Many years earlier than Luis Fonsi, Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin made Puerto Rican music mainstream in American tradition, there was an all-Puerto Rican doo-wop group that broke into the highest music charts. And few folks at this time know their names.
“Generally once we would sing in theaters they’d say, ‘The Eternals, the one Hispanic, all-Puerto Rican group within the historical past of doo-wop.’ And that made us proud,” Charlie Girona stated in an interview with NBC Information.
The Eternals gained nationwide recognition within the late Nineteen Fifties. Their largest hits have been launched in 1959: “Rockin’ within the Jungle,” “Babalu’s Wedding ceremony Day” and “My Woman.” Girona, one of many founding members and the lead singer, stated he is happy with writing 39 songs, together with “Rockin’ within the Jungle,” which made it to No. 78 on the nationwide Billboard chart.
The singer-songwriter recalled that the group went on bus excursions with doo-wop legends similar to The Coasters (“Yakety Yak”), The Skyliners (“Since I Don’t Have You”), Frankie Avalon (“Venus”), The Impalas (“Sorry (I Ran All of the Method Residence)”) and Neil Sedaka (“Breaking Up Is Onerous To Do”).
Ernie Sierra based the group within the South Bronx, New York, coinciding with the early wave of Puerto Ricans to the neighborhood within the Nineteen Fifties. Girona stated the unique members — which additionally included Alex Miranda, Anibal Torres, Fred Hodge and Girona — rehearsed evenings after college on Freeman Road.
Girona stated The Eternals booked well-liked TV exhibits from that period like “The Buddy Deane Present” in Baltimore and “The Clay Cole Present” in New York, in addition to a radio present with Bruce Morrow. Whereas their future appeared promising, the group additionally confronted racial discrimination, Girona stated, particularly when it got here to with the ability to play within the South.
“We had executed exhibits in Maryland, New Jersey and everywhere in the East. Then this firm stated they’d 15 exhibits for us to go all the best way all the way down to Florida. We have been actually excited,” Girona stated. “However then they stated solely 4 of us might go. They didn’t need our bass [Alex Miranda] to go as a result of he was Black.”
Girona stated each he and Sierra, the one members of The Eternals current on the assembly with tour organizers, responded instantly: “No Alex, no Eternals.”
Girona stated they referred to as themselves The Eternals as a result of they thought they’d all the time stick collectively.
“Nobody received wealthy from singing,” Girona stated. “They paid every of us $22 once we recorded. A lot of the exhibits again in these days didn’t pay. And we did them for publicity, to push the songs.”
The group broke up in 1960, Girona stated, after a lawsuit briefly prevented them from singing their hit songs; he later moved to California, in 1961. He ultimately took a job within the aerospace trade and would by no means see a few of the authentic members once more — Miranda was stabbed to dying within the early Nineteen Seventies.
Surviving members would staff up years later with a second technology of The Eternals for brand new performances.
Taking doo-wop from the Bronx to the world
They have been on constructing stoops, fireplace escapes and rooftops. And through lengthy summer time days, Mark Naison — an African American research professor at Fordham College and Bronx skilled — stated these areas introduced various teams collectively and remodeled the Bronx neighborhoods of Hunts Level and Morrisania into main music hubs within the Nineteen Fifties.
“It’s fairly clear that if you happen to grew up within the South Bronx, irrespective of who you have been, everyone danced to Latin music, and everyone sang doo-wop. Each of these turned a part of the cultures of the group,” he stated.
Doo-wop took off within the borough across the identical time the Puerto Rican group was transferring there in larger numbers, Naison stated. The musical influences mixed with the various cultures within the neighborhood turned the South Bronx into the vanguard for this rhythm and blues style.
“The Puerto Ricans introduced with them Afro Cuban music and mambo; the West Indians introduced calypso; and the African People introduced jazz, rhythm and blues, and this custom of city harmonic singing,” Naison stated. “They moved into Bronx neighborhoods that additionally had their very own musical traditions — Jewish and Italian. And what you had was 5 completely different cultures for some time coexisting and sharing.”
The Bronx was house to many legendary doo-wop teams. The Chords attended Morris Excessive Faculty and sang the 1954 hit “Sh-Increase.” The Chantels went to highschool at close by St. Anthony of Padua and climbed the charts with the 1957 music “Perhaps.” And Dion and The Belmonts, named after Belmont Avenue in Little Italy (West Bronx), gained worldwide fame with the 1959 music “A Teenager in Love.”
Along with The Eternals, Naison stated Puerto Ricans performed an vital function in two different doo-wop teams. Frankie Lymon and The Youngsters, recognized for the 1956 music “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” featured two Puerto Rican members, Herman Santiago and Joe Negroni. And The Crests, recognized for “16 Candles,” had one Puerto Rican, Harold Torres, within the group.
Preserving the legacy
Héctor García stated he joined The Eternals after his buddy Alex Miranda was killed within the early Nineteen Seventies.
“I’m a successor to Alex. We mentored one another in singing. And I began spending extra time with the group after he handed away. God bless him,” he informed NBC Information.
Sierra, the founding father of The Eternals who restarted the group a number of years after the unique group broke up, rotated in new singers like García as older members left.
García, who was born in Puerto Rico, stated he started singing with The Eternals at native bars within the South Bronx. From there, they moved on to well-liked New York venues through the Nineteen Seventies and Eighties like Studio 54 and the brand new Peppermint Lounge.
Considered one of his most cherished recollections, García stated, was performing on the famed Orchard Seaside within the Bronx in 1983. The live performance featured Puerto Rican Latin jazz legends Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. García stated he felt this was a milestone that woke up his Boricua — one other phrase for Puerto Rican — heritage.
The Eternals nonetheless play sometimes, and Girona has joined them in a few of the live shows. In June, Girona and different members have been a part of an East Coast Music Corridor of Fame gala in Atlantic Metropolis, New Jersey.
At present, García seems to be again at doo-wop as a historic motion that connects mainstream America along with his childhood and his personal heritage. He desires followers to know that Puerto Ricans are a part of this music.
“We’re good children from the South Bronx who overcame quite a lot of stuff. We had a number of good hits. And we wish to be remembered as the primary all-Puerto Rican doo-wop group,” he stated. “We’re part of Nuyorican historical past.”
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