Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Legendary Richard Barrett: A Tribute by Norman Otis Richmond; Obituary

The Legendary Richard Barrett (1933-2006)

By Norman (Otis) Richmond

When Richard Barrett passed away in New York City recently there was little or no mentioned of him on urban radio. Who was Richard Barrett you might ask? If you live in Toronto and watch television you’ve more than likely have heard The Three Degrees performing
“When Will I See You Again” on a popular television commercial. The Three Degrees also performed “TSOP” (The Soul Train Theme). Barrett discovered this group, who for whatever it is worth, is Prince Charles’ favorite group.

This writer did a small tribute to Barrett on CKLN-FM 88.1’s Saturday Morning Live by discussing Barrett’s illustrious career with professor/author Gerald Horne and playing music by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Chantels, Little Anthony and The Imperials and The Three Degrees.

The original lead singer of The Valentines, Barrett was among the most creative and talented individuals of the era and was instrumental in the careers of the many talented artists that were signed to George Goldner's plethora of successful labels including Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Chantels, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Flamingos, Cleftones, and others.

He served as a producer, A&R director, manager and successful songwriter well into the 1970s, working with artists including Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and the Three Degrees. He was one of the first successful independent Black record producers and also became a pioneering Black producer on Broadway. He died of prostate cancer at age 73. He passed away peacefully with his family by his bedside.

Many of the hip-hop generation will remember Ben Vereen playing Barrett in the 1998 film: "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." The movie starred Halle Berry, Vivica A. Fox, and Lorenz Tate and Vereen played Barrett who discovered Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Why Do Fools Fall In Love along with The Five Heartbeats have become instant classics in many circles.

A New York writer lamented the fact that Barrett was not properly respected by urban radio in the Big Apple when he passed. David Hinckley, pointed out that “When he died last Thursday, there was hardly a place on commercial New York radio that would play him at all – even though he helped give us records as important as The Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”, The Chantels’ “Maybe” and The Three Degrees’ “TSOP” (The Soul Train Theme) and When Will I See You Again.”

“Few of these artists, of course, mean much to a 14-year-old today. Or a 34-year-old. Which is why commercial New York radio rarely plays them.

“A few years ago, Barrett's death would have meant a salute on (Former WCBS-FM) Bobby Jay's or Bob Shannon's WCBS-FM show that night. “In 2006 that salute has moved. Matt the Cat on XM Satellite Radio dedicated Friday's show to Barrett, assembled a strong tribute and closed it out with the Valentines' "Don't Say Goodnight".

Jay remembers Barrett as a larger than life figure whose image was not properly captured by the great Ben Vereen in the "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" film. Says Barrett: “After the success of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers everyone wanted to meet Richard Barrett. The Chantels had the hit “Maybe” with Richard. Then Richard found the Three Degrees who had huge success in the 70s. Richard seemed to work better with female groups. If you wanted to make it in the music business and you lived in New York City, Richard Barrett was the man you wanted to find.”

Today Jay sings along with Herman Santiago and Jimmy Merchant with the Teenagers. He sings bass in a spot that was held down by the late-great Sherman Garnes.

Jay recently lost his job at WCBS-FM after years of playing the music of the 50s, 60s and 70s. He ironically lost his position when WCBS was bought by the Canadian based Jack FM which plays music without radio personalities. DJ X, formerly of Flow-FM once worked for Jack FM. Great Black Music is at the crossroads. Classic artists and radio disk jockeys are fighting for their lives.

Hopefully, Fitzroy Gordon’s of the Caribbean African Radio Network (CARN) can fill this vacuum when it hits the airwaves in Toronto. There is obviously an audience for this genre of Great Black Music in this market.

Just recently Clinton Morgan of Eagle Force Entertainment staged a concert with the Original Manhattans (featuring Gerald Alston and Blue Lovett), Melba Moore (who was backed by the Jay Douglas All-Star Band), Dobby Dobson, Jimmy Reid, Winston Hewitt, Lady Jade and Mr. Cooper which was huge success.

Norman (Otis) Richmond can be contacted


RICHARD 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 73.

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 Goldner.

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 hit singles.

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.
(Adapted from an obituary by Al Hunter at
and an entry by Bruce Eder at All Music Guide)
Richard Barrett, songwriter, producer, vocalist and manager:
born c.1933 - died August 3rd, 2006


Janell R Barrett said...

Hello whom ever wrote this tribute please contact me at I am Richard Barretts daughter. Thank you

Gypsy Heart Art said...

I remember you Janell when you were a little girl. Your dad loved you so much. How's your mom, Julie?

Unknown said...

I always loved and respected Richard Barrett's contributions to rock music. He was on so many of my early - and ongoing favorites - and was such a wonderfully diversified artist.Many don't know that The Beatles covered his song "Some Other Guy" and that it was in contention to be their first release on Parlophone, but "I Want to Hold Your Hand" won out. If you don't know it, check out Barrett's original, which sounds a lot like Ray Charles in the best ways! I know I'm very late in posting this (it's 2018 and Barrett died 15 years ago), but his music remains timeless as does his influence on my own.