his love of music. Ike and Margaret began singing together. The Everly brothers spent most of their childhood in Shenandoah, Iowa. They attended Longfellow Elementary School in Waterloo, Iowa, for a year, but then moved to Shenandoah in 1944, where they remained through early high school.
Ike Everly had a show on KMA and KFNF in Shenandoah in the mid-1940s, first with his wife, and then with their sons. The brothers sang on the radio as “Little Donnie and Baby Boy Phil.” The family sang as the Everly Family. Ike, with guitarists Merle Travis, Mose Rager, and Kennedy Jones, was honored in 1992 by construction of the Four Legends Fountain in Drakesboro, Kentucky.
The family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee in 1953, where the brothers attended West High School. In 1955, the family moved to Madison, Tennessee, while the brothers moved to Nashville, Tennessee. Don had graduated from high school in 1955, and Phil attended Peabody Demonstration School in Nashville, from which he graduated in 1957. Both could now focus on recording.
While in Knoxville, the brothers caught the attention of family friend Chet Atkins, manager of RCA Victor’s studio in Nashville. The brothers became a duo and moved to Nashville. Despite affiliation with RCA, Atkins arranged for the Everly Brothers to record for Columbia Records in early 1956. Their “Keep A’ Lovin’ Me,” which Don wrote, flopped and they were dropped.
Atkins introduced them to Wesley Rose of Acuff-Rose music publishers. Rose told them he would get them a recording deal if they signed to Acuff-Rose as songwriters. They signed in late 1956, and in 1957 Rose introduced them to Archie Bleyer, who was looking for artists for his Cadence label. The Everlys signed and made [a] recording in February 1957. Their single, “Bye Bye Love,” had been rejected by 30 other acts. Their recording reached No. 2 on the pop charts behind Elvis Presley’s “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”, and No. 1 on the Country and No. 5 on the R&B charts. The song, by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, became the Everly Brothers’ first million-seller.
Working with the Bryants, they had hits in the United States and the United Kingdom, the biggest “Wake Up Little Susie”, “All I Have to Do Is Dream”, “Bird Dog”, and “Problems”. The Everlys also succeeded as songwriters, especially with Don’s “(Till) I Kissed You”, which hit No. 4 on the United States pop charts.
The brothers toured with Buddy Holly in 1957 and 1958. According to Holly’s biographer Philip Norman, they changed Holly and the Crickets from Levi’s and T-shirts to the Everlys’ Ivy League suits. Don said Holly wrote “Wishing” for them. Phil said: “We were all from the South. We’d started in country music.” While some sources say Phil Everly was one of Holly’s pallbearers in February 1959, Phil said in 1986 that he attended the funeral and sat with Holly’s family but was not a pallbearer. Don did not attend, saying “I couldn’t go to the funeral. I couldn’t go anywhere. I just took to my bed.
Samuel “Sam” Cooke (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964) was an American recording artist and singer-songwriter, generally considered among the greatest of all time.
Influential as both a singer and composer, he is commonly known as the King of Soul for his distinctive vocals and importance within popular music. His pioneering contributions to soul music contributed to the rise of Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Billy Preston and popularized the likes of Otis Redding and James Brown. AllMusic biographer Bruce Eder wrote that Cooke was “the inventor of soul music”, and possessed “an incredible natural singing voice and a smooth, effortless delivery that has never been surpassed.
Cooke had 30 U.S. top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964, plus three more posthumously. Major hits like “You Send Me”, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, “Cupid”, “Chain Gang”, “Wonderful World”, and “Twistin’ the Night Away” are some of his most popular songs. Cooke was also among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label and a publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. He also took an active part in the Civil Rights Movement.
On December 11, 1964, at the age of 33, Cooke was fatally shot by Bertha Franklin, the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California. After an inquest, the courts ruled Cooke’s death to be a justifiable homicide. Since that time, the circumstances of his death have been called into question by Cooke’s family and his wide circle of friends and acquaintances.
Paul Albert Anka, OC (born July 30, 1941) is a Canadian singer (from Syrian and Lebanese parents), songwriter, and actor. Anka became famous in the late 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s with hit songs like “Diana”, “Lonely Boy”, “Put Your Head on My Shoulder”, and “(You’re) Having My Baby”. He wrote such well-known music as the theme for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and one of Tom Jones’s biggest hits, “She’s a Lady”, as well as the English lyrics for Frank Sinatra’s signature song, “My Way”, which has been covered by many including Elvis Presley. He was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2005.
In 1983, he co-wrote the song “I Never Heard” with Michael Jackson. It was retitled and released in 2009 under the name “This Is It” An additional song that Jackson co-wrote with Anka from this 1983 session, “Love Never Felt So Good”, was since discovered and was released on Jackson’s posthumous album Xscape in 2014. The song was also released by Johnny Mathis in 1984.
The name The Belmonts was derived from the fact that two of the four singers lived on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx, and the other two lived near Belmont Avenue.
After unsuccessful singles on Mohawk Records in 1957 and then on Jubilee Records (“The Chosen Few” Dion & the Timberlanes not the Belmonts), Dion was paired with The Belmonts. The group signed with Laurie Records in early 1958. The breakthrough came when their very first Laurie release, “I Wonder Why”, reached No. 22 on the Billboard Top 100 charts, and they appeared for the first time on the nationally televised American Bandstand show, hosted by Dick Clark.
Dion said of the Belmonts, “I’d give ’em sounds. I’d give ’em parts and stuff. That’s what ‘I Wonder Why’ was about. We kind of invented this percussive rhythmic sound. If you listen to that song, everybody was doing something different. It was totally amazing. When I listen to it today, often times I think, ‘Man, those kids are talented’. Dion and the Belmonts were the sound of the city. Their roots were groups like The Flamingos, The Five Satins, The Dells, acts who developed their sound in urban settings on street corners, mimicking instruments with their voices, even complex jazz arrangements.
They followed the hit with the ballads “No One Knows” and “Don’t Pity Me” (No. 40), which they also performed on Bandstand. This early success brought them their first major tour in late 1958, with The Coasters, Buddy Holly and Bobby Darin, followed by the historic and tragic Winter Dance Party tour featuring Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. On February 2, 1959, after playing the Surf Ballroom, Holly arranged to charter a plane. Dion decided he couldn’t afford the $36 cost to fly to the next venue. “$36 seemed like an awful lot of money to me,” he said, and told Holly, no.
Shortly after midnight, on February 3rd 1959, the plane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa, with Holly, Valens, The Big Bopper, and the pilot, Roger Peterson, all being killed. Bobby Vee, then an unknown artist, performed in Holly’s place at the very next concert. Later, Jimmy Clanton, Frankie Avalon, and Fabian were hired to finish the tour in place of the three deceased headliners.
In March 1959 Dion and the Belmonts’ next single, “A Teenager in Love”, broke the Top Ten, reaching No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 28 on the UK Singles Charts. Written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, it’s considered one of the greatest songs in Rock and Roll history. It was followed by their first album, “Presenting Dion and the Belmonts”. Their biggest hit, “Where or When”, was released in November 1959, and reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the group making another national appearance on American Bandstand. The flip side, “That’s My Desire”, although never charting nationally, is as well known in many areas, especially New York City.
Richard Steven Valenzuela (May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Ritchie Valens, was an American singer, songwriter and guitarist. A rock and roll pioneer and a forefather of the Chicano rock movement, Valens’ recording career lasted eight months, as it abruptly ended when he was killed in a plane crash.
During this time, he had several hits, most notably “La Bamba”, which he adapted from a Mexican folk song. Valens transformed the song into one with a rock rhythm and beat, and it became a hit in 1958, making Valens a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking rock and roll movement.
On February 3, 1959, on what has become known as “The Day the Music Died”, Valens died in a plane crash in Iowa, an accident that also claimed the lives of fellow musicians Buddy Holly and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, as well as pilot Roger Peterson. Valens was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
A self-taught musician, Valens was an accomplished singer and guitarist. At his appearances, he often improvised new lyrics and added new riffs to popular songs while he was playing. This is an aspect of his music that is not heard in his commercial studio recordings.
Bob Keane, the owner and president of small record label Del-Fi Records in Hollywood, was given a tip in May 1958 by San Fernando High School student Doug Macchia about a young performer from Pacoima by the name of Richard Valenzuela.
Kids knew the performer as “The Little Richard of the Valley”. Swayed by the Little Richard comparison Keane went to see Valenzuela play a Saturday morning matinée at a movie theater in San Fernando. Impressed by the performance, he invited the youth to audition at his home in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, where he had a small recording studio in his basement. An early stereo recorder (a two-track Ampex 601-2 portable) and a pair of Neumann U-47 condenser microphones comprised his recording equipment.
After this first audition, Keane signed Ritchie to Del-Fi on May 27, 1958. At this point the musician took the name “Ritchie” because, as Keane said, “There were a bunch of ‘Richies’ around at that time, and I wanted it to be different.” Similarly, Keane recommended shortening his surname to Valens from Valenzuela in order to widen his appeal beyond any obvious ethnic group.
Valens demoed several songs in Keane’s studio that he later recorded at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. The demos primarily consisted of Ritchie singing and playing guitar, but some of them also featured drums. These original demos can be heard on the Del-Fi album, Ritchie Valens — The Lost Tapes.
Two of the tracks laid down in Keane’s studio were taken to Gold Star Studios and had additional instruments dubbed over to create full-band recordings. “Donna” was one track (although there are two other preliminary versions of the song, both available on The Lost Tapes), and the other was an instrumental entitled “Ritchie’s Blues.”
The Del-Vikings were formed in 1955 by members of the United States Air Force stationed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with Clarence Quick (February 2, 1937 – May 5, 1983), Kripp Johnson (May 16, 1933 – June 22, 1990), Don Jackson, Samuel Paterson, Bernard Robertson and Clarence Harvey Ringo. Because all of the members were in the armed forces, the group constantly ran the risk of being disrupted by members being stationed in other places.
This happened soon after the group’s forming when Paterson and Robertson were sent to Germany. They were replaced by baritone David Lerchey, the group’s first white member, and tenor Norman Wright. Norman Wright had started a group with Lawrence “Prince” Lloyd called The Valverteens from Amarillo Air Force Base,Texas before joining The Del-Vikings.
The origin of the band’s name was created by Clarence Quick while talking to Clarence Ringo at the library on base. Some sources say that the band members had read about Vikings with the prefix “Del” being “added to give the group name an air of mystery.” Another suggestion is that Clarence Quick had known of a basketball team in Brooklyn, New York, called the Vikings and had suggested the name.
The name may also have originated from the popular Viking Press, publisher of paperbacks that group members liked to read. Clarence Harvey Ringo is vehement about the name being created by him and Clarence Quick at the Greater Pittsburgh airbase library, although he is largely uncredited for his contribution.
Their first hit came in December 1956 with “Come Go with Me”, released on Fee Bee Records as catalog number FB-205. In January 1957 Dot Records re-released “Come Go With Me” as Dot 45-15538, taking it nationally. The group quickly found itself in greater demand following Dot’s re-release which propelled the group into the Top 10 on Billboard’s pop chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. Soon after, Jackson left and was replaced by Gus Backus, the group’s second white member.