Introduction to the Impalas
The Impalas were an American doo-wop vocal group in the late 1950s, one of the few racially-integrated groups at that time. They’re now mostly remembered via their 1959 Top 10 pop hit, “Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home).” The Impalas were signed to MGM’s subsidiary label Cub which released the single “Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home).” It went to The Top 10 on the Hot 100 chart, Top 20 on the R&B singles chart and on the UK singles chart as well. Although their follow-up single “Oh, What A Fool” positioned on the lower ranks of the Hot 100 that made it as their only other charting single, the Impalas are now nevertheless considered as a one-hit wonder. They split in 1961.
The Impalas’ early years
The Impalas were a R&B/doo-wop vocal group, formed in Brooklyn, New York in 1958. They consisted of lead singer Joe “Speedo” Frazier, Richard Wagner (second tenor), Lenny Renda (baritone), and Tony Carlucci (first tenor). With Frazier the only African-American member, the Impala were one of the very few racially-mixed groups during that era. The inclusion of Speedo Frazier came later, as he was heard by the other three members one day while they were practising at some street corner. The sweet-voiced Frazier offered them to beef up their harmonies which led him to be elevated as the Impala’s lead vocalist.
The quartet first recorded for Hamilton label when they were discovered by Artie Zwirn and Gino Gioassi (of Gino and Gina vocal duo). Zwirn and Gioassi wrote the lyrics of the Impalas’ would-be hit “Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home). In 1959 local disc jockey Alan Freed who heard the group by chance. He helped the Impalas land another record deal, this time to Cub label which was a subsidiary imprint of MGM Records.
Rise to Fame
The American doo-wop and rhythm-and-blues vocal group The Impalas gained popularity in the late 1950s. Their biggest hit, “Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home),” was released in 1959 and helped establish their brief but fruitful career.
Tony Carlucci, Lenny Renda, and Richard Wagner, boyhood friends, founded The Impalas in Brooklyn, New York, in 1958. They first practiced their harmonies and stage appearance by singing on local talent events and on street corners. A local talent scout was drawn to the group’s silky vocal harmonies and professional performances, and he assisted them in landing a recording deal with Cub Records, an affiliate of MGM Records.
“Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home),” a doo-wop ballad by the Impalas, was published in 1959. It has a catchy tune and moving lyrics about a young guy who is sorry for his impulsive choices. The song connected with listeners and rose fast through the charts, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and selling one million copies of the album. It also topped the R&B charts, demonstrating the Impalas’ popularity to a wide audience.
The Impalas’ rise to fame was quick, and they undertook a protracted nationwide tour while appearing on well-known television programs of the day like “American Bandstand” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They also released several charting follow-up singles, such as “Oh, What a Fool” and “I Still Love You,” but none of them were able to match the success of “Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home).”
The Impalas’ popularity, though, was short. Lineup changes and a fall in their popularity were caused by internal difficulties and issues with their record label. Even though they split up in the early 1960s, fans of doo-wop and oldies still like their music. The vocal prowess, harmonies, and catchy tunes of The Impalas, who had a brief but prominent presence in the late 1950s music industry, were a testament to their ascent to fame.
The Impalas were renowned for their upbeat live performances, which delighted audience members with their slick stage presence and harmonies. The trio performed in theaters, nightclubs, music halls, and other settings around the United States during their peak in the late 1950s. Here are some specifics on the Impalas’ live performances:
- Doo-Woop harmonies – The Impalas were well-known for their intricate, close-knit harmonies, which were distinctive to the doo-wop style. They frequently sang acapella, demonstrating their outstanding vocal skills and capacity for smooth blending. They were recognized for their vocal prowess and ability to create complex, layered harmonies on stage. Their harmonies were a crucial component of their live performances.
- Choreographed dance moves – The Impalas also integrated choreographed dance techniques into their live presentations, giving their performances a visual component. They frequently engaged the audience with their upbeat dance performances and demonstrated their talents as performers by doing synchronized dance routines.
- Dynamic stage presence – The Impalas were renowned for having a magnetic live presence, with lead singer Tony Carlucci frequently stealing the show with his entrancing stage presence and smooth vocals. The ensemble had an engaging stage presence and performed with a lot of enthusiasm, which helped their viewers have a fun and lasting time seeing them.
- Interaction with the audience – The Impalas were renowned for their live performances’ capacity to engage crowds. They frequently engaged in socializing with the audience, fostering a fun and vibrant environment. Their popularity increased as a result of their ability to engage with their followers and give fans a great experience.
- Hits and fan favorites – The hit songs by The Impalas, which were well-liked by the public at the time and included “Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home),” “Oh, What a Fool,” and “I Still Love You,” were frequently played throughout their live appearances. They would also perform additional fan favorites and rarities from their discography, showing the group’s diversity and vocal range.
The music of The Impalas is a distinctive fusion of doo-wop, rhythm and blues (R&B), ballads, energetic pop, and various influences. Their music contained both upbeat and ballad-style arrangements, as well as close vocal harmonies and soulful, bluesy vocal performances. Doo-wop, R&B, pop, and blues were all integrated into their music, giving it a unique sound that set them apart from other groups of the day.
“Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home)”
However, another version of the story says that it was Alan Freed and Artie Zwirn who first discovered the quartet. In any case, “Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home)” steadily rose on the charts, finally peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also landed at #14 on the R&B singles chart, and #28 on the UK chart in the summer of 1959. The single sold over a million copies and received a gold disc.
The Imapalas’ later career
However, “Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home)” proved to be the Impalas’ one and only major hit, as their follow-up “Oh What a Fool” didn’t fare as well on the charts (#86 on the Hot 100). “Oh What a Fool” was also written by Zwirn and Gioassi. The song’s failure to chart high was largely blamed on Cub’s complacency. Initially, “Oh What a Fool” did actually well, having sold an advanced 100,000 copies. This made the label confident that they didn’t need to bother any longer in promoting the single. Alas, they turned out to be wrong, and what a costly mistake they made.
The Impalas continued to churn out a few more unsuccessful singles (including a single released on 20th Century label) before calling it quits in 1961. Frazier, after the breakup, launched his own career and later he also revived his old band as a touring nostalgic act. Frazier died in April 2014, aged 70.
Life After of The Impalas
The Impalas struggled to sustain their financial success after their initial rise to fame in the late 1950s. With shifting lineups and levels of recording output, they continued to perform and tour. Fans of doo-wop and oldies continued to like their music, but did not enjoy the same level of commercial success as their earlier songs. While some members pursued solo endeavors or joined other musical endeavors, others kept on performing as the Impalas, although with different band members. Despite the ups and downs, the Impalas’ history as a significant doo-wop group from the 1950s is still acknowledged, and lovers of the genre continue to adore their music.
The Impalas, who are best known for their popular song “Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home),” became well-known in the late 1950s for their distinctive fusion of R&B and doo-wop musical genres. Their flawless harmonies, soulful singing, and moving lyrics enthralled listeners and cemented their position in music history. The Impalas’ contribution to the doo-wop genre and their signature song continue to be appreciated by fans of oldies music, despite having difficulties in maintaining their commercial success, including lineup changes and inconsistent recording production. Their reputation as a significant group of the 1950s is a testament to their talent and enduring appeal, and generations of music fans still value their music.