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 right now know their names.
“Typically after 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 mentioned in an interview with NBC Information.
The Eternals gained nationwide recognition within the late Fifties. Their largest hits had been launched in 1959: “Rockin’ within the Jungle,” “Babalu’s Marriage ceremony Day” and “My Lady.” Girona, one of many founding members and the lead singer, mentioned 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 reminiscent of 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 Arduous 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 Fifties. Girona mentioned the unique members — which additionally included Alex Miranda, Anibal Torres, Fred Hodge and Girona — rehearsed evenings after college on Freeman Road.
Girona mentioned The Eternals booked widespread 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 seemed promising, the group additionally confronted racial discrimination, Girona mentioned, particularly when it got here to having the ability to play within the South.
“We had performed exhibits in Maryland, New Jersey and all around the East. Then this firm mentioned that they had 15 exhibits for us to go all the way in which right down to Florida. We had been actually excited,” Girona mentioned. “However then they mentioned solely 4 of us might go. They didn’t need our bass [Alex Miranda] to go as a result of he was Black.”
Girona mentioned each he and Sierra, the one members of The Eternals current on the assembly with tour organizers, responded straight away: “No Alex, no Eternals.”
Girona mentioned they known as themselves The Eternals as a result of they thought they’d at all times stick collectively.
“Nobody received wealthy from singing,” Girona mentioned. “They paid every of us $22 after 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 mentioned, after a lawsuit quickly prevented them from singing their hit songs; he later moved to California, in 1961. He finally took a job within the aerospace business and would by no means see among the unique members once more — Miranda was stabbed to loss of life within the early Seventies.
Surviving members would crew up years later with a second technology of The Eternals for brand new performances.
Taking doo-wop from the Bronx to the world
They had been on constructing stoops, hearth escapes and rooftops. And through lengthy summer season days, Mark Naison — an African American research professor at Fordham College and Bronx knowledgeable — mentioned these areas introduced various teams collectively and remodeled the Bronx neighborhoods of Hunts Level and Morrisania into main music hubs within the Fifties.
“It’s fairly clear that in the event you grew up within the South Bronx, irrespective of who you had been, all people danced to Latin music, and all people sang doo-wop. Each of these grew to become a part of the cultures of the neighborhood,” he mentioned.
Doo-wop took off within the borough across the similar time the Puerto Rican neighborhood was transferring there in greater numbers, Naison mentioned. The musical influences mixed with the varied 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 mentioned. “They moved into Bronx neighborhoods that additionally had their very own musical traditions — Jewish and Italian. And what you had was 5 totally different cultures for some time coexisting and sharing.”
The Bronx was residence to many legendary doo-wop teams. The Chords attended Morris Excessive Faculty and sang the 1954 hit “Sh-Increase.” The Chantels went to high school at close by St. Anthony of Padua and climbed the charts with the 1957 music “Possibly.” 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 mentioned Puerto Ricans performed an necessary position in two different doo-wop teams. Frankie Lymon and The Youngsters, identified for the 1956 music “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” featured two Puerto Rican members, Herman Santiago and Joe Negroni. And The Crests, identified for “16 Candles,” had one Puerto Rican, Harold Torres, within the group.
Preserving the legacy
Héctor García mentioned he joined The Eternals after his pal Alex Miranda was killed within the early 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 couple 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, mentioned he started singing with The Eternals at native bars within the South Bronx. From there, they moved on to widespread New York venues through the Seventies and Nineteen Eighties like Studio 54 and the brand new Peppermint Lounge.
Certainly one of his most cherished reminiscences, García mentioned, was performing on the famed Orchard Seashore within the Bronx in 1983. The live performance featured Puerto Rican Latin jazz legends Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri. García mentioned he felt this was a milestone that woke up his Boricua — one other phrase for Puerto Rican — heritage.
The Eternals nonetheless play often, and Girona has joined them in among the concert events. In June, Girona and different members had been a part of an East Coast Music Corridor of Fame gala in Atlantic Metropolis, New Jersey.
Right this moment, García seems to be again at doo-wop as a historic motion that connects mainstream America together with his childhood and his personal heritage. He needs followers to know that Puerto Ricans are a part of this music.
“We’re good youngsters from the South Bronx who overcame lots of stuff. We had a couple of good hits. And we wish to be remembered as the primary all-Puerto Rican doo-wop group,” he mentioned. “We’re part of Nuyorican historical past.”
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