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Spaniels

 

When you go back to the great early days of group harmony history, you find so many great groups and so much great talent. Many of the originator groups came out of New York or Los Angeles and a few came out of the Midwest via Chicago. Maybe the finest group to hail from the Windy City area (Gary, Indiana, actually) were the Spaniels with legendary lead man Pookie Hudson. They were a truely innovative group. Many group harmony historians say that the Spaniels were the first group with a true lead singer - as Pookie would sing behind one microphone and the rest of the group around a second. And their music has prevailed to this day as a great example of the early days of R&B and is a great example of all the talent that abounded during those terrific early years.

 

James “Pookie” Hudson has been singing since he was 8 years old. His early influences were groups like the Charioteers, the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots. “Then along came Sonny Til and the Orioles,” Pookie recalls, “and the music kind of changes at that point.” At the age of 13, he started singing at church when a friend named Billy Shelton asked him to join the choir. Pookie, Billy and a third guy named Calvin Fox would later form their own group called the Three Bees singing gospel and contemporary songs. They added a fourth member - William Dooley and they became the Four Bees. The other three members graduated before Pookie. Meanwhile, four other guys from Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana, Ernest Warren (first tenor), Opal Courtney, Jr. (baritone), Willie Jackson (second tenor), and Gerald Gregory (bass) started hanging out and singing together.

Liking what they heard, the guys continued singing together. But being the modest kind of guy that he is, Pookie didn’t like the idea of his name being out front of the group. So the group decided it needed a new name. They were practicing one day when they asked bass man Gregory’s new wife her opinion of their sound. As Pookie recalls, this was a mistake,” for she commented that they sounded like a bunch a dogs! Ha! From that, the group decided to name themselves the Spaniels rather than go with what everyone else was doing at the time - a bird name group!

The Spaniels were an American R&B doo-wop group, best known for the hit "Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite".

They have been called the first successful Midwestern R&B group. Some historians of vocal groups consider Pookie Hudson to be the first true leader of a vocal group, because the Spaniels pioneered the technique of having the main singer solo at his own microphone, while the rest of the group shared a second microphone.

The group debuted in late 1952 at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana as Pookie Hudson & The Hudsonaires. They changed their name to The Spaniels that Spring and, upon graduation, became one of the first two artists to sign with Vee Jay Records, the first large, independent Afro-American owned record label. The group recorded their initial release, "Baby It's You" on May 5, 1953. Released in July, 1953, the song reached number ten on Billboard magazine's Rhythm and Blues chart on September 5.
In Spring 1954, "Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite" hit number twenty-four on Variety's pop chart, and rose to number five on Billboard's R&B chart. The Spaniels played regularly at the Apollo, and were on the tour that proved fatal for Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and tthe Big Bopper.
The line-up changed numerous times over the ensuing years.
The Spaniels were the top selling vocal group for Vee Jay. The band broke up when the label went bankrupt in 1966, but in 1969, the group reformed, releasing hits like "Fairy Tales" in 1970. An entire new generation was exposed to the group's music when "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" was featured prominently in the blockbuster movie, American Graffiti.
Two Spaniels groups later performed simultaneously: one in Washington, D.C., and the original group still based in Gary.
The D.C. based group, with Pookie Hudson and Joe Herndon, appeared on the PBS special, Doo Wop 50. Hudson, wrote but never received much credit or income from "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight".
Hudson died January 16, 2007 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Courtney, Jr. died September 18, 2008 after suffering a heart attack.

 

 

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