The Cleftones were an American vocal group formed in 1955 who were then called The Silvertones at Junior High School 40 in Jamaica, Queens, New York City.
In 1955, the members of the group were high school students attending Jamaica High School in Queens, New York. The group initially formed around the idea of writing a political campaign jingle for Jamaica High School's Independent Party, an unpopular group of students "made up of people who were typically also-rans in all the school activities", which included future members of the Cleftones. With this aim, Herbie Cox (lead singer), along with classmates Charlie James McGhee (first tenor), Berman Patterson (second tenor), Warren Corbin (bass), and William "Buzzy" McClane (baritone) changed the lyrics to "Gee", a then-popular rhythm-and-blues song by The Crows. Performing their version of "Gee" resulted in making the Independent Party popular and winning the school elections. The group began performing locally as "The Silvertones" in a variety of neighborhood concerts, such as at Hillcrest Jewish Center Day Camp in Queens, New York. The hit song "Gee" was originally produced by "gruff music industry legend" George Goldner, who also signed the group, now renamed "The Cleftones", to a recording contract in 1955.
In their first effort as professional musicians, Corbin and Patterson wrote "You Baby You," which became a hit in 1955. Herb Cox then wrote "Little Girl of Mine" and "Can't We Be Sweethearts," for the group. However, after a few minor hits ("Why You Do Me Like You Do" & "See You Next Year") their next major hits would not come until years later. In 1961 the 2nd generation of The Cleftones included Herb Cox, Charlie James, Warren Corbin, Gene Pearson (Baritone from the Rivileers that replaced baritone William "Buzzy" McClane), and new addition Pat Spann, the first and only female to sing with the group. They reached #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with "Heart and Soul," a rearrangement of a 1938 song of the same name. The group followed that song with "For Sentimental Reasons" (1962), a rearrangement of a 1936 song of the same name. However, the British Invasion of the mid-1960s took the audiences of the Cleftones and other doo-wop groups. The Cleftones broke up in 1964, three years after their "Heart and Soul" greatest success.
In 2000, tenor Berman Patterson characterized his experience with the Cleftones:
It seemed like everybody and his brother had a singing group back in the '50s. I think we caught on because we didn't have that stereotypical rhythm-and-blues sound. We were bubblegum. Something bouncing and refreshing. But I'll tell you this: Once you got popular, you were expected to work. I can remember playing five shows a night at the Apollo Theater. We went on every hour and were paid $500 to split five ways.
By Dean Hanley
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