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When you talk about classic pioneer vocal groups, you can't have a discussion without mentioning Sonny Till and the Orioles. They started as the Vibranaires in early 1948. They appeared on Arthur Godfrey's talent show in New York and initially lost, as they sung "Exactly like You." They were then invited back to Godfrey's radio show a few weeks later, and from that performance, ended up on a brand new label called It's A Natural. They changed their name to the Orioles, emulating the other popular bird group at the time, the Ravens. The original lineup as the Orioles included Earlington Carl Tilghman (Sonny Til), lead, Alexander Sharp, tenor, George Nelson, baritone, and Johnny Reed, bass. Tommy Gaither was the Guitarist for the group, until a tragic automobile accident in November of 1950 claimed his life and cut short his promising career. He was replaced by Ralph Williams. Deborah Chessler Became their manager and wrote several records for them and other artists as well. Their first record was titled "It's Too Soon To Know", backed with Barbra Lee, both written by Chessler. It sold very well, and the Orioles were on their way. Before the record was completely done selling, the label was changed to Jubilee, as they didn't want any comparisons of It's A Natural, with the National label that the Ravens were currently recording on. Jubilee already had a few releases in the earlier 2500 series, but started the Orioles with the 5000 series, that they would use for most all their original issues. There next record was a Christmas waxing which became a good seller for many years to come. The Orioles were amazing. Sonny Til had that something special that made him a star. He was also quite a favorite with the women in the crowds, as they screamed and constantly tried to get a souvenir - usually something that Sonny was wearing! He recorded a few solo sides and had some duets with Edna McGriff. The Orioles continued to deliver the hits, and received many glowing reviews from the trade papers. They were constantly booked in the big halls and the smaller venues. They seemed to be the kings of the one-nighters, as they toured often. After all, that was where the money was. In 1951, Charlie Harris was added as a pianist, and George Nelson had some alcohol issues and was replaced by John Gregory Carroll just before "Crying In The Chapel" was cut in 1953. In 1955, the group broke up, and Sonny Til formed a completely new group using the Regals. This page is devoted to the Orioles and their Jubilee recordings on 78 RPM.
Kicking off their recording career in September of 1948, the Orioles first release was on the It's A Natural label. This was the first, and apparently last issue for the label. "It's Too Soon To Know" was the "A" side, written by Deborah Chessler. That was her first song writing venture, and she actually wrote the flip, "Barbra Lee" as well. She was reportedly paid a lump some of around $7,000.00 for it. The Race Record Review for September gave the plug side an 85 of 100, which was a very strong score. It was said that the disc sold over 30,000 copies the first week alone. It was on the R+B charts for 17 weeks, and also saw some action on the pop charts, too.
In November of 1948, It's A Natural - often referred to as just "Natural Records" in the publications - changed their name to Jubilee. One reason cited was the possible confusion with the National label, and the Orioles competition from the Ravens. They got the name Jubilee from the label owner, Sid De May, who later partnered with Jerry Blaine to form Jubilee Publishing. There was a Jubilee 2500 series of records that included Bunk Johnson, the Two Gospel Keys, and a few others. Although both It's A Natural 5000 and Jubilee 5000 issues can still be found easily today, there may have been less of the Jubilee disks pressed.
"To Be With You" was the next release for the Orioles. Written again by Chessler, it did not get good reviews. "Lonely Christmas" received favorable reviews, and was timed well with a December release. This disc got up to number 8 on the charts, and Lonely Christmas was brought back for a few Christmas seasons, and has appeared in numerous record and CD reissues.
After the Christmas season, the above disc was re-released with "Dare To Dream" on the flip of "To Be With You." It was at the end of the run, so this combination did not sell that many copies.
They Gave Chessler a break, and issued another great side, "Please Give My Heart A Break", backed with "It Seems So Long Ago. Released in February 1949. If you listen to these sides, there really wasn't any other group that sounded like them in 1949.
From April of 1949, "Tell Me So" is a really fine song and recording, as Deborah Chessler has redeemed herself! Though not reviewed very high, I happen to really enjoy the flip side called "Deacon Jones" It is unusual, and has a really cool gospel feel to it. The song was recorded by Bullmoose Jackson in 1948, as Fare Thee Well Deacon Jones, Fare Thee Well. "Tell Me So" ended up being the Orioles next smash hit going to the number one position on the R+B charts.
July of 1949 brought the next Jubilee recording. This time, "I Challenge Your Kiss" was another excellent song for the group. George Nelson sang lead on this record, and it was the only Orioles record that Til was not out in front on. "Donkey Serenade" was a decent outing on the "B" side, and a unique waxing of a song from the 1930's.
This one sold very well on the east coast, and both sides were winners. "A Kiss And A Rose", was an Ink Spots recording from April, and it was backed with "It's A Cold Summer." "A Kiss And A Rose" was on the R+B charts for just two weeks, peaking at number 12. Also, have you noticed that all the labels show the Orioles as "Vocal Quintet With Rhythm? It continues the same way for quite a few releases.
Another two sided classic, sung with amazing emotion and feeling. This was one of the early Orioles records originally issued on 45. Take your pick: "So Much" or Forgive And Forget." They are both great ballads."Forgive And Forget" was on the R+B charts for a solid nine weeks. Released in September of 1949.
Just in time for Christmas of 1949, Jubilee decided to issue "Lonely Christmas" again, this time on record number 5017. On this pairing, it was backed with another Holiday favorite, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve." Like the previous Christmas, the record sold well, though just blipped on the charts.
Not only did it sell well in 1949, but it kept selling year after year. This Jubilee pink label disc shows that it was pressed when Jubilee changed colors and logos in 1952, and beyond.
As you continue to see release after release, you continue to see classic after classic. "Would You Still be The One In My Heart" is the best of the two sides and it is another solid effort by the birds. Sonny Til actually sings "I" instead of "You", so it was probably a miscommunication on the part of Jubilee. It's backed with "Is My Heart Wasting Time", which is a fair performance. Released in February of 1950.
From April of 1950, "At Night" was another stand-out recording. "Every Dog Gone Time" was good, but weaker than the plug side. This was another record that sold well for the Orioles.
In June of 1950, the Orioles embarked on their first extensive southern tour, mostly one-nighters. Their newest disc to promote was "Moonlight" backed with "I Wonder When." The "A" side was panned by reviewers, but the flip was given high praise, in part because of the orchestration and an early example of using violins - or as the trades said "With Full Fiddle Effects." This record did get flipped on many radio shows, and I imagine even more jukeboxes.
You're Gone was the new issue for late July of 1950. My preference is for the flip, called "Everything They Said Came True." Some reviews showed this as the best record since "It's Too Soon To Know", and in any case, was a good seller. The Orioles were red hot. They commanded big bucks at the most prestigious theatres, and often commanded $5,000.00 a week.
"I'd Rather Have You Under The Moon" was new for September, and did get reviewed well in some trades. They were also compared to the Mills Brothers on the "A" side. "We're Supposed To Be True" was a nice effort, and they deviated on the ballad, just enough to double time it on the second chorus.
As Orioles records goes, this one sold poorly. It's one of the tougher to find on 78. "I Need You So" was flipped with "Goodnight Irene." Reviews were minimal.
Back to another great two sider from Sonny Till and the Orioles. "I Cross My Fingers" and "I Can't Seem To Laugh Anymore." Released in November of 1950, the Orioles were back on track!
For December of 1950, a different two sided Holiday record was in order. "Oh Holy Night" and "The Lord's Prayer" would prove to be popular during the 1950 Christmas season, and for many seasons to come. This one is also available on the Pink Jubilee label. A further note: The Orioles played the Atlanta Convention Hall on Christmas Night, and donated 10 per cent of the proceeds to the late Tommy Gaither's family. He was their guitarist, and was killed in an automobile accident in November of 1950. He took a turn too fast on the way home from a gig, and crashed into a drive-in. George Nelson and Johnny Reed who were traveling with him, were seriously injured, but returned to the group in time.
First for 1951, the Orioles had not been in the studio to record, since they needed to break in a new member for the road, following Tommy Gaither's death. "I Miss You So" and "You Are My First Love" was a strong two sider, and the Orioles continued to help the Gaither family by donating all royalties from this record to the family. Issued in February 1951, it was a territorial tip for New York in March. The disc sold very well. Within a couple of months, the Orioles would sign a new five year recording deal with Jubilee. Contrary to some beliefs, this record was not a tribute to Tommy Gaither, as it was actually recorded in August of 1950.
Sonny Til recorded his first record without the Orioles in September of 1951. He would make a few, but continued to sing with the Orioles, and that was his main gig. "My Prayer" was the plug side and "I Never Knew" was on the back. Both sides featured Johnny Reed at the organ, and uncredited Ralph Williams on guitar.
Also released in September of 1951, was the next Orioles disk. Neither side enjoyed great reviews, but no sooner than it was issued, "Hold Me Squeeze Me" had a territorial tip issued for Miami, as it was hot in south. Florida, New York City. and Richmond quickly were added to the list. Those tips reported sales and juke activity for many key cities in the USA.
"Don't Tell Her What's Happened To Me" was the first side to take off on this November issue. "Baby Please Don't Go" is my favorite. It's a mid-tempo song that has a hint of bluesyness to it. It had been recorded by Joe Lee Williams in 1942, along with a host of other artists, over time. This record was promoted along with both Christmas releases on Jubilee 5017 and 5045. It was actually reported in January 1952, that it was one of the top three sellers for Jubilee, and they actually were forced to ship copies by air, to the midwest. It was still listed as a territorial tip for New York, in February 1952.
It appears this was issued in December of 1951. It did not sell real well, for several reasons. First, they had just come out with "Don't Tell Her What's Happened To Me" in November, and Jubilee also issued both Christmas records. I think this got lost in the maze of releases for the end of the year. "How Blind Can You Be" was the play side and "When You're Not Around" was on the flip.
New For February, 1953, "Shrimp Boats" had the best review. "Trust In Me" was the "B" side. You have to love not only the band that played behind the groups recordings, but also the name. "Buddy Lucas And His Band Of Tomorrow! Jo Stafford had a version of Shrimp Boats on the charts at the same time that the Orioles rendition appeared, and Trust In Me was a record that was recorded originally in the 1930's.
From April, "Proud Of You" was waxed the same time that Edna McGriff had her version of Heavenly Father pressed up for Jubilee. The two artists collaborated together on a few Jubilee sides later in 1952. "You Never Cared For Me" was on the flip. Notice two different band leaders/orchestras were on the sides. This is another solo release from Sonny Till.
Late April, or early May, brought another Orioles disc to the market. "It's Over Because We're Through" and "Waiting" were the tunes. Sonny Til had partial writing credit. As usual, Jubilee bought big add space in the trade publications. One listing from May had the Orioles, Sonny Till, Edna McGriff and others, all in the same advertisement.
A promotional copy of "Barfly" was sent out to the disc Jockeys in July of 1952. The mid tempo "Gettin Tired,Tired,Tired" rounded out a fine pairing. The record was not a huge seller, but because of the frequency of new records from the Orioles, the next big thing might be right around the corner. The flip had the best reviews in the trades.
Edna McGriff is on the left, Sonny Til on the right.
A duet with Edna McGriff was a nice change for Sonny Till. Taking the standard "I Only Have Eyes For You" and backing it with "Once In A While." Released in July of 1952. This record had great reviews, but the disc didn't sell.
And, here is that "Thing"! A monster hit for the Orioles, it was waxed in August. Although both sides had three out of four stars in the reviews, which incidentally were the same scores as the previous record, this disc was breaking out in many markets. Philadelphia was one of the first regions to jump on it hard. Mobile was the next destination in line for the record. "Don't Cry Baby" and a fine rendition of "See See Rider" spun up in may jukeboxes across the country, too.
The first of two Orioles related releases for November of 1952. This featured a duet of Sonny Till and Edna McGriff singing "Good" backed with "Piccadilly." Buddy Lucas was on both sides. The reviews were strong, but the duet just didn't seem to click with the record buyers.
"You Belong To Me" was also rushed out in November, flipped with "I Don't Want To Take A Chance." The trade papers called "You Belong To Me as "Schmaltzy" and "Not Their Best Effort, Though Their Fans Will Probably Take To It." You could also bet that at least one of the early Christmas records came back for even more year-end sales for the Orioles and Jubilee records.
New for January of 1953, the Orioles sang "I Miss You So", for the second time on Jubilee. Released earlier on Jubilee 5051 in early 1951, this was the second version of the song. Actually, this was the first of three records that were new for 1953, and released in the first two months of the year. "Till Then" was on the flip.
This recording by the Orioles from February, while not exactly panned by the reviewers, was certainly not high on their rating scale. "Hold Me,Thrill Me,Kiss Me" backed with "Teardrops On My Pillow" was a very good seller. I suppose those experts weren't always right.
Also new for February, was another solo effort from Sonny Till. "Have You Heard" came out about the same time as Crawlin by the Clovers, You're Mine by the Crickets, and Annisteen Allen's Baby I'm Doing It. "Lonely Wine" was on the flip. Again, great reviews were given to the record.
Jubilee records just kept cranking out the Orioles records. They obviously had the buyers, so in April, "Bad Little Girl" was made available, though "Dem Days" was the side with the highest trade ratings.
Another Sonny Till effort without the Orioles, "Congratulations To Someone" was flipped with "Danger Soft Shoulders." This was released in April just 3 sequential record numbers on Jubilee after the previous Orioles recording.
Embarking on a more popish sound, "I Cover The Waterfront" was a June 1953 waxing. It was termed an "oldie" by the trades, as the original recording dated from the 1930's. "One More Time" was on the "B" side. It actually was rated better than the "A" side by the trade rags.
Uh Oh. This was a huge record for the Orioles. Even though their previous record came out a month earlier, Jubilee kept the wax flowing. This record would get play on the R+B stations as well as the rock and roll, and pop stations. One trade ad showed it selling (Shipping) 40,000 in two days. It was given four stars on both sides of the record, and was deemed the "Buy Of The Week" for the week of July 25th. It was hot in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and "All other areas." The only place it was not hot was in Los Angeles were "Chapel", and the multitude of cover versions that started coming out, couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. At least in the beginning. June Valli, Darrell Glenn, Rex Allen, and The Orioles all held top spots with "Crying In The Chapel", on various national charts. This got some great plays on the gospel shows as well. "Don't You Think I Ought To Know" was on the flip. The record was on the R+B charts for eighteen weeks and the pop charts for ten.
How do you follow-up a smash hit? The first thing you do is wait a while before issuing the next record. Jubilee did that and held off until October before sending out "In The Mission Of St. Augustine." All the markets except Los Angeles where playing the "A" side. Los Angeles flipped it and spun "Write And Tell Me Why." A great recording, and it sold well, but not the magnitude of "Chapel." It peaked at #7 on the R+B charts and parked on the list for 4 weeks total.
New for January of 1954, "Robe Of Calvary" was the next waxing for the Orioles. It became a "Buy O' The Week" for January 23rd, and received four stars. It was already being reported as a top seller in most of the major regional markets. Using a religious theme had certainly worked before, and giving it another shot was certainly a good idea."There's No One But You" was the "B" side. A nice pairing, and it did sell reasonable well.
"Secret Love" was another big seller for the group. Released in March of 1954, Jubilee started spacing the records a bit closer together. This was another Buy O' The Week for most regions,this time to include Los Angeles! "Don't Go To Strangers" rounded out a nice record.
A solid four out of four stars on both sides of this June 1954 disc for the Orioles, were given by the music publications. After many sides where Jubilee used the Buddy Lucas band, they have switched to using Sid Bass and his orchestra. "Maybe You'll Be There" backed with "Drowning Every Hope I Ever Had" is a another solid performance. Both sides received a rating of excellent, and they were. The promo copy is shown.
July brought another 78 for the group, and it would be a smash hit. Maybe not as big as Chapel, but it was possibly their second biggest disc. "In The Chapel In The Moonlight" was similar in sound and title to Chapel, and a great record."Thank The Lord, Thank The Lord" had a religious theme as well.
The stock pink label is shown. The disk continued to sell throughout the summer and beyond.
A September release for the birds, "If You Believe" was the plug side for the jocks. "Longing" on the other side was no slouch either. Again, four out of four stars from the trade papers on both tunes.
"Runaround" was new for November 1954, paired with "Count Your Blessings Instead Of Sheep." Runaround was an earlier hit for the Three Chuckles, that featured Teddy Randazzo. The flip was a song featured in the film White Christmas though not by the Orioles.
January of 1955 found "I Love You Mostly" as the Orioles next waxing, and it got a four star rating. The music certainly was changing as years were rolling on, and the group kept right in the middle of all the action. "Fair Exchange" was the flip.
Back to a gospel feel with "That's When The Good Lord Will Smile" "I Need You Baby" was on the back of this April 1955 78 RPM record. Three out of four stars for both sides, was not a bad review. Again, the Orioles went back to the gospel theme, trying to recapture "Chapel." Sales were definitely tapering off for the Orioles.
: Were they the best vocal group ever? If not, the Orioles ware certainly amongst the very best. It was the sound - Sonny Til crooning and wooing the crowds, the stage presence of Til and the group, and the constant churning of one high quality record after another. The advertising and promotion from Jubilee combined with the mostly high marks given to the songs by the trade papers didn't hurt either. They were a super group that for several years, would rival any group you could name. The group endured several personnel changes as most outfits did, back in the day.
Unfortunately, all of the original Orioles have passed on. Sonny died in December of 1981. The last member, Johnny Reed, lived long enough to accept the award as the Orioles were inducted into the hall of fame in 1995, and enjoy it for just over 10 years until he passed in 2005. Deborah Chessler actually handed him that award!
Gone Missing! Jubilee 5045 in pink, 5055, 5057, 5221, 5231, and a solo side from Sonny Til, 5066.
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