Notebook Cover

  The Deltairs

By Marv Goldberg

based on an interview with Carol Stansbury Johnson


© 2003, 2009 by Marv Goldberg


The Deltairs were one of the few female groups around in 1957, sharing the spotlight with the Bobbettes, the Chantels, and the Shirelles. Their classic "Lullaby Of The Bells" still remains a vocal group favorite after all these years.

The original Deltairs were from the South Jamaica Projects, and formed in 1955 in Central Commercial High (just in time for a senior year talent show, in which they came in second). The original group (which started off by calling itself the "Centraltone Debs," before switching over to the "Deltairs"), consisted of Mae Brown (first soprano and lead), Carol Stansbury (second soprano), Henrietta Roper (first alto), and a girl named Joyce (second alto).

Deltairs - prior to recording They might have made a career out of it, but graduation intervened. Mae got married and Carol lost track of Henrietta and Joyce. But, as Carol says, "I always liked singing. It's something I always wanted to do." So, within a couple of months, she had recruited her sister, Thelma Stansbury (first soprano) and neighborhood friend Shirley Taylor (first alto); the Deltairs were re-born. The three of them would hang around the benches in the projects, listening to (and joining in with) the Rivileers, the 5 Sharps, the Love Larks, the Beltones, and the Cleftones. There was a fourth Deltair, Barbara Lee (second alto), a friend from Central Commercial, who lived in Brooklyn. While she was a permanent member of the group, she wasn't a part of the "bench scene."

Al Browne Malcolm Dodds Carol had a job at the Workman's Compensation Board in 1955 (prior to the Politically Correct "Workers' Compensation"), and it was there that she struck up a friendship with pianist and bandleader Al Browne. "He introduced us to Malcolm Dodds at a Boys' Club in Brooklyn. Malcolm told us about a talent show at the Boys' Club, where we won second place: a trophy and certificates." Since Malcolm liked their harmony, he worked with them on their arrangements.

In 1955, there weren't a lot of female groups around, so the Deltairs' influences tended to be the guys on the benches. They preferred songs with a lot of harmony, and had their own arrangements of standards such as "Danny Boy," "That Lucky Old Sun," and "You'll Never Walk Alone."

They mostly played small talent and variety shows, usually at schools. There was the occasional club or dance gig, but work wasn't all that frequent. Then one day in 1957, Shirley Taylor brought in a friend, lead soprano Barbara Thompson, and the four became five.

In early 1957, through Al Browne, the Deltairs hooked up with Stan Feldman and Ed Portnoy, who became their managers. By the middle of the year, Feldman and Portnoy had decided to form a label to showcase their new talent. With offices at 1697 Broadway, Ivy Records was launched.

At their first session, the Deltairs recorded four tunes: "Lullaby Of The Bells" and "Standing At The Altar" were two songs that Carol had written. The other two were "It's Only You, Dear" (by bandleader Al Browne and Oliver Hall) and "I Might Like It" (by veteran songwriter George Weiss). The orchestra was conducted by Al Browne himself.

The Deltairs - 1957 Barbara Thompson led "Lullaby Of The Bells," with a strong assist from alto Barbara Lee (doing the "bass" part). "It's Only You, Dear" was fronted by Barbara Thompson and Carol Stansbury. This August 1957 pairing was not only the first record by the Deltairs, but also the first release on Ivy. As usual, everything official was done after the fact: Feldman and Portnoy waited until September 9 to announce the creation of Ivy Records. The blurb stated that Feldman had been with Kingsboro Music (which dealt with jukeboxes) and Portnoy ran The Record Shack (a jazz outlet). Portnoy would later team up with Paul Winley (owner of Winley Records) to form the Porwin label, for which the Clovers recorded in the 60s.

The disc was reviewed the week of September 23, 1957, both sides getting excellent ratings. Other reviews that week were for the Del Vikings' "Come Along With Me," the Rays' "Silhouettes," Thurston Harris' "Little Bitty Pretty One," Donnie Elbert's "Have I Sinned," the Vicounts' "Smoochie Poochie," and the Isley Brothers' "Rockin' MacDonald."

The record started to take off in the New York area (it was one of my favorites at the time) and the Deltairs were booked on a show that DJ Hal Jackson (WLIB) was putting on at the Hunts Point Palace (in the Bronx) on November 1. They shared the stage with the Bobbettes, the Rays, the Chantels, the Dubs, the Rob-Roys, the Bop Chords, the Shells, the Kodaks, and the Big Al Sears Orchestra.

A couple of weeks later (on the 18th) Ivy announced the signing of some more acts: the Vanguards, the Cozytones, and Jimmy Lewis and the Volumes.

The record was doing very well indeed, and on the strength of it, the Deltairs were booked into a heavy-duty show at the Apollo. It ran for the week beginning December 27, 1957, and featured Bo Diddley, the Moonglows, the Drifters, Big Maybelle, the Dells, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Priscilla Bowman, and the Reuben Phillips Orchestra.

When that show was over, they appeared with Alan Freed's sidekick, Paul Sherman ("The Crown Prince Of Rock And Roll") in his first show, held at the St. Nicholas Arena on January 10, 1958. The guest list this time included Roy Hamilton, the Chantels, the Dubs, the 5 Satins, Thurston Harris, Jo-Ann Campbell (clearly my favorite), LaVern Ray, and Al Savage and his Orchestra.

Along the way, the Deltairs managed to get in some more of the "Chittlin' Circuit," playing the Uptown (Philadelphia), the Howard (D.C.), and the Royal (Baltimore). They also did the Ted Mack Amateur Hour (singing "Come Go With Me") and appeared on American Bandstand (doing "Lullaby Of The Bells").

The Deltairs were busy for the moment. All of the girls (except Barbara Lee) now treated singing as a full-time job (in spite of the fact that there were only a few big appearances and not all that many small ones).

In February, Ivy released the second Deltairs' record: "Standing At The Altar" (led by Barbara Thompson) and "I Might Like It" (Barbara Thompson and Thelma Stansbury). The record got good reviews the week of March 24, 1958, along with Ray Charles' "Yes Indeed," the Velours' "Remember," Ralph Mathis & the Ambers' "Never Let You Go," the Elchords' "Peppermint Stick," and Richard Berry & the Pharaohs' "You Look So Good." Also in March, Ivy announced the formation of a sister label, Willow.

Somewhere along the way the Deltairs did another session for Ivy, at which at least two more songs were recorded: "Who Would Have Thought It" (featuring the duet lead of Barbara Thompson and Thelma Stansbury) and "You Won't Be Satisfied" (Barbara Thompson and Carol Stansbury dueting). They'd both been written by Oliver Hall and Kenny Martin.

Bennie Benjamin and George Weiss But now Feldman and Portnoy decided to try a new tack. While they'd keep Ivy going a while longer, they decided that they'd become independent producers. To this end, they added songwriter George Weiss to the company as head of a&r (remember that he'd written "I Might Like It"). Weiss, along with longtime partner Bennie Benjamin had tossed off the likes of "Wheel Of Fortune," "Cross Over The Bridge," "I Don't See Me In Your Eyes Anymore," "Rumors Are Flying," "I Want To Thank Your Folks," and "How Important Can It Be?" An unusual pairing for the time, Weiss was Jewish and Benjamin was Black.

Since Bennie Benjamin hung around with George Weiss (and "Barbara Thompson knew him from somewhere"), he got it in his head that he wanted to manage the Deltairs. "But my parents didn't like him and made us drop him."

Now Feldman and Portnoy mostly recorded acts and then, instead of releasing them on Ivy, farmed them out to other companies. They made a deal with Walt Maguire at Felsted (a subsidiary of London Records) to take over the Deltairs' "Who Would Have Thought It" and "You Won't Be Satisfied," which were duly released on Felsted in June 1958. In the same way, the Unique Teens' "Jeannie" was given to Hanover; the Cavaliers' "Dance, Dance, Dance" went to Apt; and the Clusters' "Darling Can't You Tell" was farmed out to George Goldner's Tee Gee Records (as was the distribution of Ivy's subsidiary, Willow).

"Who Would Have Thought It" got good reviews the week of August 4, 1958, along with the Chantels' "Congratulations," the Bobbettes' "Um Bow Bow," the Guytones' "Your Heart's Bigger Than Mine," the Silhouettes' "Voodoo Eyes," Billy Storm's "The Way To My Heart," and Shirley & Lee's "All I Want To Do Is Cry."

Also in August, Feldman, Portnoy, and Weiss announced the formation of Evergreen Enterprises, a talent management company that would handle (naturally) the Deltairs, along with the Clusters, the Cavaliers, the Sterophonics, and the Forevers.

But after a while, things soured between the Deltairs and Evergreen. "We didn't want them to be our managers anymore," says Carol. "We weren't getting any money, although were putting money out." They were paying for their own outfits and transportation, and work wasn't all that frequent.

Lincoln Chase One thing that Bennie Benjamin did do for the Deltairs was to introduce them to songwriter Lincoln Chase (writer of "Jim Dandy" and "Such A Night"). Through him, they hooked up with Hamilton Records, a subsidiary of Dot (which was, by then, a division of Paramount Pictures Corporation). Originally an Indianapolis label owned by Robert Hamilton, it had recently been bought out by Dot and moved to 157 West 57th Street in New York.

The two Lincoln Chase songs they recorded were "One Billion, Seven Million, Thirty-Three" (led by Barbara Thompson) and "You're Such A Much." These were released on Hamilton, in October 1958, as by "The Tranquils" (although Carol doesn't remember if that name was their idea or the company's). Both songs have bongo drums in the background, in an attempt to fit in with the "cool jazz" that was somewhat popular at the time (and "Billion," in truth, has a very pleasant arrangement in that vein).

With nothing much happening, Barbara Thompson left the group in 1959. Carol then went back to her family and drafted another sister, Rose Stansbury, as Barbara's replacement.

The Deltairs struggled along until about 1960, but by then they were only making occasional weekend appearances. The positive side of this is that they'd long ago ceased trying to make a career out of singing, and now they were doing it for fun. The group's disintegration came about mostly because all the girls were getting married.

At the end, they were practicing "Whoever You Are" (the Chantels' song) with Al Browne, but nothing ever came of it. Later on, Browne worked with a group called the Del-Tears, and had them do a demo of "Whoever You Are." Carol says that the unfinished demo (which only seems to have an organ and drums) is a completely different arrangement than what the Deltairs had been practicing. It was released on the Ray-Born label, along with the equally-unfinished "There He Goes," at an unknown date. When these songs were reissued on the Vintage label, in 1973, the Del-Tears had magically been changed to the "Deltairs," but they had no relation to the Ivy group.

While "Lullaby Of The Bells" doesn't get the airplay of a lot of its contemporaries nowadays, it's a solid New York City oldie, which, in my mind, has always been far superior to tunes by the Chantels and the Shirelles.


Special thanks to Bob Manfre.


THE DELTAIRS

IVY
101 Lullaby Of The Bells (BT/BL)/It's Only You, Dear (BT/CS) - 8/57
105 Standing At The Altar (BT)/I Might Like It (BT/TS) - 2/58

FELSTED
8525 Who Would Have Thought It (BT/TS)/You Won't Be Satisfied (BT/CS) - 6/58

HAMILTON (as the Tranquils)
50005 One Billion, Seven Million, Thirty-Three (BT)/You're Such A Much (ALL) - 10/58


LEADS: BT = Barbara Thompson; BL = Barbara Lee; TS = Thelma Stansbury; CS = Carol Stansbury


SONGS BY A DIFFERENT GROUP

RAY-BORN (as the "Del-Tears")
132/133 There He Goes/Who Ever You Are - ??

VINTAGE (as the "Deltairs")
1005 There He Goes/Whoever You Are - 73


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