The Valentines held a distinguished position among American doo-wop groups during the mid-1950s.

Although their name didn’t grace the national hit parades, they garnered substantial popularity in New York and the broader East Coast, boasting numerous regional best-sellers. Their stage performances consistently played to full houses, showcasing harmonies and choreography that were among the era’s most accomplished. Influenced by The Cadillacs, The Solitaires, and The Flamingos both in musical style and showmanship, The Valentines pioneered an innovative stage presence, outstanding vocals, and unique performances.

The Valentines acted as a springboard for significant musical careers.

Early Beginnings

Forming in 1952 in Harlem’s Sugar Hill district, the quartet harmonized on the corner of 151st Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Originally named “The Mistletoes,” the group consisted of Raymond “Pop” Briggs (first tenor), Carl Hogan (second tenor), Mickey Francis (baritone), and Ronnie Bright (bass). Later, they rebranded themselves as “The Dreamers.”

Becoming a Quintet

While performing at a house party in 1954, they crossed paths with a young singer-songwriter named Richard Barrett from Philadelphia, previously associated with a group called The Angels (on Grand). An alternate account by Phil Groia in “They All Sang on the Corner” suggests that the group encountered Barrett while he serenaded lovers in a park with his ukulele. Barrett joined the group due to their interest in his song “Summer Love” and his distinctive lead vocals. The original timbre of his voice bestowed The Valentines with a sound still cherished today. Evolving into a quintet, “The Dreamers” adopted the name “The Valentines,” inspired by Mickey Francis’ favorite song, “My Funny Valentine.” Their friend Raoul Cita of The Harptones introduced them to Monte Bruce of Bruce Records, where they recorded a demo of “Summer Love.” Despite DJ Willie Bryant playing the tape on local radio station WOV for a month, Bruce never released it or recorded the group again. During this time, prior to Alan Freed’s arrival, New York Rhythm and Blues radio was dominated by Tommy (“Dr Jive”) Smalls on WWRL.

Without a contract with Bruce, the group caught the attention of Hy Weiss from Old Town Records, who signed them. Donald Razor from The Velvets (on Red Robin) replaced Hogan, who had proven unreliable. In December 1954, Weiss released the remarkable Barrett-penned love song “Tonight Kathleen,” coupled with a re-cut of “Summer Love.” Despite its local popularity, the ballad did not chart due to Old Town’s limited distribution in their early trading phase, rendering it a rare record. Following this setback, the group focused on their live performances, further building their fan base.

By mid-1955, Eddie Edgehill replaced Donald Razor as the second tenor, and the group transitioned to George Goldner’s Rama label. There, they released “Lily Maebelle,” a chime-harmonized rocker, in September. Most likely, Barrett and Briggs wrote the song about Pop Brigg’s sister Lil. Jimmy Wright’s spirited saxophone interlude punctuated the recording, a recurring feature in many recordings on Goldner’s labels, Rama and Gee. This recording gained immense popularity on the East Coast, and the group made frequent appearances on Alan Freed’s shows at the Academy of Music and Brooklyn Paramount. Their appearances extended to the Apollo, Howard, and Royal Theatres, often hosted by renowned DJs of the time, Hal Jackson and Jocko Henderson. During this period, the group began sporting their trademark stage attire – white jackets adorned with red cloth hearts (“valentines”) on the pockets, paired with red shirts and pink bowties.

Their subsequent releases included “I Love You Darling,” followed by the holiday ballad “Christmas Prayer.” In April 1956, they achieved their biggest hit with “The Woo Woo Train.”

Marv Goldberg asserts that George Goldner had the Valentines provide backing vocals for The Wrens’ “C’est La Vie” during the “Woo Woo” session, as only Bobby Mansfield and George Magnezid of the Wrens had shown up to record “C’est La Vie” that day. However, the Valentines were not credited. This claim is also echoed by music historians Charlie and Pam Horner. If accurate, this would mean seven voices contributed to that song. Mitch Rosalsky challenges this assertion, relying on The Wrens’ Bobby Mansfield’s recollection in 2000, contrasting Marv Goldberg’s account, which stems from an interview with Ronnie Bright in 1977.

Following, were the ballads “Twenty Minutes (Before the Hour)” and “Nature’s Creation,” although they didn’t receive widespread acclaim at the time. As the group reached their final recording session, Carl Hogan returned to replace Eddie Edgehill, and David Clowney from the US band The Pearls (on Onyx) assumed Raymond Briggs’ role. Another ballad, “Don’t Say Goodnight,” was recorded but experienced limited sales success.

Disbandment

In 1958, the group made the difficult decision to disband after a final performance at the Apollo Theater. This choice stemmed from a combination of dissatisfaction with Rama label’s inadequate promotion and Richard Barrett’s desire to shift towards management and production. Barrett subsequently managed Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers and discovered The Chantels. He took on the role of A&R Director for Goldner’s End and Gone labels, recording acts such as The Teenagers, The Chantels, Little Anthony and The Imperials, and later The Third Degrees.

Carl Hogan continued his musical journey, joining The Miracles on Fury (distinct from the Smokey Robinson group on End and Tamla), and co-writing numerous hits with Richard Barrett. David Clowney, now Dave “Baby” Cortez, achieved a number-one popular hit with “Happy Organ” in 1959 and collaborated with several doo-wop groups, including The Jesters and The Paragons. Bassist Ronnie Bright briefly sang with The Cadillacs and later became a studio vocalist. He gained fame as Johnny Cymbal’s “Mr. Bass Man” with the 1963 hit of the same name, followed by stints with The Deep River Boys and Carl Gardner’s Coasters.