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The Cellos

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Biography

The Cellos' singing was as smooth as the sound of their instrumental namesake. Formed at Charles Evans Hughes High School on West 18th Street in Manhattan, the Cellos were Alvin Williams (bass), Billy Montgomery (first tenor), Alton Campbell (ballad lead), Bobby Thomas (baritone), and Cliff Williams (second tenor); their inspirations were the Heartbeats, the Cleftones, the Harptones, and the Coasters. Alvin Williams wrote their original material, including a number called "Rang Tang Ding Dong (I'm the Japanese Sandman)" that so impressed the engineer on their first demo session, Lewis Merenstein (who later produced Thelonious Monk, Art Farmer, and Van Morrison), that he brought it to Apollo Records, which was owned by his uncle. The group got a contract from that demo, and had their first session in January of 1957.

"Rang Tang Ding Dong" b/w "You Took My Love" reached number 62 on the Billboard national chart during a ten-week run, a promising beginning; the song was covered by the likes of Chuck Miller ("House of Blue Lights") and Ray Stevens. This was a feat the group was never able to repeat. The Cellos were extremely versatile, capable of delivering soaring, dreamily ethereal harmony numbers ("You Took My Love") or scorching, funny novelty songs ("Juicy Crocodile") with equal aplomb. Few groups had their range, and even fewer an in-house songwriter of Williams' caliber; between them, they made some gorgeous and memorably funny doo wop and R&B records. But they never managed to connect nationally, despite their receiving the blessing of tastemaker Alan Freed and a featured spot at one of his Brooklyn Paramount shows.

Undaunted, their management got them booked onto national tours, and some of their records got decent airplay. The sales didn't follow suit, however, and by the end of 1958 the group had called it quits, although Alvin Williams remained in the business for a few more years.

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Formed:

1955 in New York, NY

Genre
Years Active:

'50s

Influencers

Contemporaries