The Videos -
Most of these videos are available from collectors and serious rock and roll history dealers.
The first and one of the best is a PBS documentary called "I Promise To Remember" and is of course about the life and times of Frankie Lymon. It is told in vintage kinescopes of early TV appearances with Ed Sullivan and Alan Freed, and in narratives by the present survivor Herman Santiago. There are many special moments here-a vintage take of Frankie telling how he got paid for his first record (a box of candy bars !), Ed Sullivan calling Frankie "Frank Robinson", and some heartbreaking ones : Richard Barrett telling of being haunted by the memory of Frankie's demise, a reunion of a revised group (with Pearl McKinnion) at Stitt JHS, and most of all a tape of the mid 20s Frankie forced to lip-synch "Why Do Fools" on Hollywood 'A Go Go in the mid 60s. This is a very dramatic and to-the-point program.
There is an interesting video segment produced by Turner (TBS) on Clifton Music and UGHA which features Ronny "I" at a show introducing The Wrens, and shows performances and interviews with fans on why the music persists. This is a hard to find tape but it is close to the heart of all of us.
There is a most informative cable access program that has been a wealth of information and great memories. The show is called Doo Wop Is Alive and is hosted by Arthur Crier and Eugene Tompkins. If the names are familiar, these two gentlemen are long time vocalists from the Morrisania section of the Bronx, and the members of The Limelighters (Tompkins) and Chimes and Halos (Crier). Together with neighbor Lillian Leach, they reformed The Mellows and went on to perform and also to host this great little show. Originally produced in Mount Vernon NY, the show later moved its locale to Atlanta at Yesterday's Memories Music store. This show featured plenty of guests from the old and not so old days, and taped performances by The Mellows and others. A wonderful little segment from Atlanta showed Lillian lip-synching to "Lovable Lilly" - which brought back a ton of great memories. All in all this is a nice get together with old friends who know the real story because they have lived it.
A series of PBS documentaries that are worthy of inclusion are not about R & B vocal groups but document different parts of the entire equation that helped propel this sound to its popularity. The first is "Looey Blooey" about the Black jazz string bands in the late 20s and early 30s. This is a rare look at the history of this forgotten music and features its best known performer, Yank Rachel. "Say Amen, Somebody" is the story of Black American gospel music and its number one proponent Thomas Dorsey. There are remarkable stories concerning all the great performers of this music that has had such an enormous impact on the popular music of this country for the last 50 years. The film "The Last Of The Blue Devils" documents a reunion of members of the Black Musicians Union of Kansas City. Jay McShann is there, along with two of the three greatest KC influences : Count Basie and Joe Turner (Charlie Parker was the other). I loved the scene when a limo pulls up, out steps Count in his trademark yachting cap, and Big Joe looks at him and asks "Did you leave your ship outside ?" Great stuff and great music. Finally a very important program "That Rhythm, Those Blues" - the story of Charles Brown and Ruth Brown, as they say not related except in their love of the music. It traces the careers of these two giants of American music from their roots in the 40s up to the present day. A most poignant part of the show deals with the recollections of two white men about the time in the post war 40s when as teenagers they were allowed to attend the R & B one nighters in their native Georgia from the upstairs balcony (sort of a reversal of form) until the local KKK put an end to that practice. All of these are worthy viewing programs that will add much to the appreciation of the music that we are keeping alive.
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