Friday Night Forgotten Oldie: Christmas doo-wop

First, by way of introduction to this week’s oldie:

“Doo-wop is a style of R & B and rock and roll vocal music that was popular in the 1950s and ’60s. The structure of doo-wop music generally featured a tenor lead vocalist singing the melody of the song with a trio or quartet singing background harmony. The term doo-wop is derived from the sounds made by the group as they provided harmonic background for the lead singer.”
Frederick Dennis Greene, Professor of Law, University of Dayton; Vice President of Production, Columbia Pictures; founding member of the group “Sha Na Na

Those were “The Chords.”

Get the idea? Good.    

In the 1950’s there was an a cappella group of relatives called the “Tone Weavers” that later changed their name to “Tune Weavers” after their name was botched when they were introduced at a show.

Margo Sylvia was the lead singer of the group based in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Also in the group were Margo’s brother Gilbert Lopez, her husband and bass singer Johnny Sylvia, and Margo’s cousin, obligato and opera student Charlotte Davis.

Margo and Gilbert wrote “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby” in 1957.

“I wrote that song for Donald Clements,” Margo said. “He and I had been an item.  He was in the Sophomores and they’d record­ed some of my songs. I had no musical training and when I’d sing as a child my moth­er would tell me to ‘shut up.’ I turned to poetry and qui­etly sang in my head.  Donald and his group were the first to record my stuff.   Just before his birthday, he told me he found a girl that had more going for her than I did. I felt I needed to write him something: ‘Happy, Happy Birthday Baby/Although you’re with somebody new/Thought I’d drop a line to say/That I wish this happy day would find me beside you…’ The words came so easily. It was real.”

On March 7, 1957, the Tune Weavers walked into Boston’s Ace Recording Studio to record two tracks, “Happy, Happy” and the flip side.

“That session–just two songs­–took 18 hours to record,” said Margo. I was eight months pregnant.  At one point–during the take that became the record–I thought I’d pass out.”

Near the end of 1957 the record became a huge success. Sales eventually totaled two million copies and record climbed to #5 on the Billboard chart. The Tune Weavers toured America that included stops at Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” and an Alan Freed rock’n’roll show.

“I was a kid, a rock and roll fan, and I couldn’t believe they paid us to sing,” said Margo about the Freed show. “I stood in the wings with this wild beast in back of me. It was Little Richard, the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. He’d squeeze me and whisper, ‘Aren’t they wonderful.’ I don’t know who was performing. It was all unreal.”

Money became an issue. The Tune Weavers disbanded in 1962.

“I wrote ‘Happy’… and Gil paid $6 to copyright the song,” Margo said. “As of December 1988 neither my brother nor I have received any money as artists.  Corruption and greed are the reasons I stopped singing. It never got out of my system, though. To have made it so big while so young and then to have lost it­ and not gotten the money–l’ve never gotten over it. You’re talking to an endangered species.   I’m frightened that I’ll die before things are made right.”

Margo and John divorced. She died in 1991 of a heart attack and stroke at the age of 55.

In 1989, Margo recorded again under the Tune Weavers name, singing all the harmony parts on “Merry, Merry Christmas Baby.”

The Tune Weavers were inducted into the Doo Wop Hall of Fame in 2003.

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