Little Anthony and The Imperials
Little Anthony and the Imperials is a rhythm and blues/soul/doo-wop vocal group from New York, first active in the 1950s. Lead singer Jerome Anthony “Little Anthony” Gourdine was noted for his high-pitched falsetto voice, influenced by Jimmy Scott. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 4, 2009, 23 years after the group’s first year of eligibility for induction, waiting longer than any other artist for the honor.
In 1957, a doo-wop group known as the Chesters existed with members Clarence Collins, Tracy Lord, Nathaniel Rodgers, and Ronald Ross. Anthony Gourdine, a former member of the Duponts, joined as lead vocalist. Ernest Wright took over from Ross, and the group recorded briefly for Apollo Records.
Changing their name to the Imperials, they signed with End Records in 1958. Their first single was “Tears on My Pillow”, which was an instant hit. (While playing this song, D.J. Alan Freed came up with the name “Little Anthony”.) The B-side, “Two People in the World”, was also a hit. The group followed up with “Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko Ko Bop” in 1960. When their success dwindled in 1961, Little Anthony left to attempt a solo career. Some members left, and the line-up then became Collins, Wright, Sammy Strain, and George Kerr. Kerr was replaced by Kenny Seymour after a short time. This line-up had little success.
Little Anthony returned in 1963, replacing Seymour. The group’s classic line-up – Gourdine, Ernest Wright, Clarence Collins, and Sammy Strain – was now complete. With the help of record producer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo (a childhood friend of the group), the Imperials found success on the new DCP (Don Costa Productions) label with the dramatic pop-soul records “I’m On The Outside (Looking In)” (1964), “Goin’ Out Of My Head” (1964), “Hurt So Bad” (1965), “I Miss You So” (1965), “Take Me Back” (1965), “Hurt” (1966), and “Out of Sight, Out Of Mind” (1969). In 1965, the Imperials appeared on the CBS-TV special Murray The K – It’s What’s Happening, Baby, where they performed “I’m Alright” before a live audience in New York. At the height of their career, the group made two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, at the time television’s top talent showcase, on March 28th, 1965, and again on January 25th, 1970. They also performed on many other popular television variety shows during the sixties, including Shindig!, Hullabaloo, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and The Tonight Show.
The Imperials then joined United Artists Records and were assigned to its Veep Records subsidiary, and then to the parent label itself, where they recorded “World Of Darkness”, “Better Use Your Head”, “If I Remember To Forget”, “Yesterday Has Gone”, and the Thom Bell-produced “Help Me Find A Way (To Say I Love You)”.
Albums from this era include: Reflections, Payin’ Our Dues, Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (named after their hit cover of The Five Keys song), and Movie Grabbers, which included a rendition of “You Only Live Twice”, the James Bond motion picture theme.
They recorded the one-off single “Father Father” for Janus Records, which they later performed on the Merv Griffin Show. Then they went to Avco Records in the early 1970s and recorded “On A New Street”, and charted with the songs “La La La (At the End)”, and “I’m Falling In Love With You”. This album was produced by both Bell and Randazzo. A second LP for Avco Records entitled Hold On was withdrawn from sale in the USA after the failure of the title track to sell and AVCO’s subsequent financial difficulties. The group appeared on Soul Train on May 26, 1973. By this time, Sammy Strain and Ernest Wright had left the group, although both would eventually return.
Ernest Wright left in 1971 to join Tony Williams’ Platters. He was replaced by the returning Kenny Seymour, who was again replaced after a short time by Bobby Wade. Strain left in 1972 to join the O’Jays, and was replaced by Harold Jenkins (who had already been functioning as the group’s choreographer). Jenkins and Seymour had previously performed together in the Impacts. Little Anthony left for a second (more successful) attempt at a solo career. The trio of Collins, Wade, and Jenkins continued as “the Imperials”. Clarence Collins left in 1988, and was replaced by Sherman James. They then toured as “Bobby Wade’s Imperials”. James left in 1992, and was replaced by Ron Stevenson.
That same year, Collins, Wright, Strain, and Little Anthony reunited for a concert at Madison Square Garden. This reunion proved to be a success. When the decision was made for the foursome to tour together again, Wade relinquished the Imperials name, with his group becoming “Bobby Wade’s Emperors”. They became the house band at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. At this point Sammy Strain left the O’Jays, and permanently returned to the Imperials. 1992, the year of the group’s reformation, just happened to also be the 40th anniversary of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and he invited the Imperials to appear as part of the televised special celebration.
On August 30, 1997, the group was featured on NBC’s Today show as part of that show’s “Summer Concert Series”, and appeared on two popular PBS specials; Rock, Rhythm, and Doo-Wop, and Soul Spectacular: 40 Years Of R&B in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Also, during this period, they recorded two new CDs: Little Anthony & the Imperials – Live: Up Close & Personal (the group’s first ever live album), and Pure Acapella, an all a capella CD showcasing the group’s vocal talents on several classic 50’s doo-wop songs, including their own hit, “Two People In The World”, which was written by Imperials member Ernest Wright. These two recordings marked the first time that the classic line-up had recorded together in over 30 years.
Anthony, Collins, Wright, and Strain continued touring as “Little Anthony and the Imperials”, until Strain retired in 2004, and Harold Jenkins returned to take his place.In 2010, Jenkins also retired,and was replaced by Robert DeBlanc. As of 2011, the Imperials are (along with the Dells), one of few 1950s-era R&B groups still touring with the great majority of their original members (Gourdine, Collins and Wright). They are also one of the very few late 1950s-based groups to successfully re-invent themselves and go on to maintain consistent recording success well into the 1960s/1970s.
Little Anthony and the Imperials released their first new LP in several years in October 2008, entitled “You’ll Never Know”, and they performed on the Late Show With David Letterman on August 26, 2008. On their Discovery album, the electronic music duo Daft Punk sampled Little Anthony and the Imperials’ 1977 recording of “Can You Imagine” for the track “Crescendolls”.
Their Top 20 Pop hit, “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop” was sung by young actors Jared Rushton and David Moscow in a scene in the 1988 Tom Hanks hit movie Big.
As of January 2012, Little Anthony and the Imperials continue to tour and attract large audiences throughout the United States and abroad after 54 years in the music business. January 2013 will mark the 55th year of Little Anthony and the Imperials. The group will embark on their 55th Anniversary and Farewell Tour to show their appreciation to the loyal fans that have enjoyed their music. Although this marks the end of the iconic group’s historic run together; Little Anthony will continue to perform to the delight of his adoring fans for years to come.
Little Anthony and the Imperials received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 1993. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on October 15, 2006. On January 14, 2009, it was announced that Little Anthony and the Imperials had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to Anthony, Wright, Collins, and Strain, Original Imperials member Nathaniel “Nate” Rogers was also present to be honored. The group was inducted by longtime friend, Miracles member Smokey Robinson. In October 2009, the group performed “Two People in the World” at the 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert.
Imperials member Sammy Strain is one of the few artists in popular music history who is a double Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, having been inducted with The O’Jays in 2005 and the Imperials in 2009.
Anthony and the Imperials were inducted into Mohegan Sun’s Wolf Den Hall of Fame on January 8, 2011, Anthony’s 70th birthday.