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The Orioles


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The Orioles were an American R&B group, one of the earliest such vocal bands. Sonny Til formed the band in Baltimore with Alexander Sharp, George Nelson, Johnny Reed and Tommy Gaither and called the group The Vibra-Naires. A local shopgirl and songwriter named Deborah Chessler became the manager for the Vibra-Naires. They soon signed to It’s a Natural Records, a subsidiary of Jubilee Records, changed their name to the Orioles, and released “It’s Too Soon to Know” (1948), which became a huge R&B hit and was one of the first “race” songs to cross over into mainstream markets. 1949 saw a series of singles by the Orioles, including “Tell Me So” and “Forgive and Forget”.

Tragedy struck the group in November 1950. The group was traveling in two cars near Baltimore. Gaither drove one, with Reed and Nelson as passengers. He took a corner too fast and lost control of the car. It rolled down an embankment and crashed into a drive-in restaurant. Gaither was killed and Nelson and Reed were severely injured. Til and Sharp, in the other car, were not near enough to witness the accident. They heard about it when they arrived home. For a short time, only Til and Sharp performed as the Orioles.

They soon added two new members: guitarist/second tenor Ralph Williams and pianist Charlie Harris. Nelson returned in a few days, and Reed a few weeks later. Just a year after their tragic accident, they were involved in another accident in Akron, Ohio, but there were no injuries.


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