#1 R&B Song 1987:   “Sign of the Times,” Prince


Born:   Earl Bostic, 1913; Ella Fitzgerald, 1918; Albert King, 1923




1913   One of the great R&B “sax honkers”, Earl Bostic, was born. He worked with many of the days greats including Lionel Hampton, Artie Shaw, Paul Whitman, Don Redman, and Louis Prima. His own band was a breeding ground for future jazz greats like Stanley Turrentine, John Coltrane, and  Blue Mitchell. Bostic’s biggest hits included “Flamingo” (#1, 1951) and “Temptation” (#10, 1948).




1953   Fats Domino had his seventh Top 10 R&B single in a row with “Going to the River” (#2). Of his first thirty chart 45s, an amazing twenty-eight would make the Top 10.



1962   The Untouchables (“Poor Boy Needs a Preacher”) and the Checkmates (who wouldn’t have a hit for seven years until “Black Pearl”) began a long engagement at the Freemont Hotel in Las Vegas.



Black Pearl
written by Toni Wine, Irwin Levine and Phil Spector
performed by Sonny Charles & The Checkmates, Ltd.
released as A&M 1053 in May 1969

“It was about a black woman. The male is singing to her, she is his sweetheart. She is his world, and she is his black pearl. They’re dreaming of better times, better days, and he is saying, ‘Black pearl, pretty little girl, let me put you up where you belong. Black pearl, precious little girl, you’ve been in the background much too long.’ Which, at that time, with segregation, you had black students, white students, but older people, a lot of the black women, were depicted as being housekeepers, cooks, rather than having positions in companies, whether they were capable or not. It was a very difficult time period. They really weren’t given the chances that their counterparts, the white women, may have been given. And it was time to have a song putting them on a pedestal. Because it shouldn’t be “they” or “us” or anything. We are all capable of doing the same job, and should be given that chance. If we do a job well, we should be given the opportunity to do it, regardless of black or white. And in those days it wasn’t as easy.”

– Toni Wine

From Fort Wayne, IN, The Checkmates, Ltd. were Bobby Stevens, Melvin “Sweet Louie” Smith, Bill Van Buskirk, Harvey Trees, and “Sonny” Charles Hemphill.

The group started, as alot did in that era, as a doo-wop group in high school in the mid-50’s that eventually turned to R&B. The group was so close, the five members joined the army together in 1959. After they got out of the service in 1962 they were playing clubs in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Nancy Wilson caught their act and signed the group up with her management team. But, after 4 failed singles for Capitol, The Checkmates moved to Herb Albert and Jerry Moss’ A&M record label and scored with this Phil Spector production.


Sonny Charles & The Checkmates, Ltd.
Black pearl, precious little girl
Let me put you up where you belong
Black pearl little girl
You been in the background much too long
You been working so hard your whole life through
Tendin’ other people’s houses
Raisin’ up their children too
Hey how about something for me and you
Here in my arms you’re gonna reign supreme
No more servin’ baby
They’re gonna serve my queen
It’s our turn for happiness and our day has come
Living for each other answering to no one
Black pearl precious little girl
Let me put you up where you belong
Because I love you
Black pearl pretty little girl
You been in the background much too long
Together we’ll stand so straight and so tall
Created by love to love one and all
Hey heart to heart soul to soul
No other one could ever take your place
My world is built around
The very smile that’s on your face
You’ll never win a beauty show
No they won’t pick you
But you’re my miss America
I love you





Such a beautiful, loving song dedicated to all the Black Pearls who survived slavery, the destruction of Reconstruction, and Jane Crow segregation.


1964   Dionne Warwick’s classic pop/R&B ballad “Walk On By” charted, reaching #6. It would also become a standard in England, reaching #9.



1970   Diana Ross “touched” the Hot 100 with “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” written by the singing/songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson. It reached #20 and was her first solo success since leaving the Supremes.



1970   In an unlikely combination, Wilson Pickett charted with the bubblegum-pop hit-makers the Archies’ 1969 smash “Sugar Sugar.” Pickett’s version reached #4 R&B and a surprising #25 pop.



1973   Chuck Berry, Bruce Springsteen, and Jerry Lee Lewis played at the Cole Field House in Maryland, with Berry backed by Springsteen’s band.


1992   Club Nouveau charted with “Oh Happy Day,” which reached #45 R&B and became their last of eight hits, including the 1987 #2 hit, “Lean on Me.” The recording had a twenty-two-member chorus aptly named the Oh Happy Day Choir.




2002   Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC was killed in a car accident. Among the many variations of why Lisa was called “Left Eye”:  She was also known for wearing a pair of glasses with a condom in place of the left eye lens in the beginning of her career, which was one of the ways the group promoted safe sex, later evolving to a black stripe under the eye, and she had once been told she had beautiful eyes, “particularly the left eye,” from where she got her nickname “Left Eye.” The controversy over autopsy photos which had been leaked following her death led to a protest by NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Earnhardt painted a stripe next to the left headlight decal on his #8 Chevrolet Monte Carlo for the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway to protest the display of her autopsy photos.  (A similar controversy befell Earnhardt after the death of his father, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. a year earlier.) The singer/arsonist was thirty.


Lisa Nicole Lopes

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