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The Coronets

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Biography

A lively debate ensues whenever this question is posed: Who was the first vocal group to record or have a significant record from Cleveland? Many will say the Moonglows, who recorded their first record, "I Just Can't Tell No Lie," on Cleveland's Champaign Records in 1952; they didn't record for Chicago's Chance Records until October 1953, waxing "Whistle My Love." The Coronets recorded "Nadine" on Chess Records in August 1953, two months before the Moonglows' Chance album. Additionally, all of the Coronets went to Thomas Edison High School in Cleveland, OH; several members of the Moonglows were raised in Louisville, KY, and many observers don't view them as an original Cleveland act. The Coronets are a different story -- they were all born and raised on the North Coast. Both groups shared DJ Alan Freed as a mentor, who connected them to the Chi-town labels. Original Coronets members were Lester Russaw (first tenor), Samuel Griggs (second tenor), Willie Griggs (bass), and George Lewis (baritone). Other schoolmates from Thomas Edison were in and out of the group but never recorded with them, including Greg Morris, Leonard Parker, and Cullen Maiden. Morris went on to play Barney in Mission Impossible, Maiden sang baritone with a professional opera company, and Parker played on the television series Naked City. When school ended, the fellows went their separate ways. Griggs married and began a short-lived boxing career; Maiden also boxed for a while. However, by 1953 Griggs got the singing bug again and the group reunited, adding Charles Carruthers to sing lead. They performed at many amateur affairs and did their first professional gig at the Ebony Club, sharing the bill with the Orioles, who swiped their arrangement of "Don't You Think I Ought to Know" as the B-side of "Crying in the Chapel" in July 1953. Stunned by the revelation, it also let them know that they had the goods to score in the record business. The guys went down to Snyder Recording Studios in downtown Cleveland and waxed a demo of Carruthers' songs titled "Nadine" and the B-side "I'm All Alone." The gutsy quintet, armed with the acetate, barged into Freed's office, knowing that he had helped the Moonglows and others. Freed sent the recording to Chess Records, and the Coronets were soon signed to the label. In thanks for making the deal, Freed was credited as the writer of "Nadine" -- Carruthers never received credit nor royalties. "Nadine" has garnered more than a million performances on radio and television stations, and has been featured on numerous compilation LPs. Chess changed the song around so much that the band barely recognized it when they heard the finished version; however, it hit number three on the R&B chart and remained there for nearly three months. Freed, acting as their manager, sent the band on tour with other R&B stars for over a year. During the tour, Chess released "It Would Be Heavenly"/"Baby's Coming Home," which failed to reach the same pinnacle as "Nadine." "Baby" was credited to Griggs and Charles Clark. Still, all wasn't well as the guys quickly got fed up with Freed's outlandish percentage of their road earnings -- he demanded as much as 80 percent. To further complicate matters, both Russaw and Carruthers were drafted during the Korean conflict. At this point Charles Brown joined the group and led "Corbella" and "Beggin' and Pleadin,'" both written by Griggs and Clark. For unexplained reasons, Chess never released the recordings and the Coronets were history at the label. Unwilling to give up just yet, they got a new lead singer, Bobby Ward, after Brown quit, and recorded "Don't Deprive Me"/"The Little Boy" in 1955 on Stirling Records. Samuel Griggs wrote the latter with Shelly Haims. They had two other singles that Stirling licensed or sold to Groove Records (a division of RCA). Both were released in 1955: "I Love You More"/"Crime Doesn't Pay" and "Hush"/"The Bible Tells Me So." Like everything since "Nadine," these too failed. A lack of success caused them to disband once again until Carruthers returned from the war. Now the Coronets were Samuel Griggs, Charles Carruthers, Desious Wille Brooks (first tenor), and Lucky Jordan (bass). Brooks had sung with Ben Iverson and the Hornets, a Cleveland group who had their first release "I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me"/"Lonesome Baby" in 1953 as well. With the new lineup they recorded "Footsteps"/"Long John Silver" on their own Job label in 1960; it sank, leaving no traces. This time they disbanded for good. Although Chess only released two recordings by the Coronets and held the third back, Samuel and Clark are listed in BMI's database as having four other songs published by Arc Publishing (a music publishing company owned by Chess): "Don't You Cry," "G.I. Missing," "Should I," and "Woke Up This Morning." Whether these songs actually got recorded is unclear. Samuel is also listed as having written two other songs with Haims: "Glory of Christmas" and "Yuletide Ball." Most of the original groupmembers' whereabouts are unknown; presumably, most are still around the northeast Ohio area. Samuel Griggs worked in a bookstore in downtown Cleveland for years, while Russaw headed security at the Eastside Market in Cleveland, and Snyder owned Snyder Recording Studios. The Dells remade "Nadine" in March of 1970; it was the flip side of "Open Your Heart." ~ Andrew Hamilton

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