Thursday, December 15, 2011


In the early 1950's an increasing number of southern families ventured into many of the north's large industrial cities, and Syracuse was no exception. Many of these families were brought up with deep religious background and among these who were committed to religion were singers. Of these the majority were amateurs who turned out each week for religious services. These small predominately black churches were the birth places of rhythm and blues in Syracuse.

In 1952, five such singers formed their own a capella group known a "The Quintones". Lafayette Breland, Ted Jones, Rudy Flowers, Eugene Huntley and Larry Briggs were the first vocal groups to perform so called "Rhythm and Blues" to the Syracuse public. The Quintones would later perform at New York City's Apollo Theater as well as appearing on Ted Mack's Original Hour. These were great accomplishments for the early 50's. But their greatest contribution to Syracuse music would be their influence on the young up and coming black vocalist, such as Bobby Green, Jimmy Singleton, Ray Green, Herman Vaughan and Owen Singleton known collectively as "The 5 Points." This young group of teenagers also with a gospel influence copied the style of "The Quintones: as well as national greats "Big Joe" Turner, Sonny Till and the Orioles, 4 Buddies, The Midnighters and the Dominoes.

The list of these black  R & B greats is quite long and some of their recordings never graced the airwaves of Syracuse radio stations to that point. Where were teens hearing these great new sounds ? Many were late night listeners who hear the songs on other radio stations. Others from records imported from New York or brought from the South by relatives or heard in newly opened small black record stores like Syracuse's  Dave Wilkens. Even as late as 1954, Rhythm and Blues was largely unheard by the white population of Syracuse.

In mid 1954, Syracuse's top pop selling albums were Frank Sinatra's "Song For Young Lovers" and Jackie Gleason's "Tawny." The top song on the Hit Parade was "Three Coins in the Fountain." The biggest country artist was Webb Pierce and R&B had yet to make its mark.

But on July 5, 1954 rhythm and blues would join white country music and totally overwhelm the entire American music scene. At 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, Sam Phillips the owner of the Sun Record Company was producing the first professional recording session with local truck driver Elvis Presley. Sam Phillips entered the record business in 1950, the main concern was to record local talent and try to sell the masters to national labels. Elvis's first visit to the Sun Studios was in 1953 when he paid $4.00 to record the song "My Happiness" an old Ink Spots hit.  January 4, 1954 Presley returned and cut another demo "I'll Never Stand In Your Way."  Following the demo recordings Elvis found himself in the Sun Studio  with Scotty Moore and Bill Black in July 1954 as they cut the legendary "That's All Right (Mama) " and "Blue Moon of Kentucky" Sun Records  #209.

For the first time Elvis and his musicians combined the sounds of white country music with that of black blues to form what would be called "rockabilly." With the success of these early recordings, Elvis, Scotty and Bill worked several small country shows throughout the South, with Elvis often appearing as the "Hillbilly Cat" or "The King of Western Bop." In July 1955, another important mark in rock music was made. Elvis's fourth Sun Records release "Baby Let's Play House" this was his  first record to appear on one of the national country charts. Elvis's fifth and final recording for Sun "Mystery Train" was recorded and shipped to national record stores. Colonel Tom Parker (now Elvis's manager) and Sam Phillips were negotiating with RCA Records for the  sales of Elvis's contract. It was announced that Elvis's contract was purchased by RCA for a reported $35,000 plus $5,000 as a bonus. What RCA did with Elvis is now history.

The success of Alan Freed in New York City and the rise to stardom of Bill Haley, Chuck Berry and Elvis had firmly established "Rock n' Roll" as a saleable commodity, at least to teenagers. WOLF's Dick Clark was not as many may think the first to play Rock n' Roll in Syracuse. That honor falls to Chet Whiteside know as "Mr. Rhythm" who played Elvis, The Moonglows, Fats Domino, Wynomie Harris and many others on his weekly rhythm & blues show on WNDR Radio.

The first radio station adopting an all rock format was WFBL AM 1390 in 1956. Denny Sullivan, Ron Curtis (later became one on Syracuse greatest TV news broadcasters on TV-5), Ed Karsh and Syracuse's first Top 40 disc jockey Bill Thrope pushed the platters. WFBL, then owned by the Founders Corporation, added give-aways and contests to liven up the total air sound. Bill Thrope held Syracuser's first record hop later that same year.

The first television show in Syracuse to air rock music was "Dance Party" with Al Meltzer on WHEN TV-8. Meltzer was not a new comer to Syracuse, he'd been with WAGE (WHEN) Radio since 1950. Al played all the hits in an American Bandstand format. Later many others followed the television dance route- Windy Craig (WOLF), Rowland Smith, and Bud Ballou (WOLF & WNDR). Only Ballou's show on WNYS TV-9 (now WSYR) was moderately successful.

1 comment:

  1. There should be more recognition for Chet Whiteside and his contribution to bringing all that great rock and roll music to Syracuse. The Cool Mayor of the Village lives on in memory.