LEE ANDREWS (and the Hearts)
Born Arthur Lee Andrew Thompson, 2 June 1936, Goldsboro, North Carolina. Died 16 March 2016, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Arthur Thompson, whose father Beechie Thompson sang with the Dixie Hummingbirds, was born in North Carolina, but when he was two, the family moved to Philadelphia, where he grew up. He began singing with four friends from Bertram High School in 1952. This quintet, originally called the Dreamers, would go on to become the Hearts, and comprised Arthur on lead, Roy Calhoun (first tenor), Butch Curry (second tenor), Jimmy McAlister (baritone) and John Young (bass). Their influences were the Ravens, the Orioles, the Five Keys and the Drifters, among others.
In their formative days they were tutored on spirituals by Butch's aunt, but the group soon switched to secular material. In 1954 they auditioned for Philadelphia deejay Kae Williams, who was quite impressed and became their manager. As the Dreamers, they recorded demos of "Maybe You'll Be There" (a # 3 pop hit for Gordon Jenkins in 1948) and "Baby Come Back". After this session, they discovered that there already was a California group called the Dreamers. Jimmy came up with their new name, the Hearts. At the same time, Arthur used his two middle names to become "Lee Andrews".
Kae Williams placed the demos with Eddie Heller's Rainbow label and "Maybe You'll Be There" got a positive review in Billboard's May 15, 1954 issue. It did well in Philadelphia (thanks to heavy airplay by Kae), but elsewhere it could not compete with a more polished version by the Orioles. Their next two Rainbow singles were standards : "White Cliffs Of Dover" and "The Bells Of St. Mary's". In the case of the latter song, the dual-version syndrome hit them again : Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters came out with a better-produced recording (flip of "White Christmas") and wrapped up most of the sales.
Kae Williams pulled the group from the Rainbow label. As they were signed to Williams and not Rainbow they had to go where he put them. The trouble was, Kae didn't put them anywhere except into clubs. Still, this gave the group some worthwhile experience. During 1955 - the year in which Jimmy McCalister was replaced by Ted Weems - the Hearts didn't record at all. The group then found out that their contract with Kae Williams was not valid as they had all been minors when they signed without parental authority. They went looking for a new record deal. Lee and Roy worked in the processing plant of Philadelphia's Gotham Records and asked owner Ivan Ballen to audition them. Ballen was more interested in gospel, but finally relented and signed the group in early 1956. Three Gotham singles were released in 1956, but Gotham's heart was not in promoting R&B records. The group was also frustrated that some good songs they had recorded remained unissued. They decided to audition for another disc jockey / manager : Jocko Henderson, who was in the process of starting his own Mainline label. In June 1957, Mainline released "Long Lonely Nights"/"The Clock", rerecordings of unreleased Gotham songs, which soon became a good seller. Knowing that his distribution potential was limited, Jocko contacted both Atlantic and Chess for national distri- bution. Atlantic ended up recording "Long Lonely Nights" with Clyde McPhatter (whose version went to # 1 R&B), but Chess was more amenable. The Hearts' version peaked at # 45 pop (four places higher than McPhatter) and # 11 R&B. The second Chess single, "Teardrops" (also originally recorded for Gotham) was an even bigger hit : # 20 pop and # 4 R&B, in early 1958. This was their golden age, as they appeared on the Labor Day week show at the Apollo with Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, the Harptones, Big Maybelle and others.
Jocko Henderson was now unhappy with the association with Chess Records, for the usual reasons (low or no royalties, sharing of composer credits, etc.) and signed the group to United Artists, where they scored their third and last hit with "Try the Impossible" (# 33 pop), yet another rerecording of unreleased Gotham material. After four singles on United Artists, Ted Weems had to join the Army and Lee Andrews went solo. In the 1960s, Lee recorded for labels like Swan, Parkway and RCA, but had no further hits. The Hearts continued as the Five Hearts and also kept on recording, with little commercial success.
In the late sixties, Lee went into temporary retirement and opened a successful dress shop. The rock revival of the 1970s provided momentum for Lee to reform the Hearts, a family affair with Lee, his wife Jackie, son Ahmir and daughter Dawn. They had two singles and an LP out on Avco Embassy in 1972-73.
Lee Andrews and the Hearts were not major hitmakers, but they did better than most. Their three hits are slow romantic songs, but they also recorded up-tempo songs in the rock n roll vein, like "Glad To Be Here" (with Roy Calhoun on lead) and "The Clock".
CD : Teardrops : The Very Best Of Lee Andrews and the Hearts. (Collectables, released 2002.) 23 tracks from various labels.
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