Girl Group Chronicles: The Jaynetts/Hearts
In a rather bizarre tale, even by girl group standards, a group of session singers collectively known as the Jaynetts, among many other names, had one of the biggest hits of the 1960s. Almost four decades later, rock historians are still arguing over what their huge hit "Sally Go Round the Roses" was all about.
The groups story begins in the mid-fifties, when a woman by the name of Zell Sanders, who worked as a security officer by day and as a record label president by night, started her own production company. Zell was looking for an R&B group and found the original Hearts, Hazel Crutchfield, Forestine Barnes, Joyce West, and later Louise Harris singing together at the Apollo Theatre. In 1954 few labels were willing to take a chance on a group of female singers who werent clones of the Andrews Sisters or McGuire Sisters, let alone one produced and managed by a woman, but Sanders tough attitude brought them to the attention of the small Baton Records label, and a studio recording of the very doo-wopish "Lonely Nights" was the result. The song became a big hit on the R&B charts and is credited (along with Shirley Gunter and the Queens "Oop Shoop,") as being one of the first true girl group tunes.
The group had some local success in New York with some follow-ups including "All My Love Belongs To You," "Going Home To Say b/w Disappointed Bride" and "I Had A Guy," but nothing came close to the chart power of "Lonely Nights." After a series of mild items on baton, the Hearts were moved to Zells own J&S Records, but the girls in the original group were dumped when Sanders felt they werent being serious enough about being recording stars. By 1957, the new group, which featured a young Baby Washington, in addition to Anna Barnhill, Theresa Chatman and Joyce Peterson, began recording. The first release "Dancing In A Dream World," kept the Hearts schedule busy, but the chart was still barren.
Over the next few years a dozen girls or more would filter in and out of the Hearts as Sanders picked who would be on what recording, hired and fired personnel at will, and created new group names to release her product. One such name was the Jaynetts, a combination of the J in J&S records, and Heart singer Lezli Valentines middle name, Anetta. In 1958 Sanders released "I Wanted To Be Free b/w Where Are You Tonight," to an indifferent audience.
Meanwhile, various configurations of the Hearts kept releasing singles through 1961 without much more than regional interest. Sanders encountered some financial problems in the early 1960s and despite the creation of new labels like Tuff and Zells, couldnt keep her business afloat. Executives at Chess Records still thought Sanders had something going for her, though, and helped to bankroll her next venture, a revamped version of the Jaynetts.
In 1963, Sanders, producer Abner Spector and his wife Lona Stevens, came together to create one of the most talked-about records of the 1960s. "Sally Go Round The Roses," a nursery rhyme turned pop hit was recorded during several sessions over for more than a week. Estimates now put the cost of this recording at well over $60,000, a huge cost for something that only lasted about 3 minutes and for a producer who hadnt had a bonafide hit since 1955. Although its generally assumed that the song featured Lezli Valentine, original Heart Louise Harris Murray, and long-time Heart Marie Hood, as many as eight singers took part in the recording which was dubbed and over-dubbed again and again. Nonetheless, girl group fans are happy this song was created as the final version is a breath taking piece of pop, that still holds up today!
With its curious rhythm and strange vocal style, along with the odd lyrics, "Sally" has become a song shrouded in mystery. Various accounts of its meanings include the stages of a mental breakdown, a lesbian love-affair gone awry, a religious experience, a drug influenced haze, or simply a dance tune. Before their deaths neither Spector nor Sanders revealed the true meaning of the song if there even was one. For all rock historians know today, the song could just be a nursery rhyme put to music.
The immense hit also brought a Jaynetts album on the market, but the first actual follow-up to "Sally" wasn't by the Jaynetts at all! Zell revived the Hearts, and a soundalike ode to an advice columnist called "Dear Abby" spent a few weeks at the lower end of the charts and more releases by the Hearts hit the air waves. In all, Zell sent out music credited to the Hearts, the Jaynetts, the Z-Debs, the Clickettes, the Endeavours, the Poppies, and the Patty Cakes and all of these records were made by the same girls.
The Jaynetts, meanwhile, had several other releases under their own name. "Snowman, Snowman, Sweet Potato Nose," "Keep An Eye On Her," "Chicken, Chicken, Crane or Crow," "Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar," and "Winky Dink," were all released, but none of them made the Top 100.
Despite the lack of commercial success on the charts, the Jaynetts remained a top concert draw for some time. Their first appearance at the Apollo Theatre broke records.
The women behind the Hearts/Jaynetts continued to record as members of the groups or as solo artists for the duration of the 1960s without much success, save for Baby Washingtons chart life. But shortly before her death, Sanders tried to make the Hearts the first big success story of the 1970s by releasing the groups first and only album. Despite promises that the songs would knock deejays out, the record was simply a collection of old records from the 50s and 60s put out to make some money. It failed to produce the desired results, as did Sanders last venture, Junior Achievement Records. She died in 1976, and her daughter Johnnie Louise Richardson, half of the duo Johnnie and Joe, met the same fate in 1988, leaving master recordings at the centre of some legal battles.
But the story of the Hearts does end on a happy note. Long-time Heart Louise Murray and her husband Donald Gatling continue to keep the name and Zells dream alive as a popular duo in New York.
No legal CD reissues have collected all Sanders Jaynetts productions, so vinyl 45s and LPs, or Internet-based file sharing programs are your best bet to hear the unusual sounds of the Hearts, the Jaynetts, and the rest.
Early Girls Vol. 1 (Ace) contains the Hearts' "Dear Abby."
The Best Of The Girl Groups Vol. 1 (Rhino) contains the Jaynetts' "Sally Go 'Round The Roses."
Clemente, John. Girl Groups: Fabulous Females Who Rocked The World. Krause Publications: Iola, WI, (2000) pp. 122-127, 136-139.