Chancellor of Soul's Chronicles-Journals Dedicated To The
Historical Preservation Of R&B, Pop and It's Artists and Music


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Bill Kenney (Ink Spots)... Little Joe Cook (The Thrillers)... Smokey Robinson (the Miracles)... and Eddie Kendrick (the Temptations): these are perhaps a few of the great many falsetto singers of our time. There is an artist that stands out in my musical mind, which, in  my opinion, remains forgotten in the world of R&B music; it is the one and only Mr. Donnie Elbert.

Donnie Elbert was born on May 25, 1935, in New Orleans, La. His family moved to Buffalo, NY when he was just barely 3 years of age. His first interest in music came when his uncle bought him his first guitar and later a phonograph. As a teen his mother would buy him a piano and Donnie began o take lessons. While listening to a pile of 45 records that this uncle bought for him, featuring such artists as Little Willie John and Jimmy Reed, he found the singer that influenced him most was Clyde McPhatter of the Drifters. At the age of 20 in 1955,Donnie formed his first ‘doo-wop’ group called the Vibraharps. The group released a few singles, but to no real success. Two years later, he left the Vibraharps because of creative differences and altercations within the group. In 1957, Donnie recorded his first successful song on the Deluxe label entitled ‘What Can I Do?’ with the song hitting number 13 on the R&B charts and number 61 on the pop charts.

After recording a few more songs for Deluxe label, in 1959 he finally charted with the song ‘Have I Sinned’. Donnie wrote the song based on a relationship that his best friend was in and was caught ‘cheating’. The woman involved in the relationship found out and left him. In a conversation with Donnie, the friend told him how remorseful he was about his ‘cheating ways’ and how sorry he was about losing a ‘good thing’ he had with her. Donnie had stated to the friend that he had sinned but the time the story was being told and completed, he began to hum and formulate the melody of the song in his head. He wrote the song, remarkably, in minutes.

Donnie left the Deluxe label in 1959 to sign with a new label Red Top Records in 1960. He released a single, ‘Will You Be Mine’, which did not chart nationally, but was popular in the state of Pennsylvania and sold 250,000 copies in the city of Philadelphia alone!

Donnie’s career in recording would fluctuate over the coming years and he recorded with various labels such as VeeJay, Jalynne, Jot, Parkway, Cub, Checker and in 1964 released a song on the Gateway label entitled ‘A Little Piece of Leather’. The song proved to be popular overseas in England, in which Donnie would journey over seas to promote the song, and eventually got married and took residence there until 1970. That same year, he returned to the United States and sign with Clarence Lawton’s label Rare Bullet, and record a beautiful wishful ballad entitled ‘Cant Get Over Losing You’ with a B side of ‘I Got to Get Myself Together’. The song would hit number 26 on the R& B singles chart November of 1970. 

During his record deals in England the previous year of 1969, Donnie had recorded a Motown-Supremes classic that would finally put him on the ‘musical recognition’ map entitled ‘Where Did Our Love Go’. The label he dealt with in England did not have enough faith in the ability of the song to sell, and two years later in 1971, it would land in the hands of Joe and Sylvia Robinson of the All Platinum Records fame. The Robinson’s knew they had a hit on their hands and released the song in late 1971. The song hit number 2 on the R&B charts, and number 15 on the pop charts, making Donnie Elbert an international  star. Donnie plays all instruments on the song except for the strings…adding to his credit of being a multitalented singer and instrumentalist.

Unfortunately, the All Platinum camp did not take Donnie’s efforts and work seriously and would only record one album of his work. The classic ‘must find’ album ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ was released in 1972 and it contains some classic remakes of his earlier hits: ‘What Can I Do’, ‘A Little Piece of Leather’ and ‘Will You Ever Be Mine’. The next single released from the album is a dance classic called ‘Sweet Baby’ with a B-side of his earlier classic ‘Cant Get Over Losing You’. ‘Sweet Baby’ hit number 30 on the R&B chart in February of 1972.

Donnie left the All Platinum label early 1972, and signed with the Avco Embassy label. He continued with his Motown-influenced style of music and recorded the Four Tops 1965 hit ‘I Cant Help Myself’ with a B-side of ‘Love is Here and Now You’re Gone’. Considered to be a ‘double a-sided’ single, the songs would hit number 14 on the R&B charts, in 1972.

After having terrible financial troubles with producers Hugo and Luigi, Donnie would part ways from the Avco label in 1973.  In an ironic twist, he would re-sign with his previous label All Platinum in 1974 and record a two-song remake of Mickey and Sylvia’s ‘Love Is Strange’ and ‘What Would You Do’. In 1975, Donnie would be caught up in a songwriters controversy with the labels big hit ‘Shame Shame Shame’ He claims to have written the song, played on the tracks and add a guitar arrangement with a ‘Bo Diddley’ feel.  He took the song to England to get a record deal, but when the All Platinum camp ‘got wind’ of what he was doing, in a provocative move on their part, recorded some songs that Donnie left behind in the studio, with a newly signed group called Shirley and Co! This, of course being Shirley Pixley in conjunction with her partner Lee Leonard who in 1956 was responsible for the monster rock and roll hit ‘Let The Good Times Roll’. They were dubbed ‘The Sweethearts of New Orleans’. ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ hit number 1 on the R& B charts…but if one were to listen carefully to the vocal arrangements of the song, it was done closely in the same caliber of Donnie Elbert’s music. Donnie has also claimed to have written two songs in 1966 for the late Darrell Banks, known Detroit classic hits entitled ‘Open the Door To Your Heart’ and ‘Somebody Somewhere’, on Revilot Records.

Donnie Elbert continued to stay active in the music business over the coming years, and record the Bee Gee’s dance classic ‘You Should Be Dancing’. In 1979, Donnie formed his own label, AVO and released a single called ‘You Keep Me Crying (With Your Lying).

Donnie Elbert would sadly enter the ‘Kingdom of Soul Heaven’ on January 31, 1989, after suffering a massive stroke. He will always remain a true rarity in the history of rhythm and blues/soul music but should not be forgotten for his contribution to this form of music. He left us with a remembrance of his multi-talents that he displayed in his classic recordings, which were also left for the listener to appreciate and enjoy.

Hey ‘Sweet Donnie’…”We just cant get over losing a great talent such as you’…

 

Mike Boone, (Chancellor of Soul )

April 2004

 

Materials should not be used or altered with out expressed permission of the author,  Mike Boone, (Chancellor of Soul)

 

 

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