Girl Group Chronicles: The Delicates (East Coast)

Not to be confused with the West Coast Delicates who recorded on the Challenge label during the mid 60s, the belles of Belleville, New Jersey recorded a string of sweet songs in the late 50s and early 60s before graduating to lucrative session work later in the decade.

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(photo courtesy of Denise Ferri)

Friends Denise Ferri, Peggy Santiglia and Arleen Lanzotti first formed the group when they were only 14 years old. Taking their name from a delicatessen owned by one of the girls fathers, the girls’ first record, "The Johnny Bunny b/w My First Date" came out on a local label called Tender in 1959.

The group came to the attention of the larger Unart label several months later and their next release, "Black and White Thunderbird b/w Ronnie is my Lover" gave the Delicates a big local hit and a song still much loved by girl group aficionados today. One of the people listening and obviously liking what he heard was famous New York deejay "Murray the K," who would later come to use the girls as in house session singers for many of his show’s songs.

According to John Clemente’s book, Girl Groups: Fabulous Females That Rocked The World, Peggy and Denise skipped school one day to make and unscheduled visit with the deejay. Peggy remembers that although the girls didn’t have an appointment, Murray the K’s secretary let them in to see him. He recorded the group and the starstruck teens listened to themselves on his programme that night.

The Delicates went on to record the opening and closing themes for his "Swingin’ Soiree with Murray the K" programme on 1010 WINS, New York, and his "Submarine Race Watcher’s" theme. The A-side on the group’s next single, "Meusurray b/w Ring a ding" even included special language Murray used when talking to teens on his show. In addition to recording promos for the show the girls were regulars on his radio and stage shows, further building their local profile.

All three girls were prolific songwriters and wrote many of the songs the group recorded for single release and for Murray’s own show. Although every single put out by the group gained local airplay, known had enough of a push to make the national charts.

After a couple more sides on United Artists the Delicates moved to Roulette Records to record the countryish "Little Ship." By this time Arleen had left the group and Peggy and Denise continued as a duo for the Delicates’ last three releases.

While at Roulette the Delicates recorded the Cleftones' "Little Girl Of Mine" which became "Little Boy of Mine." During the studio session the girls sang the lead vocals together and were about to overdub their voices for the background when the studio door opened. It was the Cleftones! The group had been recording next door and once they heard about the Delicates plans to cover their song, they jumped at the chance to sing back-up vocals the very same way they had on their own recording.

In the mid-60s former Starlet/Angel Bernadette Carroll, who had her own minor hit with "Party Girl" in 1964, joined Peggy and Denise to do some highly successful session work. The girls sang back-up for many artists, including Patty Duke, Frankie Valli, Connie Francis, Al Martino, Don Costa, Neil Sedaka. But their biggest success was Lou Christie’s monster smash "Lightning Strikes." Denise, Peggy and Bernadette helped write and arrange the backing vocals for the project which rewarded them with a Number 1 hit in 1965.

Peggy, Denise and Bernadette also moonlighted as Dynovoice recording artists Jessica James and the Outlaws and recorded the girl group classics "We'll be Makin' Out" and "Give Her Up Baby."

Denise received her teaching degree in the 1970s, but she also continues to work in the recording business and has worked on many demos, performed at numerous studio sessions and created commercial jingles over the years, including the long-running "Shop-rite can-can!"  She worked in a club act with Joe Pesci (who was a singer before he became an actor) and continues to provide back-up vocals for the Four Seasons (Tommy Devitto and Frankie Valli). She also wrote several children's books. Bernadette Carroll married and retired from the business. Peggy joined several other groups with varying degrees of success and continues to perform with the Angels (see bio) to this day.

(Special thanks to Denise Ferri)

Suggested Listening:

Hot Rods and Custom Classics, Cruisin' Songs and Highway Hits (Rhino box set), The Best of Unart, On Broadway... Hit Songs from the Brill Building Era, Poodle Skirts and Poni-tails Vol. 1, 2 & 3, the Roulette Story (1957-1977), The Label That Had To Happen: The Dynovoice Story.

Further Reading:

John Clemente, Girl Groups: Fabulous Females That Rocked The World. Krause Publications (Iola, Wisconsin), 2000, pp. 12-21.