Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers

As lead vocalist with the Teenagers, Frankie Lymon became the first black teenage singing idol. The group's success inspired the formation of a number of youthful black vocal groups, from the Students in the 50s to the Jackson Five in the 60s.The group's sound influenced young singers such as Ronnie Bennett and Diana Ross, and served as a prototype for both the girl groups and the early Motown groups of the 60s. The group's best-known song, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," was the subject of perhaps the longest dispute of song ownership, eventually awarded to group members Jimmy Merchant and Herman Santiago in 1992. Frankie Lymon's success was short-lived and by the age of twenty-five he was dead of a heroin overdose.

After forming several short-term vocal groups, two black students from Edward D. Stitt Junior High School in the Washington Heights section of New York City, Jimmy Merchant and Sherman Games, recruited neighborhood Puerto Ricans Herman Santiago and Joe Negroni for another group. Ultimately becoming the Premiers, with Santiago as lead singer, the group was joined by Frankie Lymon in 1955. Lymon had grown up harmonizing with his brothers, Lewis and Howie, in the Harlemaire Juniors. The Premiers were discovered by Richard Barrett, talent scout and lead singer of the Valentines, and signed to George Goldner's Gee Records. Under the name the Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon, they recorded "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," a song ostensibly written by Merchant and Santiago, released at the beginning of 1956. With Lymon on boyish soprano lead, the song became a top R&B pop hit, as well the first top British hit by an American vocal group. The song was subsequently covered by the Diamonds and Gale Storm, but unlike most songs rerecorded by white artists, the original proved to be the biggest hit.

Sporting a clean-cut, wholesome image and benefiting from dance instructions provided by noted choreographer Cholly Atkins, the group began touring extensively. They soon scored a smash R&B pop hit with "I Want You to Be My Girl. They also appeared in the 1956 film "Rock, Rock, Rock," performing "I Am Not a Juvenile Delinquent."

In 1957 Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers toured Great Britain, appeared in the film "Mister Rock and Roll," and scored their last major R&B hit with the ballad "Out in the Cold Again." In the summer of 1957 Lymon scored a pop hit with "Goody Goody," recorded solo in London, and by year's end he had left the group to record solo for Roulette. The Teenagers persevered for a time without Lymon, recording for Roulette, Columbia, and End through 1961. Lymon did not achieve another hit until 1960's remake of "Little Bitty Pretty One." Losing his youthful soprano voice to age, he was unable to make a convincing comeback. After experimenting with narcotics since 1958, Lymon entered a drug rehabilitation program in Manhattan in 1961; nonetheless, in 1964 he was convicted of narcotics possession. The Teenagers briefly reunited with Lymon in 1965, but on February 28, 1968, Frankie's body was found in his grandmother's New York residence, the victim of a heroin overdose at the age of twenty-five.

Sherman Games died of a heart attack on February 26, 1977, and Joe Negroni died on September 5, 1978, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. In the early '80s, surviving members Herman Santiago and Jimmy Merchant reformed the Teenagers with Pearl McKinnon of the Kodaks. In 1981 Diana Ross scored a near-smash pop and R&B hit with "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

In 1984 Lymon's widow, Emira, filed for renewal of the copyright to "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," only to discover that it was the property of Morris Levy, who had acquired George Goldner's catalog. Merchant and Santiago pressed their own legal case, and in 1992 a federal court proclaimed them and Lymon the authors, awarding them royalties back to 1969.

Frankie Lymon, born September 30, 1942 - lead vocals
Herman Santiago, born February 18, 1941 - 1st tenor
Jimmy Merchant, born February 10,1940 - 2d tenor
Joe Negroni, born September 9, 1940 - bariton
Sherman Games, born June 8, 1940 - bass vocals

Source: The Rockin' 50s by Brock Helander
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