The Flamingos comprised a very good R&B vocal group from Chicago that recorded for years before reaching the pop top forty, with their own version of a hit from a previous decade.
The group formed in Chicago in 1952. The original lineup consisted of lead singer Sollie McElroy, Earl Lewis, cousins Johnny Carter and Paul Wilson, and another set of cousins, Zeke & Jake Carey. They sang on street corners on the South Side of Chicago and got a break when they signed with their first label, Chance Records, in 1953. They performed at local clubs such as Club DeLisa and won a talent show. The first single the Flamingos recorded was If I Can't Have You, on Chance in 1953. The following year Sollie left and was replaced by Nate Nelson, the first of other changes to come in the group's lineup. Zeke Carey and Johnny Carter left and joined the Army, and were replaced by Tommy Hunt and Terry Johnson in the summer of 1956.
The Flamingos mixed well together musically. They had good harmony and a pleasing style, but no real hits as time moved on. They went from Chance to Parrot in 1954, to Checker in 1955, and to Decca in 1956. The lone exception was their recording of I'll Be Home on the Checker label, which went to number 10 on the R&B chart in 1956 (and was a top ten hit on the pop chart for Pat Boone). They had signed with George Goldner's End label in New York City and things started to pick up for the Flamingos. They appeared in the 1956 Alan Freed film Rock, Rock, Rock and had a minor hit with Lovers Never Say Goodbye, at #52 pop and #25 R&B. The Flamingos were now led by Nate Nelson and Zeke Carey, who had returned from the service. Johnny Carter returned home also and joined the Dells, with whom he would perform for nearly fifty years.
Real pop success finally arrived for the Flamingos with their first top forty pop hit I Only Have Eyes For You (#11 pop, #3 R&B) on End Records in the summer of 1959, with Nelson on lead vocals. The song was a #2 hit for Ben Selvin in 1934, and it would return to the pop top forty in a recording by Art Garfunkel, similar to the Flamingos' version, in 1975. They made another appearance in a 1959 Freed film, Go, Johnny, Go! From 1959 until 1961 the Flamingos had a other hits with Love Walked In, Your Other Love, and Time Was. Their second and last top forty pop hit came on End in 1960 with one that was written for them by Sam Cooke, Nobody Loves Me Like You. They recorded some albums for End as well, including Flamingos Serenade and Requestfully Yours. Nate Nelson joined the Platters in 1966 (he suffered a heart attack and died in 1984, at the age of 52). The Flamingos carried on, continuing to record in the ensuing years with some other minor hits, such as Boogaloo Party in 1966 and Buffalo Soldier in 1970. There were numerous other personnel changes in the makeup of the group over the years.
Some believe the Flamingos to be one of the best of the doo wop groups. They took their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Their most memorable hit came in 1959 with the old 30's standard I Only Have Eyes For You.
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