The Chantels – “Maybe”

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Introduction to the Chantels

The Chantels, an all-girl African-American group, took part on the airwaves in the late 1950s, tackling such genres such as R&B, pop and rock. The Chantel’s first single “He’s Gone” peaked at #71 on the Hot 100 in September 1957. In 1958, the group released their first album We’re The Chantels, which carried the single “Maybe.” It was a smash hit, taking the second spot of the R&B singles chart and breaking into the Top 20 pop singles chart. The group tried to surpass or even just duplicate the success of “Maybe,” with subsequent singles “Every Night (I Pray)” and “I Love You So” doing just well enough on the chart but following singles were less successful. Because of this, their label End Records dropped the group, and personnel changes occurred.

They were then signed to Carlton, and had another Top 20 single “Look Into My Eyes” in 1961. But subsequent singles recorded and released there didn’t do well either. The Chantels disbanded in 1970, after switching a few more record labels and releasing singles to only minimal success. Arlene Smith re-formed the group with a fresh lineup, and performed to nostalgic audiences.

The formation of the Chantels

The Chantels shouldn’t be confused with the other group The Chantelles, who were a 1970’s Jamaican reggae band.

The group’s story all began in 1957. It was founded by high school students Arlene Smith, together by Sonia Goring, Rene Minus, Jackie Landry Jackson and Lois Harris, while studying at the Bronx’s St. Anthony de Padua. Their name was based from St. Frances de Chantal, the name of a rival school. The girls, who were childhood friends, had been singing for quite some time. Unlike other black groups whose influences were based on gospel, the Chantels were weaned on classical music. Arlene Smith, their leader, was the primary songwriter of the group’s early material. They auditioned for producer Richard Barrett (of the Valentines), who would co-write much of their material.

The formation of the Chantels

The Chantels shouldn’t be confused with the other group The Chantelles, who were a 1970’s Jamaican reggae band.

The group’s story all began in 1957. It was founded by high school students Arlene Smith, together by Sonia Goring, Rene Minus, Jackie Landry Jackson and Lois Harris, while studying at the Bronx’s St. Anthony de Padua. Their name was based from St. Frances de Chantal, the name of a rival school. The girls, who were childhood friends, had been singing for quite some time. Unlike other black groups whose influences were based on gospel, the Chantels were weaned on classical music. Arlene Smith, their leader, was the primary songwriter of the group’s early material. They auditioned for producer Richard Barrett (of the Valentines), who would co-write much of their material.

The Chantels’ stint at End Records

In 1957 the girls inked a contract with End Records. The Chantel’s first single “He’s Gone” peaked at #71 on the Hot 100 in September 1957. It was written by Barrett and Arlene Smith.

In 1958, the group released their first album We’re The Chantels, which carried the single “Maybe.” This ballad was written by Smith, Barrett and End label owner George Goldner. “Maybe” shot to #2 on the R&B singles chart, and #15 on the pop chart in 1958. It sold over a million copies and was awarded with a gold record certification. “Maybe” is considered one of the definitive R&B songs during that era.

The Chantels scored other hits on End: “Every Night (I Pray)” (#39 pop, #16 R&B) and “I Love You So” (#42 pop, #14 R&B) but they cannot sustain the momentum they had after “Maybe.” In 1959 End dropped the Chantels from its roster; in addition, Arlene Smith left to pursue a solo career, and Harris left the group as well to enter college. When the Chantels were narrowed down to a trio, they supported Barrett on his single “Summer’s Love” in 1959. Another singer Annette Smith (no relation to Arlene) later joined as new Chantels member.

Later career

Now a foursome, the Chantels moved to Carlton where they scored another big hit with “Look in My Eyes” in 1961. Written by Richard Barrett, “Look in My Eyes” went to #14 pop and #6 R&B. But like what they experienced at End Records, subsequent singles on Carlton didn’t fare well.

The group would record in several different labels up until the end of the 1960s, to no great success; they disbanded in 1970. Arlene Smith re-formed the group with a fluctuating lineup and performed in the oldies circuit. In 2002, they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

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