BARRETT (c.1933 - 2006)
Richard Barrett, the producer and songwriter who discovered Frankie
Lymon and the Teenagers, the Chantels, Little Anthony and the Imperials,
and the Three Degrees, has died of pancreatic cancer at Pennsylvania
Hospital. His age was not disclosed, but he is thought to have been
Barrett was born and raised in Philadelphia and began singing with
an R&B harmony group called the Royal Angels. A charismatic
singer with a fine voice, he was also a skilled dancer and choreographer.
In the early 1950s he moved to New York, where he eked out a living
as a labourer, primarily in landscaping. He crossed paths with a
group called the Dreamers and sang for them a song he'd written,
"Summer's Love". The group was so taken with the song
that they added Barrett to the line-up just to get it.
As the Valentines, the quintet began getting noticed locally. Raoul
Cita of the Harptones arranged an audition for them with Monte Bruce,
who was starting a label called Bruce Records. A recording session
yielded "Summer's Love", which Bruce proved unable to
release, but it did get airplay from Harlem-based DJ Willie Bryant.
The Valentines built up a following in the area and got a release
of a new version of "Summer's Love" on Old Town Records
in 1954. The group's next stop was George Goldner's Rama Records,
where their released "Lily Maebelle", co-authored by Barrett,
which DJ Alan Freed turned into a regional hit. Even then, he was
just as interested in the talent and business sides of the record
biz and had begun pursuing other goals. Barrett began serving as
a sometime gofer, chauffeur and jack-of-all-trades at Goldner's
office and was soon making suggestions on creative and promotional
matters. He also brought in prospective artists to audition.
Later in 1955 Barrett heard a quintet of Harlem teenagers singing
in the street outside the apartment building where he lived. This
was his introduction to Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, as they
were later called. He brought them to Goldner, who duly signed them
up. Their "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" became one of the
defining hits of the early rock & roll era and the biggest-selling
record that Goldner ever released. The Valentines enjoyed a second
local hit in the spring of 1956 with "Woo Woo Train".
They released more singles, but Barrett's involvement with the group
receded as he began concentrating on his production activities for
In 1957 he brought in the Chantels, a female quintet from New York.
Barrett became their manager and producer, and their second release,
"Maybe", was a huge hit, becoming an enduring classic.
He finally left Goldner in 1960 to start his own label, Princeton
Records, on which his major signing was the Veneers, a group similar
to the Chantels. When Arlene Smith, the Chantels' original lead
singer, decided to leave, he tried taking over as lead singer on
a pair of singles, "Come Softly to Me" and "Summer's
Love". Barrett then installed the Veneers' lead singer, Annette
Smith, into Arlene Smith's spot. He later moved this version of
the Chantels to Carlton and Ludix Records, where they enjoyed more
In 1958, Barrett also tried his hand at a solo career, issuing
singles on MGM, 20th Century Fox, Gone (fronting the Chantels),
Seville (with the Sevilles), Atlantic and Crackerjack. Released
on Atlantic in 1962 as Richie Barrett, the Leiber & Stoller-produced
"Some Other Guy"/"Tricky Dicky" two-sider remains
his crowning solo moment.
He was also a creative force behind the Cleftones, the Flamingos,
Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Isley Brothers and Harold
Melvin & the Blue Notes. When Barrett returned to Philadelphia,
he became creator, director and manager of the Three Degrees ("When
Will I See You Again"), the most enduring act with which Barrett
has ever been associated. With him, the classy girl group enjoyed
hits well into the 1970s, and famously performed at Buckingham Palace
for the Prince of Wales.
Among many honours, Barrett received the Philadelphia Music Alliance
Founder's Award in 1990. He also worked in the late '90s producing
the group Rap Machine. Well-respected among his peers, he was featured
in documentaries about the rock 'n' roll era. In the 1998 movie
Why Do Fools Fall In Love, which Barrett said was filled with inaccuracies,
he was portrayed by the actor Ben Vereen. He had spent the last
few years working on his memoirs. Barrett lived in the Gladwyne
area of Philadelphia and was often seen driving around in his vintage
Rolls Royce. He is survived by his wife, Julie, and their children,
Jannell and Michael.
from an obituary by Al Hunter at Phillynews.com and an entry by
Bruce Eder at All Music Guide. Photo courtesy of Nikki Gustafson
at Harmony Heaven: