SMC spring lecture series leads off with presentation by doo-wop pioneer

DOWAGIAC — Southwestern Michigan College’s spring Academic Speaker Series leads off with doo-wop pioneers The Spaniels, who will speak Wednesday, Feb. 7.

The public is invited to attend this free 3 p.m. Black History Month program with Billy Shelton, in the theater of the Dale A. Lyons Building on SMC’s Dowagiac campus.

The Spaniels, who recorded the seminal “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” on Sept. 23, 1953, were the first artists Vee-Jay Records signed.

Their first single, “Baby, It’s You,” reached #10 on Billboard’s R&B chart Sept. 5, 1953.

Vee-Jay released “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” as their third single in March 1954. It peaked at No. 5.

The groundbreaking independent African American-owned Chicago record label broke The Beatles ahead of Capitol and paved the way for Motown.

At Gary’s Roosevelt High School, which Jackson family members later attended, Shelton and Thornton James “Pookie” Hudson began singing together in 1948, forming The Three Bs — bop, ballads and blues — with Calvin Fossett.

Shelton and Fossett graduated in the spring of 1952.

Shelton, the lone survivor at 83, leads The Spaniels Forever, keeping the sound alive with new voices, since his boyhood friend’s cancer death reported in The New York Times in Maryland Jan. 16, 2007, at 72.

Shelton will perform with The Spaniels Forever and share his experiences as an African American artist in a segregated era when racism prevailed. A Q&A session and refreshments follow.

Hudson was influenced by the vocal harmonies of The Ink Spots, who sang at SMC in 2002 as part of the Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival.

Ernest Warren, Opal Courtney Jr., Willie C. Jackson and Gerald Gregory entered a December 1952 talent show with Hudson billed as The Hudsonaires, a name he disliked.

The quintet, considered the first successful Midwestern R&B group, was rechristened The Spaniels when Gregory’s wife joked they sounded like “a bunch of dogs.”

Billboard’s reviewer called “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” an “almost pop-like piece of material. The imitation of the sounds of a sax by the bass singer (Gregory) gives this side a gimmick which helps greatly. Strong wax.”

Its success prompted a McGuire Sisters cover, siphoning sales from The Spaniels which might have made it a million-seller.

On June 11, 1954, The Spaniels first appeared at The Apollo in New York.

Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed, credited with coining “rock and roll” to describe uptempo R&B records he played as early as 1951, closed his show with “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight.”

The song was featured in the 1973 George Lucas movie “American Graffiti” and in 1987’s “Three Men (Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson) and a Baby.”

Uptempo R&B pioneers Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley all shared stages with The Spaniels.

Elvis Presley drew heavily on R&B and gospel for his sound.

The Beatles’ Second Album alternates between Lennon/McCartney originals and R&B covers: Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” Hamtramck’s The Donays’ “Devil in His Heart,” Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want)” and The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman.”

The Spaniels, whose line-up survived frequent personnel changes, passed up an opportunity to record “The Twist” before Chubby Checker.

On Feb. 21, 1991, in New York City, The Spaniels became one of eight R&B artists presented Pioneer Awards by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, according to The Washington Post.

Presenters included Bonnie Raitt and Whitney Houston.

Following that recognition, The Spaniels reunited with Shelton, played England and recorded a 40th-anniversary CD. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005.

Alpha Kappa Omega Bible Study Club and SMC’s Diversity Committee co-host the program.

Southwestern Michigan College is a public, residential and commuter, community college, founded in 1964. The college averages in the top 10 percent nationally for student academic success based upon the National Community College Benchmark Project.

Southwestern Michigan College strives to be the college of first choice, to provide the programs and services to meet the needs of students, and to serve the community, administrators said. The college is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, and is a member of the American Association of Community Colleges.

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