Sha Na Na is an American rock and roll ensemble, its members often outfitted in gold lamé, leather jackets, and pompadour hairdos. The group has performed a song and dance repertoire of classic 50s pop and rock for several decades, both acting as retro revivalists as well as quirky parodists of old-time NYC street culture. The 'Sha Na Na' syndicated variety series that ran from 1977 to 1981 brought them much fame, as did the inclusion of their work in the famous 'Grease' soundtrack as well.
The group began singing as part of the longstanding Columbia University a cappella group "Kingsmen", but the ensemble changed their name due to the popularity of the Pacific Northwest rock band of the same name (see: "The Kingsmen"). Conceived by George Leonard, then a graduate student in Humanities, Sha Na Na began performing in 1969, at the height of the hippie counterculture. The guys achieved national fame after playing at the Woodstock Festival, where they preceded Jimi Hendrix. In fact, the ever friendly and genial Hendrix stuck out his neck for the group, insisting the band be allowed to take the stage even after festival’s promoters wanted to cut them from the bill at the last minute, and Sha Na Na members have since credited him for 'saving' them from obscurity almost single-handed.
Their ninety-second appearance in the popular Woodstock concert film brought the group national attention, and they were a part of the 50s nostalgia craze of the era. Similar artists both in the Americas and in the U.K. appeared (examples being Alvin Stardust and Gary Glitter). The Broadway musical 'Grease' and the TV show 'Happy Days' both also displayed the same ethos as Sha Na Na.
The degree to which their act was truly nostalgic, as opposed to the degree to which it was "invented nostalgia" for joking purposes has been called into question. Still, the group appeared in the movie 'Grease' (based off of the musical of the same name) as "Johnny Casino & The Gamblers", gaining them even more attention. Sha Na Na was also successful with the hit syndicated television show of the same name that the guys did from 1977 to 1982. The program featured guests with much 70s fame such as soul and funk star James Brown and the popular punk band Ramones; musicians from rock & roll's golden era such as Little Richard and Chubby Checker also appeared.
The original band line-up featured twelve performers: Alan Cooper (bass vocals), Rob Leonard (vocals), Frederick 'Denny' Greene (vocals), Henry Gross (guitar), John 'Jocko' Marcellino (drums), Joe Witkin (piano), Scott Powell aka Captain Outrageous aka Tony Santini (vocals), Donald 'Donny' York (vocals), Elliot Cahn aka 'Gino', (rhythm guitar), Rich Joffe (vocals), Dave Garrett (vocals) and Bruce 'Bruno' Clarke. The act has often involved three "up front" dancers/singers in gold lamé and the other nine in "greaser attire", such as rolled up t-shirt sleeves, leather jackets, tank tops, et cetera. During their long-running career, the ensemble has gone through multiple line-up changes. Most recently, co-founder John 'Jocko' Marcellino has served as the group's central frontman. Their latest release is 2013's 'Sha Na Na Greaser High School Hop', with them still touring even decades upon decades after their foundation.
Also that year, Sha Na Na was notably a part of the "Grease Sing-A-Long" event, which is held annually at the Hollywood Bowl. During the 35th anniversary of the beloved movie, they performed several of their tracks from the work's famous soundtrack. "This has become a family event," Marcellino remarked, "They all come dressed up greased with their Pink Lady outfits on, their T-Birds leather jackets, and it’s fabulous that a fourth generation is learning these songs and loving these songs."
Examples of former members:
Vinnie Taylor (1949 - 1974) (real name Chris Donald), who replaced Henry Gross as the lead guitarist in 1970, died from a heroin overdose on April 17, 1974, after a concert at University Hall at the University of Virginia. He was found in a Holiday Inn hotel room in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Former Sha Na Na bass player, from their television show lineup, Dave "Chico" Ryan, died in 1998.
Former Sha Na Na guitarist, from their television show lineup, Danny "Dirty Dan" McBride, died in 2009.
Founding member of the band Robert Leonard is a professor of linguistics at Hofstra University, and had an appearance as a qualified expert in linguistics for the murder case of Charlene Hummert in the episode "A Tight Leash" of the TV medical detectives series Forensic Files in 2004.
The group's first guitarist, Henry Gross, went on to become a solo performer, and had a hit single with "Shannon" in 1976. Another founding member, Alan Cooper, the lead singer in the group's performance of "At the Hop" in the Woodstock film, also went on to an academic career. He taught religious studies for ten years at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, was a professor of Bible studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, and now serves as the Elaine Ravich Professor of Jewish Studies and provost at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Long time member Jon "Bowzer" Bauman replaced Alan Cooper and became a recognizable member of the group as he taunted audiences while he flexed his muscles, burped and spat in the direction of the bass player. For two years in 1983 and 1984 he served as the host of the game show Hollywood Squares between the retirement of longtime host Peter Marshall and the last host John Davidson. Today, Bowzer continues to tour under his own banner.
Elliot Cahn, the group's original rhythm guitar player and musical arranger, later became the first manager of Green Day. "Screaming" Scott Simon replaced Joe Witkin, the original keyboard player (and singer of Teenager in Love on their first album). Today, Witkin is an emergency room physician living with his family in San Diego, California and playing with a band called "The Corvettes" doing an oldies revue. Witkin's son, Brian Witkin, went on to become the founder of Pacific Records.
Joe Witkin left the band in 1970 to finish medical school, and subsequently moved to San Diego in 1975 to do his internship and residency at the University of California in San Diego. He worked at Scripps Hospital East County from 1978 to 2000 as an ER physician, and currently holds the same position at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa.
Scott Powell today is a specialist in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine. He performed on the TV show under the stage name "Santini" (which he changed from his previous alias, "Captain Outrageous"). Powell left the band in 1980 and returned to Columbia to take pre-medical courses. He is a member of the medical staff of U.S. national soccer teams, and is the team physician for the Federation Women’s National Team and an associate clinical professor at USC. While Powell was with Sha Na Na, he sang the bulk of the Elvis revival songs.
Frederick "Denny" Greene left the group to pursue studies in law. After graduating from Yale Law School, he became the vice president of production and features at Columbia Pictures. He is currently a professor at the University of Dayton. Greene was known for his skilled dancing, and sang the lead in "Tears on My Pillow", "Duke of Earl" and others.
Bruce "Bruno" Clarke is now a professor of English at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.
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