Zelma Sander’s Hearts (and more)
(The Clickettes, Baby Washington, The Jaynetts, Rex Garvin, Johnnie & Joe)
Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s when rock ‘n roll and R&B were enjoying their heyday – we all know that there were very few female record label owners.
Florence Greenberg started up Scepter Records in 1959. Florence raised the 4K investment cost by actually selling off a group of young ladies who had first recorded on her Tiara record label – and she also sold the label – both to Decca Records.
The cash would get her started with Scepter and fortunately she was able to “scoop” Decca. The major label cut three singles with the Shirelles all in 1958 – didn’t care for the lack of air play or sales – and returned the group to Florence. Florence would go on to launch Wand Records in 1961 and enjoyed – not only the hits of the Shirelles, but also Dionne Warwick, The Kingsmen, B.J. Thomas, Maxine Brown, Chuck Jackson, the Guess Who and the Isley Brothers.
Down in Memphis, Tennessee we had Stax Records (which started off as “Satellite” records – founded by Jim Stewart and his partner and sister Estelle Axton. There is no need to elaborate on the great success of the siblings.
There were other females involved in the record business, but not many.
Girl Group Pioneers
Now Zellma (or “Zell”) was also a pioneer in a second category of record making: Right from the first she was bound and determined to find, develop, record and promote girl groups! Much like female record label owners, girl groups in 1955 were not found in abundance breaking onto the national record charts, especially the pop charts.
The Four Queens (Girl Group Pioneers)
There were some very popular girl groups among the R&B communities such as “Shirley Gunter and the Queens” or as they were known the “Four Queens”. They released a single on the west coast Flair label in the summer of 1954 “Oop Shoop” which enjoyed much local air play and provided them with the impetus to travel extensively. With lack of larger national success, the Queens disbanded in 1955. (As you might suspect, Shirley’s brother was the famed member of the Coasters, Cornell Gunter. Also, Cornell was a founding member of the hugely successful “Platters” – with the group at the beginning in 1952 but departing before the big hits arrived.)
The Enchanters (Girl Group Pioneers)
A very early ‘girl group’ were “The Enchanters” who recorded a single for Jubilee Records as far back as 1952. They came out of Queens in New York with original members Della Simpson, Rachel Gist, Pearl Bryce and France Kelley. Della and France would then form “The Delltones” who had a 1955 release on the Baton record label.
The Cookies (Girl Group Pioneers)
The Cookies formed very early out of Brooklyn, New York in 1954. This group would evolve and become a solid representative of the classic ‘girl group’ genre of the early 1960’s, hooking up with Brill Building composers and then placing a half dozen songs on the national charts, most famously “Chains” and “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby”.
Their first hit – only hit for the original group – was “In Paradise” which hit the number 9 position on the R&B Charts in the spring of 1956.
The original members from 1954 were Dorothy Jones, Darlene McCrea and Beulah Robertson. Only Jones would remain on board to record the hits on the Dimension record label. The 60’s version of the group often worked as background singers including backing Neil Sedaka on “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” and providing vocal support for Dimension’s “Little Eva”. They would also perform as “The Honey Bees”, “The Palisades” and “The Cinderellas”.
The Blue Belles (Girl Group Pioneers)
And finally one more early pioneer girl group, the “Blue Belles” – a group which formed in about 1952 and who are often thought to be the forerunners to Patti LaBelle’s “Bluebells”. But they were not – For one thing, Patti was born in 1944 and would have been only 8 years old when these Blue Belles released their only known recording – Little is known of them – they apparently recorded one single for Atlantic Records in 1953 – a ‘one and done’ it appears. Just can’t locate any information about this obscure group!
Shuffling the Deck – Hearts Are Wild
Zell Sanders was a determined business woman and was confronted by a resistant male dominated industry. Zelma was always on the lookout for an entry into the record business and it would come in the fall of 1954 when Zelma learned about a trio of young girls who had performed at the famed Apollo. The girls were Joyce West, Forestine Barnes and Hazel Crutchfield. In short order the trio would expand to a quartet adding Louise Harris. The group was very young – non one member over 15 years of age, and Louise was only 12!
Zelma got busy rehearsing the girls and would bring them to the Baton label in 1955 where they would cut what would be their only charting single “Lonely Nights”. The song would peak out at number 8 R&B and bring the “Hearts” to the attention to the attention of R&B fans nationwide.
Now unlike Estelle Axton at Stax or Florence Greenberg over at Scepter, Zelma was not able to attract and sign a stable of talented acts. And so she took a different approach: work with the talent you have; work them hard, record them and get their records out there – and don’t worry about who is singing what. Shuffle the singers, bring in new ones, recycle old ones, keep them busy. One of Zelma’s primary responsibilities, so she believed, was to keep everyone working as much was possible.
Now girl groups have always been prone to lineup changes, but Zelma took the Hearts to a whole new level of the practice. After just one year and a couple of singles, the original Hearts lasted for about a year. They were young, not focused, and had their teen years to live out. And so Zelma quickly build a second set of “Hearts”. This next group would feature a truly talented lead voice in the form of Justine Washington who was known around Harlem as “Baby Washington”.
A few more Baton records were released in 1956. Zelma would remain quick to pull the trigger on group members, especially if they were tardy, or didn’t show up for a rehearsal or, worse yet, complained about anything. All of these were reasons for dismissal and replacement. The second set of Hearts kept up the momentum and the public scarcely notice the changes.
Garvin – Johnnie – Joe
To Zelma’s credit, she retained the services of Rex Garvin throughout her time as a record label owner relying on Rex for arrangements, compositions and occasional vocals. When asked why he attached himself to Zelma’s operation he would generally quip something along the lines of ‘I get to meet girls!’ Garvin’s biggest contribution to Zelma’s quest for a hit recording would be to compose and sing on Johnnie and Joe’s “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea” which went to number 3 R&B and number 8 pop charts. Garvin also wrote or co-wrote two more Johnnie and Joe songs which charted on the R&B top 20.
All three songs were recorded on Zelma’s J & S label and then contracted out to Chess Records for national distribution. Johnnie and Joe were one of he first artists to record for J & S. They were Johnnie Louise Richardson and Joe Rivers. Johnnie was the daughter of Zelma Sanders. Later in their career the two would reunite in the late 60’s to perform on oldie tours.
More Broken Hearts
Next her contract with Baton would end and so the ambitious Sanders would form her first record label J & S in the latter part of 1956. Baby Washington wouldn’t stay around long and after signing on as a solo act with another label was quickly replaced by Lezli Valentine. Lezli would be the first group member to be brought in for the third version of Hearts. Just prior to this formation, Zelma had approached another New York girl group, the “Clickettes” asking them to become “Hearts”. They declined and so Zelma lost no time putting together group number 3.
Before you could even blink, a entire new scrambling of the Hearts occurred, with a former member returning and new girls being quickly added. About the only traceable constant on Hearts’ recordings were the lead vocalists – those being Joyce West, once in awhile Louise Harris, then Baby Washington, Mandy Hopper and Louise changing her name to Ena Louise – These leads with lots of supporting members would take Zelma through four configurations of “Hearts” and into the 1960’s.
Record releases were very confusing. Catalog numbers seemed irregular with Zelma sometimes using street addresses from her ever-changing base of operations. Sometimes a record would be released by – say – the third set of Hearts and the flip side would be a track laid down a couple of years earlier by a completely different lineup. No one noticed but at the same time, the records did not chart. The entire operation was anchored by Hearts’ personal appearances, mostly around New York.
By 1960, nearly all of the various Hearts drifted away, mostly to marry and raise children. Zelma would simply bring in substitute singers, primarily for live dates, but sometimes for a record session. 1961 witnessed the fifth group of Hearts and the release of the final J.S. single number 1181 “I Couldn’t Let Him See Me Crying” with “You Weren’t Home”.
Bring on the Jaynetts!
The Jaynetts were the creation of Zelma Sanders first ‘created’ in 1957 when Zell asked one of the members of the Hearts for a new ‘girl group’ name. The singer, Lezli Valentine, suggested using the “J” from J & S Records and then adding her own middle name which was “Aynette”. Zelma promptly used the name “The Jay Netts”.
The record was J&S 1765 “Where Are You Tonite” b/w “I Wanted To Be Free” released in December of 1958. The lead vocal was Baby Washington backed by other members of the Hearts.. The record went nowhere and the group name was tucked away until 1963. Zelma was yearning to be in on the huge success of the girl groups surfacing and hitting the charts in 1963. She had drained much of her fiscal resources and so Chess Records, who believed in Zelma’s efforts, pitched in with cash.
Chess designated the first Jaynetts” recording to the Tuff record label owned by Abner Spector and distributed by Chess – the song being “Sally, Go ‘Round the Roses” backed with an instrumental version. It was a bit of an odd choice to compete with the “wall of sound” and the Brill building hits that were dominating the charts, but – hey – this was Zelma Sanders!
So now in 1963, the ‘official’ Jaynetts were Lezi Valentine, Louise Murray and Marie Hood. All three were in Zell’s latest edition of the Hearts! But in the studio on the day “Sally” was recorded, were a a core quintet of female singers – and lo and behold none of them were ‘official’ Jaynetts. They were Johnnie Louise Richardson, Ethel Davis, Mary Sue Wells, Yvonne Bushnell, and Ada Ray – none of them members of The Hearts at the time. Bushnell and Zelma’s daughter Johnnie would become ‘official’ Hearts in 1970 when Zelma was taking one last shot at a Hearts’ revival.
Johnnie Richardson recalls the grueling recording session for “Sally” which was conducted by Abner Specter who headed up the Tuff record label. She believes there may have been as many as 20 singers in total on the recording. Whatever the case on number of singers, the song was a monster success, going to number 4 R&B and a nearly number 1 but number 2 Hot 100. Much like eight years earlier when the Hearts hit with “Lonely Nights”, “Sally” would be the Jaynetts only claim to chart fame.
Several singles would be recorded using the Jaynetts name released on both Tuff and J&S. Several girls, including additional Hearts were used, especially when it came time to promote “Sally”, when Cindy Felder, Marlina Mars, Iggy Williams and Selena Healey all taking turns with others to appear live and to sometime contribute to the recordings.
One thing nobody could count on with Hearts or Jaynetts publicity photos – the ladies in the photos seldom lined up with the recording being promoted. And to make things really interesting, Jaynetts and Hearts in various combinations were paired – mixed and matched to release songs as the “Patty Cakes”, the “Poppies”, the “Z-Debs” and so on.
The Poppies were Lezli Valentine, Louise Harris and Marie Hood most of the time – and sometimes supplemented with Cynthia Felder, Marlina Mars and Selena Healey – and no doubt others.
Beyond The Hearts
Beyond Baby Washington, several Jaynetts/Hearts would record solo – often on one of Zelma’s labels. This included Marilina Mars, Louis Murray, Mary Sue Wellington, Lezli Valentine, Vernell Hill, Hartsy Mae and Betty Harris.
All in all there were more than two dozen ‘official’ Hearts group members, and with substitutes, many more than that. Zelma would also start up the Sprout, Zells, Scatt, Arygle and the Dice record labels. Zells would interestingly feature a 1970 assembly of Hearts for two singles and would release one single by “Miss Johnnie” – guess who? with a revival attempt of “Over the Mountain”.
The Dice label primarily focused on the Clickettes, who Zelma had approached earlier to become a new version of the Hearts. The group also recorded on Dice as the “Avalons”.
Zelma gave it the ‘old college try’ one final time in 1970 when she put together an LP which depicted Cynthia Felder, Mary Jefferson and Lavergne Ray on the cover. Not known for sure but it appears that most of the cuts were earlier Hearts’ tracks with perhaps something new – and that most likely, only Felder actually recorded anything on this LP.
Rex Garvin enjoyed a productive career beyond his days with Zelma Sanders. In 1959 he recorded as part of a duo with Marie Knight – as “Marie and Rex”. In 1961 he would form “Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers”. He continued on with the Cravers into the mid 1970’s and then retired but occasionally resurfaced to make special appearances around Atlanta, Georgia.
Baby Washington is alive today (December, 2019) now 80 years old.
Zelma Sanders had the spirit to succeed. Perhaps her approach to her musicians could have been more empathetic but – to her credit – she worked hard to keep all of her singers working. Her vision most likely fell short in her eyes, but she paved the way for other females wishing to break into the recording industry and made it interesting in the process.
Zelma Sanders passed way her 1976 at the age of 54. Her daughter Johnnie Louise passed away in her 50’s from a stroke.
Zelma Sander Selective Discography
Concentrating here for the most part on the ‘girl groups’ with a few exceptions – mainly I have included recordings composed or co-composed by Zelma Sanders.
Baton 208 – The Hearts – February, 1955 – Lonely Nights Charted Number 8 R&B
Baton 211 – The Hearts – June, 1955
Baton 215 – The Hearts – 1955
Baton 222 – The Hearts – March, 1956
J&S 1756 – The Pre-Teens with the Shytan Five – Released June, 1956 (b/w “Pass It On”)
J&S 1762 – Johnnie & Joe – October, 1956
J&S 1765 – The Jay Netts – (b/w “Where Are You Tonight) – December, 1956
J&S 1604 – Baby Washington – 1957
J&S 1657 – Baby Washington – 1957
J&S 1650 – The Hearts – 1957
Scatt 103 – Rex Garvin – 1958
J&S 1656 – Baby Washington – (flip side by the Shytone Five Orchestra) – 1958
J&S 1632 – Baby Washington – 1958
Scatt 1609/1610 – The Bell-Tones – April, 1958
J&S 1626/1627 – The Hearts – October, 1958
J&S 10002/10003 – The Hearts – 1958
Dice 83 – The Clickettes – 1958
Dice 90 – The Avalons – 1958
(These girls are “The Clickettes”)
Dice 100 – The Clickettes – October, 1958
Scatt 111 – The Caliphis – 1958
Dice 94 – The Clickettes – June, 1959
Dice 96 – The Clickettes – June, 1959
J&S 425/426 – The Hearts – 1959
J&S 4571 – The Hearts – 1959
J&S 1701 – Johnni & Joe – 1959
Argyle 1635 – Enalouise & The Hearts – (flip side is “From a Cap to a Gown”) – 1959
(Lead singer here is Louise Harris/Louise Murray – one of the original Hearts from 1955. Here she takes her mother’s name “Ena Louise”. The other Hearts on this single are Marie Hood and Ruth Artis – This was the first time out as “Hearts” for Marie and Ruth)
Dice 92 – The Clickettes – December, 1959
J&S 995 – The Hearts – 1960
J&S 254 – The Endeavors – 1960
(Zelma brought this group into the studio for what would be their only release)
J&S 1180/1181 – The Hearts – 1961
Zell 4397 – Hartsy Maye – 1962
(This is Hearts member Cynthia Cox or later Cynthia Felder who was a member of the group from 1961-1963 and then in the final lineup of Hearts in 1970 – a clever little play on the group’s name)
Zell’s 1426 – Ada Ray – 1962
(Was a short time member of The Hearts and Jaynetts)
Zell’s 260/261 – Ada “Cry Baby” Ray – 1963
J&S 4423 – Freda Allyne – 1963
Tuff 369 – The Jaynetts – “Sally To ‘Round the Roses” – Charted Number 4 R&B – Number 2 Hot 100 – August, 1963
Tuff 370 – The Hearts – September, 1963
Tuff 371 – The Jaynetts – October, 1963 – Vocal Side Charted Number 120 Bubbling Under Charts
Tuff 372 – The Poppies – October, 1963
Tuff 3373 – The Hearts – October, 1963
Tuff 374 – The Jaynetts – November, 1963
Zell’s 1008/1009 – Jimmy Armstrong & The Pins – 1963
J&S 1426 – Joye E. Dunn – 1964?
J&S 1466/1467 – Clarence Ashe – 1964
J&S 1468 – The Jaynetts – 1964
J&S 1470/1471 – Clarence Ashe – 1964
Roulette 4544 – The Z-Debs – February, 1964
Tuff 377 – The Jaynetts – May, 1964
Tuff 378 – The Patty Cakes – May, 1964
Tuff 379 – Johnnie and Joe – June, 1964
Tuff 400 – Mary Sue Wellington – November, 1964
(She was also known as Mary Sue Wells)
Zell’s 1818/1819 – Carolyn and Sam – 1965
J&S 1177 – The Jaynetts – 1966 (“A” side is “Cry Behind the Daisies”)
Blue Rock 4084 – Johnnie & Joe – May, 1969
(Mercury Records owned Blue Rock – the label started in 1964 – shut down in 1966 and started back up in 1969)
J&S 1486 – Jimmy & Arthur – November, 1969
Zell’s 3377 – The Hearts – 1970
Zells 3378 – The Hearts – 1970
Zell’s 3379 – Miss Johnnie – 1970
(Johnnie Louise Richardson)
Sprout 711 – Johnny Richardson (“Johnnie” of “Johnnie & Joe”) – 1970
Sprout 993/994 – Johnnie Richardson – 1970
J&S 8718 – Neice Dezel – 1970
(A rare photo of Zell Sanders!)
J&S 8719-12 – Clarence Ashe – 1971
J&S 9910 – Catha Morrison – 1973
J&S 1873 – Trudy and Bobby – 1973?
Long Play – Tuff 13 – The Jaynetts – 1963