Spectropop remembers

RICHARD BARRETT (c.1933 - 2006)

Richard Barrett, the producer and songwriter who discovered Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Chantels, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and the Three Degrees, has died of pancreatic cancer at Pennsylvania Hospital. His age was not disclosed, but he is thought to have been 73.

Barrett was born and raised in Philadelphia and began singing with an R&B harmony group called the Royal Angels. A charismatic singer with a fine voice, he was also a skilled dancer and choreographer. In the early 1950s he moved to New York, where he eked out a living as a labourer, primarily in landscaping. He crossed paths with a group called the Dreamers and sang for them a song he'd written, "Summer's Love". The group was so taken with the song that they added Barrett to the line-up just to get it.

As the Valentines, the quintet began getting noticed locally. Raoul Cita of the Harptones arranged an audition for them with Monte Bruce, who was starting a label called Bruce Records. A recording session yielded "Summer's Love", which Bruce proved unable to release, but it did get airplay from Harlem-based DJ Willie Bryant. The Valentines built up a following in the area and got a release of a new version of "Summer's Love" on Old Town Records in 1954. The group's next stop was George Goldner's Rama Records, where their released "Lily Maebelle", co-authored by Barrett, which DJ Alan Freed turned into a regional hit. Even then, he was just as interested in the talent and business sides of the record biz and had begun pursuing other goals. Barrett began serving as a sometime gofer, chauffeur and jack-of-all-trades at Goldner's office and was soon making suggestions on creative and promotional matters. He also brought in prospective artists to audition.

Later in 1955 Barrett heard a quintet of Harlem teenagers singing in the street outside the apartment building where he lived. This was his introduction to Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, as they were later called. He brought them to Goldner, who duly signed them up. Their "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" became one of the defining hits of the early rock & roll era and the biggest-selling record that Goldner ever released. The Valentines enjoyed a second local hit in the spring of 1956 with "Woo Woo Train". They released more singles, but Barrett's involvement with the group receded as he began concentrating on his production activities for Goldner.

In 1957 he brought in the Chantels, a female quintet from New York. Barrett became their manager and producer, and their second release, "Maybe", was a huge hit, becoming an enduring classic. He finally left Goldner in 1960 to start his own label, Princeton Records, on which his major signing was the Veneers, a group similar to the Chantels. When Arlene Smith, the Chantels' original lead singer, decided to leave, he tried taking over as lead singer on a pair of singles, "Come Softly to Me" and "Summer's Love". Barrett then installed the Veneers' lead singer, Annette Smith, into Arlene Smith's spot. He later moved this version of the Chantels to Carlton and Ludix Records, where they enjoyed more hit singles.

In 1958, Barrett also tried his hand at a solo career, issuing singles on MGM, 20th Century Fox, Gone (fronting the Chantels), Seville (with the Sevilles), Atlantic and Crackerjack. Released on Atlantic in 1962 as Richie Barrett, the Leiber & Stoller-produced "Some Other Guy"/"Tricky Dicky" two-sider remains his crowning solo moment.

He was also a creative force behind the Cleftones, the Flamingos, Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Isley Brothers and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. When Barrett returned to Philadelphia, he became creator, director and manager of the Three Degrees ("When Will I See You Again"), the most enduring act with which Barrett has ever been associated. With him, the classy girl group enjoyed hits well into the 1970s, and famously performed at Buckingham Palace for the Prince of Wales.

Among many honours, Barrett received the Philadelphia Music Alliance Founder's Award in 1990. He also worked in the late '90s producing the group Rap Machine. Well-respected among his peers, he was featured in documentaries about the rock 'n' roll era. In the 1998 movie Why Do Fools Fall In Love, which Barrett said was filled with inaccuracies, he was portrayed by the actor Ben Vereen. He had spent the last few years working on his memoirs. Barrett lived in the Gladwyne area of Philadelphia and was often seen driving around in his vintage Rolls Royce. He is survived by his wife, Julie, and their children, Jannell and Michael.

(Adapted from an obituary by Al Hunter at Phillynews.com and an entry by Bruce Eder at All Music Guide. Photo courtesy of Nikki Gustafson at Harmony Heaven: http://www.harmonytrain.com)

Richard Barrett, songwriter, producer, vocalist and manager:
born c.1933 - died August 3rd, 2006