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Biography

"Sonny" Charles Hemphill was born in Arkansas and moved with his family to Ft. Wayne, Indiana when he was a young boy. It was there that he joined Bobby Stevens and his boyhood friends starting a band and began singing. After several talent shows, they decided to try to make some money and started having real paying gigs. Later the band "TheCheckmates, Ltd.", one of, if not the first mixed group of the era, there were two white members, Harvey Trees guitar & Bill Vanbuskirk bass, joined the army on the buddy system and served their country. During their time in the Army, they were selected into the Entertainment Division of the base (Fort Lewis Washington) placing second place in the international 'All Army Entertainment Contest" back on base, they performed whenever and wherever possible. After their discharges, they found themselves in the Tacoma, Washington area. R&B was their genre and "the Checkmates, Ltd". started singing in clubs there, with much success. It wasn't long, before The Checkmates, Ltd." were bringing down the house in Las Vegas at The Pussycat A Go Go . Where they were discovered by Jazz Great Nacy Wilson, who signed them to a management contract & placed them on the label she was contracted to, Capitol Records.
They recorded several singles there, Do The Walk, (The Temptation Walk) Walk In the Sunlight, The A&I, & Glad for You, all written by Bobby Stevens except The A&I, which was written by Bobby & Sweet Louie. They also recorded Kissing Her & Crying for You, I Can Hear the Rain, Please Don't Take My World Away, None of which made more than "Local Charts"
Their album "Live at Caesars Palace" on Capitol was their most successful recording until meeting Herb Alpert in Hawaii while performing at " Duke Ahonamoka's night club there. Herb, signed them to his A&M Records & after some searching, secured the services of legendary rock & pop producer, Phil Spector, to produce their first album the title song & first release of which, "Love is All I have to Give" was written by Phil Spector & Lead singer & leader of the group, BobbyStevens.
The best known single from that album that went all the way to # 13 on the billboard charts, was ".Black Pearl" produced by Phil Specter. Bobby Stevens left the group during the recording of this album, after a dispute with the label over "B" side production & publishing rights. The group disbanded thereafter. Bobby Stevens keeping all the original members of the group & the name Bobby Stevens & the Checkmates for live engagements & A&M assigning the name Sonny Charles & The Checkmates Ltd for the purposes of recording, marketing & completeing the recording contract with them. Bobby Stevens recorded a solo album "Bobby Stevens & The Checkmates Ltd Life! on his own vanity label Rustic Records, before reforming the group as Bobby Stevens & Sonny Charles & The Checkmates Ltd under Bobby's management company, Even Stevens Productions.
The group recorded for three other labels after leaving A&M, a never released album for "Electric Records," "Fantasy Records," which yeilded the album "We Got The Moves," to Greedy Records for a single "All ALone By the Telephone" before after having co-written,co-Produced & starred in their first motion picture, "Run Nigger Run." later renamed "The Black Connection,"they procuced & released the sound track album 'F/S/O to the film on Rustic. All of the songs on that album, except for "A Fish on the Hook,"co-written by Bobby & Sonny, were written & produced for Even Stevens Production, Bobby Stevens production company, by Sonny Charles.
After their final break-up Bobby performed (with his sidekicks,Sweet Louie Bill Vanbuskirk) as Bobby Stevens & The Checkmates Ltd in clubs from ALaska to Canada & Chicago & major hotel ventues from The International Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas to the Cheveron Hilton Hotel in Sidney Australia before retiring in the late 80's.During the last 25 years, Sonny Charles & Sweet Louie Smith reformed & were still performing around the country and on cruise ships until December 2007 when Sweet Louie passed away. In 2008 Sonny Charles joined The Steve Miller Band and has been touring with them.

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