b. 30 September 1942, Washington Heights, New York, USA, d. 28 February 1968, New York City, New York, USA. Often billed as the ‘boy wonder’, Lymon first entered the music business after teaming up with a local all-vocal quartet, the Premiers. The latter comprised Jimmy Merchant (b. 10 February 1940, New York, USA), Sherman Garnes (b. 8 June 1940, New York, USA, d. 26 February 1977), Herman Santiago (b. 18 February 1941, New York, USA) and Joe Negroni (b. 9 September 1940, New York, USA, d. 5 September 1978). Lymon joined them in 1954 and soon afterwards they were signed to the Gee label as the Teenagers. Their debut, the startling ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’, was issued on 1 January 1956 and soon climbed into the US Top 10, alongside the early recordings of Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. The song went on to reach number 1 in the UK and sold two million copies. Lymon soon left school and the group toured extensively. For their second single, ‘I Want You To Be My Girl’, the 13-year-old boy wonder was given superior billing to the group.
With their use of high tenor, deep bass and soprano, and teen-orientated lyrics, the Teenagers boasted one of the most distinctive sounds in 50s pop. After registering chart entries in the USA with ‘I Promise To Remember’ and ‘The ABCs Of Love’, they found greater acclaim in England. The soaring ‘I’m Not A Juvenile Delinquent’ (from the movie Rock Rock Rock) hit the UK Top 12 and Lymon was afforded the honour of appearing at the London Palladium. So strong was his appeal at this point that the single’s b-side, ‘Baby Baby’, received separate promotion and outshone the a-side by climbing to number 4. During his celebrated UK tour, Lymon recorded as a soloist with producer Norrie Paramor and the resulting ‘Goody Goody’ reached the Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic. By the summer of 1957, he had split from the Teenagers, and thereafter, his career prospects plummeted. He enjoyed the excesses of stardom, smoking cigars, drinking heavily and enjoying underage sex with women old enough to be his mother.
Despite recording a strong album, his novelty appeal waned when his voice broke. By 1961, the teenager was a heroin addict and entered Manhattan General Hospital on a drug rehabilitation programme. Although he tried to reconstruct his career with the help of Dizzy Gillespie and even took dancing lessons and studied as a jazz drummer, his drug habit endured. In 1964, he was convicted of possessing narcotics and his finances were in a mess. His private life was equally chaotic and was punctuated by three marriages. In February 1968, he was discovered dead on the bathroom floor of his grandmother’s New York apartment with a syringe by his side. The Teenager who never grew up was dead at the tragically young age of 25. His former group continued to record sporadically and in the 80s, surviving members Santiago and Merchant formed a new Teenagers and Pearl McKinnon took Lymon’s part. They were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.