Detroit Groups 10/28/2009( last updated)
Information on these pages is provided for the purpose of promoting greater understanding and appreciation for vocal group harmony. Copyright 1998-2006. All Rights Reserved. Property of Nikki Gustafson & Jim Dunn. Not to be duplicated, reproduced or otherwise used without permission.
The Royal Holidays - Pyramids
Special thanks go to Vernon Williams for his patience and time in answering questions for us and providing information regarding his days with the Royal Holidays and the Pyramids .
(l-r Vernon Williams, Chester Scott, Charles Farley, Kenneth Fuqua, Jerry Wallace)
The Royal Holidays started singing in 1955 on the street corners and in the parks of Detroit. They consisted of:
Vernon Williams (first tenor/lead)
Chester Scott (also first tenor/lead)
Kenneth Fuqua (second tenor)
Jerry Wallace (baritone)
Charles Farley (bass)
Having no original material of their own, Vernon was recruited through Chester, not only for his singing ability, but also for his writing talents. Between 1955 and 1958 the group honed their skills and gained experience performing at local dances and teen clubs in the Detroit area. In 1958 their manager, Harry Nivens, had them record for his own small label called Penthouse.
Vernon wrote Im Sorry and shared lead with Chester, and also wrote the flip Margaret, singing solo lead. Since Penthouse was a small label, Nevins went to the Carlton label for wider distribution; and so Im Sorry b/w Margaret was once again released, this time for Carlton, also in 1958. Billboard reviewed the record the week of July 21, 1958, where it shared company with other new releases Why Do I by Lee Andrews & the Hearts, Tears On My Pillow by the Imperials, Trickle Trickle by the Videos and You Cheated by the Slades.
By August of 58 the group had been picked up by Universal Attractions and was involved in DJ tours of the east coast. The Royal Holidays recorded again for Nivens. Down in Cuba, also written by Vernon, featured Vernon & Kenneth on leads and was b/w At the Bandstand. Nevins took the recordings east to NYC, where they were picked up and released by Herald in January 1959, as Herald 536. For whatever reason, Herald also used # 536 for the Mello-Kings recording of Chip Chip b/w Running To You. Not surpisingly, this lead to further confusion, with some pressings of the Mello-Kings record showing Chip Chip on the label, but with the cut actually being the Royal Holidays' Down In Cuba. The mismatched record is now highly valued in collectors circles, bringing a price only slightly less than the actual Royal Holidays record and considerably more than the standard Mello-Kings issue.
The Royal Holidays performed at many of the major theatres in the country, on Rock & Roll package shows. They appeared at the legendary Apollo in late September, 1958*, where they shared the bill with Ruth Brown, the Moonglows, the Kodaks, Oscar & Annette and the Norma Miller Dancers. Because of their youth, a legal guardian , Elizabeth Mills, had been appointed by the courts of Wayne County, Michigan and had to sign a release for the group to appear at that venue.
*( Thanks to Marv Goldberg for documenting this appearance as 1958 rather than 1959, which we originally thought was the correct date. The letter we have from Evelyn Mills is dated Sept. 27, 1959 and may be either referring to a proposed second appearance or may be incorrectly dated)
(Photo courtesy of Vernon Williams)
Following the Apollo, came bookings at the Howard Theatre in Washington, DC, and also the Royal Theatre in Baltimore in the winter of 1960. The group also appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" show. Vernon mentioned Jackie Wilson and Arthur Prysock as two of the entertainers that the Royal Holidays performed with on stage who stood out in his mind . As was the case with many artists of the period who achieved some measure of fame, the Royal Holidays were not able to parlay their initial success into a long term career and disbanded in the early 1960s.
In our trip to Detroit in October 1998 we had the pleasure of meeting Vern Williams and Jerry Wallace of the Royal Holidays. Sadly, Vern passed away in March 2004, and Jerry in September 2008. As of October 2009, we are currently in touch with Kenneth Fuqua.
But the story doesnt end there at least not for the talented Vernon Williams (lead singer and writer of most of the Royal Holidays material). Vernon was often part of the Rayber Voices, who backed up many a solo artist for Berry Gordys fledgling Motown operation in the late 50s and early 60s. As part of the Rayber Voices, along with Sonny Sanders, Robert Bateman (Satintones members) and some female singers, they backed up Marv Johnson in 1959 on Come To Me b/w Whisper, originally released as the first record on the newly formed Tamla label as Tamla 101 and re-released later as United Artist 160. Tamla would later go on to be home to artists such as the Marvelettes, Supremes and the Miracles. The Rayber Voices also backed up Eddie Holland (1959) and later Marv Johnson (1961) on their separate recordings of Merry Go Round, both released on United Artists. In 1961 Vernon joined the Satintones *
* See following article, the Satintones
Pyramids (December 1962)
(l-r Bobby Jones, Norm Worthy, Damon Rockland, onlooker, & Vernon Williams.
Missing from this picture is Robert Gibson)
Vernon was on a roll, and following his tenure with the Satintones in the early 60s he went on to sing and record with yet another group, this one called the Pyramids. The Pyramids consisted of:
Vernon Williams (lead)
Bobby Jones (first tenor)
Robert Gibson (second tenor)
Damond Rockland (baritone)
Norman Worthy (bass)
(Sonbert label courtesy of Charlie Horner)
The Pyramids recorded Crying and I Am the Playboy which was first released in 1962 on the Sonbert label, which was owned by Sonny Sanders and Robert Bateman. The label name was derived from combining parts of the first names of the two owner/producers Son-ny and Ro-bert. The song was re-issued on the more well known Cub label, also in 62. These titles were recorded in the Continental recording studios on 12th Street in Detroit. Following this release, the Pyramids found themselves recording a single for VeeJay , Shakin' Fit which Vernon co-wrote, backed with What Is Love. From the writer's credits, it can be seen that Bateman & Saunders were still involved with producing the group.
This recording also came out in 1962. The Vernon Williams Pyramids group is not affiliated with any other Pyramids groups recording around this time. The Pyramids disbanded in early 1963 when Vernon was drafted into the service. All of the Pyramids members were still alive and residing in the Detroit area, when this article was first written. Vernon Williams passed away on March 11, 2004 after a lengthy illness.
Upon our original contact with Vernon, he was very surpised to hear and know that anyone today has any interest in these early and not-so-well-known groups. When asking Vernon what artists inspired him the most, he replied the Spaniels and the Pearls, as he strongly admired the lead voices of Pookie Hudson and Howie Guyten. Today Vernon is still involved with music, concentrating on writing music with his partner, James "Jay" Johnson who, by the way, sang bass with the Diablos, Velvet Angels, and Four Sonics ( we are in touch with Jay Johnson and another article will be coming soon......). Vernon had not been active singing recently, but was receptive to going into the studio again, if the chance presented itself. We were hoping to convince Vernon Williams, together with James Ellis and James "Jay" Johnson to come to the East Coast for a harmony reunion !
Jay & Vern did come East for the Great Day In Harlem in June 1999, and at that time were honored along with other 1950's R&B doo-wop artists . Vern Williams died March 11, 2004 after a lengthy illness.
( this article may be updated as either new information and/or pictures are acquired)
Royal Holidays Releases:
Penthouse 9357 1958 I'm Sorry b/w Margaret
Carlton 472 1958 I'm Sorry b/w Margaret
Herald 536 1959 Down In Cuba b/w Rockin' At The Bandstand
Sonbert 82861 1962 I'm The Playboy b/w Crying
Cub 9112 1962 I'm The Playboy b/w Crying
VeeJay 489 1962 What Is Love b/w Shakin Fit
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