Notebook Cover

  The Fidelitys

By Marv Goldberg

Based on an interview with Earl Thorpe

© 2006, 2009 by Marv Goldberg

The Fidelitys were a very talented group that has managed to avoid the glare of the spotlight all these years. We were simply looking in the wrong place: they were from Albany, New York.

The Fidelitys started life in 1956, when Earl Thorpe relocated to Albany after his high school graduation in Jacksonville, Florida. He had a dream to start a group and wanted to be near New York City, which was, of course, one of the big recording centers in the country.

Fortunately, Earl had relatives in Albany and he immediately hooked up with his cousin Emmett Smith. They put the word out and soon the Mellow-Tones were born: Emmett Smith (lead tenor), Clarence Carter (tenor), Robert McCann (tenor), Arthur Morning (baritone), and Earl Thorpe (bass/baritone). They were all around 17, except for Arthur, who was a couple of years younger.

While they started working around town pretty quickly, Clarence had to content himself with being a short-timer: Earl had told them from the start that tenor Maurice Newton, a friend from Jacksonville, would be joining them soon as an additional lead.

Once Maurice joined (and Clarence had left), they changed their name to the Fidelitys and they were on their way. They admired the Flamingos, the Dells, and the Spaniels, all groups that would help them out with their stage presence over the years. They put together arrangements of all the Top 40 songs until they were "carbon copies" of the originals.

One day, in December 1957, they went down to Manhattan to see about the Apollo Theater's amateur show. Their contact was Ernest Bell, who had attended school with Earl's mother. He, in turn, introduced them to Reuben Phillips, who led the house band for the Apollo. In an amazing turn of events, Bell and Phillips offered to manage the Fidelitys, and then immediately had them audition for Ben Bart, owner of Universal Attractions. Bart (who had once owned Hub Records and managed the Ravens) told them they were too good to bother with an amateur show and signed them on the spot (although the signing wasn't announced until the following April, when Universal also trumpeted the pacting of Jackie Wilson, Etta James, and Little Jimmy Scott). They thus had a booking agent before they had a record label! Bart then took them to meet Sol Rabinowitz at Baton Records.

Sol Rabinowitz Rabinowitz listened to them and decided that, instead of letting them do what they did well, he'd make them into another Platters. Big mistake. Not that they didn't have the talent, but there already was a Platters!

In January 1958, the Fidelitys held their first session. This produced "The Things I Love," "Can't You Come Out," and "Hold On To What'cha Got," all led by Maurice Newton.

The Fidelitys "The Things I Love"/"Hold On To What'cha Got" were released in February 1958. "The Things I Love" was an oldie, written in 1941 by Harold Barlow and Lew Harris, and based on a Tchaikovsky melody. The Fidelitys version was heavy-duty Pop, in the vein of the Platters. This was actually a bad move for Rabinowitz, too, since he didn't have any clout with the Pop label distributors. If he'd had, the song would probably have been a monster hit.

Rabinowitz arranged a stunt where Joe Finan (KWT in Cleveland) would play "The Things I Love" once an hour, in an attempt to stir up interest in the song. Actually, it worked. When the record was reviewed, on March 3, "The Things I Love" received an "excellent" rating. Other reviews that week were for Larry Williams' "Dizzy, Miss Lizzie," the Chantels' "Whoever You Are," the Miracles' "Got A Job," the Duponts' "Screamin' Ball (At Dracula Hall)," the Heartbeats' "Down On My Knees," the Dubs' "Beside My Love," the Velvets' "Dance, Honey, Dance," the Valiants' "Walkin' Girl," the 5 Discs' "I Remember," the Mighty Jupiters' "Hy Wocky Tumba," and Ed Townsend's "For Your Love."

Later in March, the Fidelitys had their second Baton session. Another three tracks were led by Maurice Newton: "Captain Of My Ship," "My Greatest Thrill," and "Memories Of You." "Memories Of You" was another oldie, dating back to 1930, when it was penned by Andy Razaf and Eubie Blake. Introduced in Lew Leslie's Blackbirds Of 1930, the tune had been popularized by Louis Armstrong.

April 4 found the Fidelitys beginning a week at the Apollo, as part of a Dr. Jive show. Others on the bill were Fats Domino, the Coasters, the Dells, the Flamingos, and the Spaniels. Over the years, the Fidelitys would also play the Howard, the Royal, the Uptown, and the Regal. They ended up appearing all over the East, South, and Midwest, but never made it to the West Coast.

ad for The Things I Love On May 12, 1958, "The Things I Love" was rated a Tip in New York City. In June, it entered the national Pop charts. The only national hit the Fidelitys would ever have, it rose to #60 and remained for 3 weeks. On June 20, the Fidelitys were back at the Apollo, this time sharing the boards with Little Willie John, the Danleers, the Kalin Twins, Sonny Til, the Upsetters, and Etta James. This was timed to correspond with the release of their second Baton record: "Memories Of You"/"Can't You Come Out."

"Memories Of You" was reviewed on June 30 and received an "excellent" rating. Other reviews that week were for Chuck Berry's "Beautiful Delilah," the Hollywood Flames' "Chains Of Love," the Monotones' "Zombi," the Olympics' "Western Movies," the Ivy Tones' "Oo Wee Baby," the Cufflinx' "Zoom," and the Kings' "Come On Little Baby."

ad for Memories Of You When "Memories Of You" failed to take off (although Cash Box named it the "Sleeper Of The Week" on July 12), Baton issued "Captain Of My Ship"/"My Greatest Thrill" in August. Reviewed on September 29, both sides received "good" ratings. Other reviews were for the Silhouettes' "I Sold My Heart To The Junkman," the Swallows' "Beside You," and the Unique Teens' "At The Ball."

On November 28, 1958, the Fidelitys began another week at the Apollo with Dr. Jive. Others in the cast were Lavern Baker, Jackie Wilson, Bobby Day, the Emersons, Lee Andrews & the Hearts, Nappy Brown, the Fi-Tones, the 5 Chanels, and Frances Burnette.

And then things were quiet for almost a year. Sol Rabinowitz claimed he was being driven out of business by the distributors, who weren't paying him for records shipped. Baton's final release (#269) was issued in April 1959. He would come to blame the big movie studios that started up their own labels and had the clout to put the independents out of business. In spite of this, it only took a couple of months for him to team up with Morty Craft and start SIR records (as in Sol I. Rabinowitz), another tiny indie. SIR's record numbers and master numbers were a continuation of Baton's.

The Fidelitys' next session was held on July 11, 1959. The four songs recorded that day were: "Only To You" (Maurice), "Walk With The Wind" (Emmett), "Marie" (Maurice and Earl), and "The Invitation" (Maurice).

"Marie" and "The Invitation" were issued, on SIR, in July 1959. "Marie" was their oldest oldie yet. Written by Irving Berlin in 1928, it has the distinction of being the first Berlin tune to appear in a movie (My Awakenings) and was popularized by Rudy Vallée. "Marie" was rated "excellent" on August 17, along with the Flamingos' "Love Walked In," the Falcons' "You're Mine," Ocie Smith's "Song Of The Dreamer," the Saucers' "Cha Wailey Routa," and Joe Lyons & the Arrows' "Shufflin' Jive."

In spite of the great review, "Marie" failed to click and SIR issued "Walk With The Wind" and "Only To You" in October 1959. Both sides were rated "good" on November 16, along with Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me To Do," the Falcons' "This Heart Of Mine," Rudy West's "As Sure As I Live," and Luther Bond & the Emeralds' "Old Mother Nature."

It was getting increasingly quiet for the Fidelitys. Their last Apollo appearance was on February 19, 1960, once again with Dr. Jive. This was kind of an odd engagement: not only hadn't they had a hit in a while, they hadn't even had a record out in months. However, they were favorites of Dr. Jive (and it didn't hurt that Reuben Phillips was still their manager). The other acts on that show were: Johnny Nash, the Flamingos, Nappy Brown, the Hollywood Flames, Tiny Topsy, the Centurians, Eugene Church, Barrett Strong, and Jean Sampson.

The Fidelitys' last session was held sometime around April 1960. They weren't working all that much at this point, so to get a new sound, all the sides were led by Emmett Smith: "Wishing Star," "Where In The World," "This Girl Of Mine," and "Broken Love." In May, "Where In The World" and "This Girl Of Mine" became their next release.

Those sides failed to take off and SIR released the final two masters in August: "Wishing Star" and "Broken Love." Sadly, it was not only the last Fidelitys disc, but also the last record released on SIR. Promotion was probably pretty dismal at that point.

In spite of this, the Fidelitys continued on, although they gave up recording. Around 1962, Emmett Smith was drafted and replaced by Kenny French.

Marriage and responsibilities began to take their toll, but the group remained together until around 1970, doing mostly Soul sounds in local venues.

Finally, they went their separate ways. Maurice Newton and Earl Thorpe then formed Miss Maggie's Children (two singers and an 8-piece band). This Soul group played all over Albany (as well as Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, and Cape Cod) well into the 80s.

Robert McCann is now deceased and Arthur Morning has given up singing. All the other members (Earl Thorpe, Maurice Newton, Emmett Smith, and Kenny French) re-formed in 2005 and the Fidelitys appear occasionally in Albany.

Special thanks to Ronnie Italiano. Ads are from Galen Gart's First Pressings series. Discography courtesy of Ferdie Gonzalez.


252 The Things I Love (MN)/Hold On To What'cha Got (MN) - 2/58
256 Memories Of You (MN)/Can't You Come Out (MN) - 6/58
261 My Greatest Thrill (MN)/Captain Of My Ship (MN) - 8/58

271 Marie (MN/ET)/The Invitation (MN) - 7/59
274 Walk With The Wind (ES)/Only To You (MN) - 10/59
276 This Girl Of Mine (ES)/Where In The World (ES) - 5/60
277 Wishing Star (ES)/Broken Love (ES) - 8/60

LEADS: MN = Maurice Newton; ES = Emmett Smith; ET = Earl Thorpe

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