LITTLE ANTHONY & THE IMPERIALS
Little Anthony and the Imperials were one of the finest vocal groups to emerge from the talent-rich New York scene. Moreover, they enjoyed unusual longevity for an act of that type, having hits in both the doo-wop Fifties and the soul-music Sixties. They outlasted their peers by virtue of “Little Anthony” Gourdine’s powerful, beseeching vocals and the consummate professionalism of the Imperials, who mastered a broad range of material and knew how to work a stage.
Little Anthony & The Imperials BIO
Little Anthony and the Imperials is a rhythm and blues/soul/doo-wop vocal group from New York, first active in the 1950s. Lead singer Jerome Anthony “Little Anthony” Gourdine was noted for his high-pitched falsetto voice, influenced by Jimmy Scott. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 4, 2009, 23 years after the group’s first year of eligibility for induction, waiting longer than any other artist for the honor.
In 1957, a doo-wop group known as the Chesters existed with members Clarence Collins, Tracy Lord, Nathaniel Rodgers, and Ronald Ross. Anthony Gourdine, a former member of the Duponts, joined as lead vocalist. Ernest Wright took over from Ross, and the group recorded briefly for Apollo Records.
Changing their name to the Imperials, they signed with End Records in 1958. Their first single was “Tears on My Pillow“, which was an instant hit. (While playing this song, D.J. Alan Freed came up with the name “Little Anthony”.) The B-side, “Two People in the World”, was also a hit. The group followed up with “Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko Ko Bop” in 1960. When their success dwindled in 1961, Little Anthony left to attempt a solo career. Some members left, and the line-up then became Collins, Wright, Sammy Strain, and George Kerr. Kerr was replaced by Kenny Seymour after a short time. This line-up had little success.
Little Anthony returned in 1963, replacing Seymour. The group’s classic line-up – Gourdine, Ernest Wright, Clarence Collins, and Sammy Strain – was now complete. With the help of record producer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo (a childhood friend of the group), the Imperials found success on the new DCP (Don Costa Productions) labelwith the dramatic pop-soul records “I’m On The Outside (Looking In)” (1964), “Goin’ Out Of My Head” (1964), “Hurt So Bad” (1965), “I Miss You So” (1965), “Take Me Back” (1965), “Hurt” (1966), and “Out of Sight, Out Of Mind” (1969). In 1965, the Imperials appeared on the CBS-TV special Murray The K – It’s What’s Happening, Baby, where they performed “I’m Alright” before a live audience in New York. At the height of their career, the group made two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, at the time television’s top talent showcase, on March 28th, 1965, and again on January 25th, 1970. They also performed on many other popular television variety shows during the sixties, including Shindig!,Hullabaloo, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and The Tonight Show.
The Imperials then joined United Artists Records and were assigned to its Veep Records subsidiary, and then to the parent label itself, where they recorded “World Of Darkness”, “Better Use Your Head”, “If I Remember To Forget”, “Yesterday Has Gone”, and the Thom Bell–produced “Help Me Find A Way (To Say I Love You)”.
Albums from this era include: Reflections, Payin’ Our Dues, Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (named after their hit cover of The Five Keys song), and Movie Grabbers, which included a rendition of “You Only Live Twice”, the James Bond motion picture theme.
They recorded the one-off single “Father Father” for Janus Records, which they later performed on the Merv Griffin Show. Then they went to Avco Records in the early 1970s and recorded “On A New Street”, and charted with the songs “La La La (At the End)”, and “I’m Falling In Love With You”. This album was produced by both Bell and Randazzo. A second LP for Avco Records entitledHold On was withdrawn from sale in the USA after the failure of the title track to sell and AVCO’s subsequent financial difficulties. The group appeared on Soul Train on May 26, 1973. By this time, Sammy Strain and Ernest Wright had left the group, although both would eventually return.
Ernest Wright left in 1971 to join Tony Williams‘ Platters. He was replaced by the returning Kenny Seymour, who was again replaced after a short time by Bobby Wade. Strain left in 1972 to join the O’Jays, and was replaced by Harold Jenkins (who had already been functioning as the group’s choreographer). Jenkins and Seymour had previously performed together in the Impacts. Little Anthony left for a second (more successful) attempt at a solo career. The trio of Collins, Wade, and Jenkins continued as “the Imperials”. Clarence Collins left in 1988, and was replaced by Sherman James. They then toured as “Bobby Wade’s Imperials”. James left in 1992, and was replaced by Ron Stevenson.