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The Excellents

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Bronx sextet the Excellents originally formed as the Premiers in 1960, and with an original lineup of brothers John Kuse and George Kuse, plus Denis Kestenbaum, Phil Sanchez, Joel Feldman, and Chuck Epstein, quickly transformed into the Excellents. The group caught the ear of Vinny Catalano of Sinclair Records, who hustled the Excellents into the studio in 1961, where they recorded an uptempo version of Al Jolson's 1926 standard "Red Red Robin," which was eventually issued on Mermaid Records. The group also recorded a rocked-up cover of the Cleftones' "You Baby You," which came out in 1961 on Blast Records with a Catalano original, "Coney Island Baby," on the B-side. A year later, DJs in the New York area began flipping the record and playing the B-side, and "Coney Island Baby" ended up cracking the Top 20 nationally in 1962. Unfortunately, not much else was heard from the Excellents, whose official final single, "I Hear a Rhapsody," released on Blast in 1963, was actually recorded by another group called the Ultimates. An unofficial last single ("Helene"/"Sunday Kind of Love") by the original Excellents appeared on Bobby Records a year later under the group name the Excellons. The enduring popularity of "Coney Island Baby," which has become an acknowledged doo wop classic, has led to a recent touring version of the Excellents. Now a quartet, and still featuring the lead vocals of original member John Kuse, the group also lists Mal Bronson, John Accardo, and Joe Noto as current members. ~ Steve Leggett

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1960 in Brooklyn, NY

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