Frankie Lymon was an American singer who fronted the Harlem, New York City group The Teenagers, one of the first few racially integrated acts, and also the first all-teenaged group. Lymon befriended Herman Santiago, lead singer of Coupe De Villes, and joined the latter’s group that became The Premieres. When the Premieres became The Teenagers, they were still in the process of creating a song called “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” It eventually became a bonafide hit in 1956 and it is still appreciated by fans of oldies music fans up to this day. When Lymon went solo, both of his and his former band’s fortunes began to slide. Lymon struggled in his solo career, coupled with personal troubles and heroin addiction; he would eventually die of heroin overdose in 1968, aged just 25. The Teenagers, after Lymon’s departure from the band, went several lineup changes, including hiring a white singer named Billy Lobrano. None of these moves, not even the band’s brief reunion with Lymon in the mid-60s, could re-kindle their early success. However, the group soldiered on, and the new lineup are now performing as “Frankie Lymon’s Legendary Teenagers.”
Meet Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
American doo wop group Frankie and the Teenagers gained commercial success with the transatlantic hit “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” during the mid-50s music era. They were the first-ever racially-integrated group.
Formed in 1954 in Harlem, New York, the group comprised of Jimmy Merchant, Herman Santiago (born February 18, 1941 in San Juan, Puerto Rico), Joe Negroni (b. September 9, 1940, New York City, New York), Sherman Garnes, and lead singer Frankie Lymon (born Frankie Joseph Lymon, b. September 30, 1942, Harlem, New York – d. February 27, 1968). Lymon was only 13 years old when he fronted the group.
At the age of 12, Lymon was already performing as a gospel singer in his father’s group. Subsequently, he switched to secular music and became a part of the Premiers which was later called as the Teenagers.
Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers in their peak years
Signing to Gee Records in 1955, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers issued the single “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” that became the group’s breakthrough hit. The song made to the Billboard pop at #6 and at #1 on Billboard R&B chart in early 1956. It even became a bigger hit in the UK where the song topped its national music chart that same year. “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” was the group’s first and only biggest single. Lymon, being as the lead singer, became a teen idol which led to the group being billed as Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers in 1957.
The follow up single “I Want You to Be My Girl” was their second big hit, peaking at #13 on the pop chart while it was #3 on the R&B chart later that year. Two of their singles in 1957 became UK hits: “I’m Not a Juvenile Deliquent” (#12) and “Baby Baby” (#4).
Lymon leaves the Teenagers and the group’s later years
By 1957, Lymon was pulled out from the group by George Goldner, the owner of the group’s label Gee Records. Goldner wanted to groom Lymon as a solo artist.” On Roulette Records, he issued the song “Goody Goody” that performed well on the pop chart at #20. The Teenagers, meanwhile, recruited Billy Lobrano to replace Lymon, becoming the group’s first white member”. Nonetheless, having Lobrano to the group did not help their career, and Lobrano left the group in 1958.
Merchant, Santiago, Garnes and Negroni tried to continue performing as a quartet and later as a quintet, adding the new lead singer Howard Kenny Bobo. However, they did not gain notable successes, and so did Lymon’s solo career.
On February 28, 1968, the 25-year old Lymon died of a heroin overdose. In 1977, Garne was claimed by heart attack and a year later, Negroni succumbed to cerebral hemorrhage. Nonetheless, the group still tried to rebuild their career, replacing Negroni and Lymon by Bobby Jay and Lews Lymon, Frankie’s brother. In the 1980’s they also hired a female singer named Pearl McKinnon. But still, none of these formations saw notable success. In their recent years, they continued to perform as the “Frankie Lymon’s Legendary Teenagers.”
In 1993, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame and in 2000, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.