The Chordettes were the most popular female vocal group of the 1950s, bridging the gap between the Andrews Sisters era and the explosion of girl groups in the early 1960s. The group showed remarkable survivability. Every time they were written off as another too-sweet-for-the-times female group, they would emerge with another hit, straddling the fence between the pop world and the emerging rock and roll audience.
The group originated in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 1946. The original members were Dorothy Schwartz (lead), Jinny Lockard (tenor), Carol Buschman (baritone) and Janet Ertel (bass). They practiced their barbershop-style harmony to perfection, excelling at complex four-part harmonies. In 1949 they joined Arthur Godfrey’s “Talent Scouts” show on radio and soon graduated to his TV show as regulars. During 1950-53 the Chordettes recorded unsuccessfully for Columbia.
In 1952 Lynn Evans replaced Schwartz and the next year Margie Needham replaced Lockard (who was having a baby), though Jinny later returned to the group. Godfrey insisted the girls stay pure barbershop, but his musical director, Archie Bleyer, disagreed. When Bleyer quit Godfrey’s show to concentrate on his new record company, Cadence, he persuaded the Chordettes to leave Godfrey and to sign with Cadence. Archie Bleyer married Janet Ertel in 1954. (Ertel had a daughter from a previous marriage, Jackie, who would marry Phil Everly in 1963.)
From 1954 to 1961, Bleyer found the songs, wrote the arrangements and produced the Chordettes sessions. Their first Cadence single, “It’s You, It’s You I Love”, went nowhere, but the second single, a lilting pop lullabye titled “Mister Sandman”, became a million seller. It spent seven weeks at # 1 in December 1954/January 1955. In the UK, where the single was released on Columbia (all the other Cadence singles came out on London), it reached # 11. When the next three singles flopped, Bleyer decided to take the route of other white pop artists of the mid-1950s : when all else fails, cover a black artist’s song. Thus the Teen Queens’ “Eddie My Love” became the Chordettes’ second Top 20 record, in the spring of 1956. The girls’ seventh single became one of their biggest yet, as “Born To Be With You” hit # 5 in the US and # 8 in the UK. The song (written by Don Robertson of “Happy Whistler” fame, who also penned several Elvis classics) has been revived by many artists, with chart success for Sonny James (# 1 country, # 81 pop, 1968), Dave Edmunds (# 5 UK, 1973) and Sandy Posey (# 21 country, 1978).
Next came “Lay Down Your Arms” (# 16, autumn 1956), which was covered in Britain by Anne Shelton, who took it to the top of the UK charts. After two non-charting singles, the girls made a strong comeback with “Just Between You And Me” (# 8, 1957) c/w “Soft Sands” (# 73). But even bigger was “Lollipop” (# 2), a cover of a song by Ronald and Ruby, whose RCA original stalled at # 20. This was a sound that both mature pop audiences and teenagers could like and “Lollipop” became the Chordettes’ second and last million seller. The theme from the popular TV show “Zorro” also did well for the group (# 17, mid-1958).
Though they were too old to pass as a teen act, the Chordettes made some credible attempts at rock n roll, especially in 1959, at a session with ace saxophonist King Curtis. “A Girl’s Work Is Never Done” (# 89) was a variation on “Yakety Yak”, substituting a teenager’s chores by those of a housewife. The other side, “No Wheels”, had the group chanting behind a spoken “Kookie” imitation by Jeff Kron, a classmate of Jackie Ertel. (Kookie was Edd Byrnes, then very popular via the TV series “77 Sunset Strip”). The session also produced good cover versions of “Charlie Brown”, “Pink Shoelaces” and “Tall Paul”, with fine sax contributions by Curtis.
The group’s final hit (# 13, 1961) was the theme from the movie “Never On Sunday”, previously an instrumental hit for Don Costa and his orchestra (1960). Their last single, issued in late 1963, coupled two previously released numbers : the Glen Yarbrough folk song “All My Sorrows” (a single from 1960) and “True Love Goes On And On” from 1954, the B-side of the very first Cadence single. Archie Bleyer decided to shut down Cadence in 1964. Founding member Jinny Lockard had left the group in 1961 and the remaining three decided to go their separate ways. Various members, two or three at a time, occasionally reunited to perform, but the Chordettes made no more records. The group was inducted into the Vocal Hall Group of Fame in 2001.
Janet Ertel Bleyer (by far the oldest member) died in 1988 at the age of 75. Jinny Lockard (previously Osborn) died in 2003, aged 65.
In 1986 producer Bob Duncan secured the rights to the name The Chordettes and formed The New Chordettes, a quartet that includes his wife Judy Duncan and is still active at this time of writing.
More info : http://www.waybackattack.com/chordettes.html
Discography : http://www.45cat.com/artist/the-chordettes
Acknowledgements : Michael Jack Kirby, Jay Warner.
Dik, August 2015
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