Who was/is The Hearts ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
The Hearts with Al Sears Orchestra
Now that Shirley Gunter and The Queens had chipped a stone or two out of the gender wall with their 1954 hit Oop Shoop (on our previous volume), female R&B vocal groups were popping up. So were pioneering female songwriters like New Yorker Zell Sanders, who personally molded The Hearts. She saw Harlem teens Joyce West, Forestine Barnes, and Hazel Crutchfield at the Apollo Theatre and became their mentor. Pianist Rex Garvin became their accompanist, and Louise Harris rounded out the group (its members were between 12 and 15 years old).
Sanders wrote the atmospheric ballad Lonely Nights and snared a deal for The Hearts with Sol Rabinowitz's Baton logo, which had issued The Rivileers' A Thousand Stars as its debut release the year before (it's on our '54 disc too). With veteran saxist Big Al Sears leading the band and West out front (Harris does the mid-song recitation, addressing her absent boyfriend as "you great big lump of sugar"), Lonely Nights was The Hearts' Baton debut, out in early '55 with the jump Oo-Wee on the B-side. It was a national hit, peaking at #8 on 'Billboard's' R&B 'Best Seller' listings.
Sanders was an iron-fisted manager. She replaced Barnes with Thaddus McLean, then canned the whole group after two more Baton singles. There was a second lineup of Hearts there so briefly that they never even got to record. The third batch did; one of them, Justine 'Baby' Washington, went on to R&B solo stardom. With Joyce Peterson, Theresa Chatman, Anna Barnhill, and lone holdover Garvin, they cut Going Home To Stay for Baton in 1956.
Zell launched her own J&S label, casting her daughter Johnnie Louise Richardson as half of the duo Johnnie & Joe opposite Joe Rivers. Their Garvin-penned I'll Be Spinning and Over The Mountain; Across The Sea were 1957 smashes on Chess after first appearing on J&S. Later incarnations of The Hearts included future soul stars Betty Harris (neé Crews) and Lezli Valentine (neé Green); Garvin made '60s soul sides with his Mighty Cravers. Zell continued to champion girl groups during the '60s; she and producer Abner Spector were responsible for The Jaynetts' Sally Go 'Round The Roses in 1963 for Spector's Tuff logo. The Hearts also appeared on Tuff, persevering under Sanders' aegis until the dawn of the '70s.
- Bill Dahl -
Various Vol.7, Street Corner Symphonies 1955
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