SHARON Vocal honorees share legacy of harmony
Many of those selected for membership paid tribute to the groups that came before them.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
SHARON, Pa. -- Arlene Smith says young people today don't understand the intricacies of singing in harmony.
She should know.
The original lead singer of The Chantels, one of the earliest successful girl groups to make it big on the pop charts, is now a teacher in the Bronx, New York City, where she wrote her own performing arts program for children from preschool age through the fourth grade.
It's up to those still performing vocal harmony to serve as ambassadors, to hand down that vocal group tradition to a younger generation, Smith said Tuesday.
She was speaking to members of more than two dozen groups during induction ceremonies for the Class of 2002 at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in downtown Sharon.
The Chantels, with hits like "Maybe" and "Every Night (I Pray)" recorded in the late 1950s, are in the latest group of inductees and will be on the bill at the induction concert at 7 p.m. today at Cafaro Field in Niles.
What speakers emphasized
Most of those inducted during Tuesday's ceremony spoke of the importance of vocal music in their life and most paid tribute to groups that went before them, admitting openly that they had tried to copy their idols' sound.
"We wanted to be the white Drifters," said Sandy Yaguda, founder of Jay and the Americans, explaining how his group strove in the 1960s to sing the way The Drifters did.
Others spoke of the memories that some of the inductees' songs of 40 and 50 years ago brought back to them and others said the night was like a comfortable family reunion, giving them a chance to meet up with friends in the industry they hadn't seen in years.
"This is your home," said Mary Wilson of The Supremes (Class of 1998) and co-host of the ceremony.
"I believe in all of us. All of us are national treasures," Wilson said, adding, "Our music is definitely the ambassador of love."
"All we did was sing about life," said Charles Stevens of The Clovers whose biggest hit was the 1959 "Love Potion No. 9."
He was the only one of his group, which was formed in the late 1940s, able to make it to the ceremony.
Leaving a legacy
The Clovers were able to come along at a time when the music of the '40s was ending and young people were looking for a new sound, he said.
"We left a footprint," Stevens said, adding that he is pleased that footprint will remain on view in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
"This is fabulous. You know that folks are going to see what we did long after we're gone," he said.
Joe VerScharen of Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners, a Pittsburgh group whose biggest hit was the 1959 "Since I Don't Have You," was impressed with the hall of fame.
"I think it's absolutely awesome. It's the greatest tribute a lover of harmony can receive," he said.
Florence LaRue, one of the original members of The 5th Dimension, a 1960s group that still performs, said the attention to vocal group music is long overdue.
"The public needs to realize the value of the arts," she said, noting that, in the Los Angeles area, many schools no longer offer music classes.
Michelle Phillips, a member of The Mamas & amp; The Papas, inducted with the Class of 2000, wasn't able to get here for that induction ceremony but she came in for the 2002 program and will reunite with former Papa, Denny Doherty, at tonight's Cafaro Field concert.
Vocal harmony is kind of a dying art, she said, noting that, when she was growing up, young people learned to sing in the church and the school.
A lot of school glee clubs and similar groups are no longer a part of the school curriculum, particularly in California, Phillips said.
Creating a hall of fame to recognize the groups that created the music "is the greatest idea," she said. "When you listen to the groups, you know all of their [musical] parts."