The Crests were often thought to be an all-black doowop group. In fact, they were an integrated group, with four men (two Afro-Americans, a Puerto Rican and an Italian American) and one black female. After two very successful years (1959-1960), the group experienced internal turmoil and stopped having hits. Which is more a symptom of that unsettling time in the record industry than it is a reflection of their individual and mutual talents.

They began as a black quartet in 1955. Patricia Van Dross, Harold Torres, Talmadge (Tommy) Gough and J.T. Carter formed the group at P.S. 160 Junior High School in Manhattan. With influences ranging from the Mills Brothers to the Ames Brothers, the unnamed foursome started performing at hospitals and charity functions. In 1956 the group was extended with Johnny Maestro (born John Mastrangelo), who was white and became the lead singer. One day in 1957 the group, recently named The Crests at the suggestion of J.T. Carter, was practicing harmony in the New York subway. A woman heard them at the Brooklyn Bridge station, handed them a business card and disappeared without mentioning her name. It turned out she was the wife of orchestra leader Al Browne, who had backed up The Heartbeats, one of the Crests' favourite groups. They contacted him and Browne auditioned them for the tiny Joyce record company. This resulted in two singles for the label (both released in 1957), the first one of which, "Sweetest One", reached # 86 on the Billboard pop charts.

While recording for Joyce, the group was introduced to singer/songwriter/ arranger Billy Dawn Smith, who would go on to write many songs for the Crests. Smith brought them to the attention of music publisher George Paxton. With the group now signed to him - minus Patricia Van Dross, who as a 15- year old girl was not allowed to travel with the boys - Paxton formed Coed Records in early 1958, with Smith and two others as co-owners. The Crests' first Coed single was "Pretty Little Angel"/"I Thank the Moon", which did well in New York but nowhere else. The next release was "Beside You", a pretty ballad with loads of harmony. When Alan Freed and Dick Clark received their copies they both flipped it over and took a liking to the B-side, a sentimental birthday song called "16 Candles". Originally it was called "21 Candles", until someone with marketing sense aimed the song at the burgeoning teenage audience. The song peaked at # 2 on the national charts in February 1959 and also reached # 4 on the R&B charts. Group harmony predominated on earlier releases, but from "16 Candles" on, Maestro's smooth, easy tenor became the trademark of The Crests' sound.

The year 1959 saw further chart success for the group with "Six Nights A Week" (# 28), "Flower of Love (# 79), "The Angels Listened In (# 22) and "A Year Ago Tonight" (# 42), followed by their second biggest hit, "Step By Step" (# 14) in 1960, and "Trouble In Paradise" (# 20). The next two singles, "Journey of Love" (# 81) and "Isn't It Amazing" (# 100) were credited to "The Crests Featuring Johnny Mastro" (sic), their final chart entries. Their managers at Coed began to think of Maestro more and more as a solo act and their final 45 of 1960, "I Remember" (aka "In the Still of te Night", the Five Satins hit) would be their last Coed single together. Johnny Maestro's first solo effort, "Model Girl", was a major hit (# 20), but follow-ups were less successful, despite the "Voice of the Crests" notation that was added to his name on the label. Maestro left Coed in early 1962, recorded subsequently for United Artists, Cameo, Apt, Scepter and Parkway (with or without a "Crests" group), but didn't return to the charts until he became the lead singer of The Brooklyn Bridge. This group (an 11-piece aggregation) scored a # 3 hit in 1968 with "The Worst That Could Happen", followed by six smaller hits, all on the Buddah label. Amidst many personnel changes, Maestro kept fronting the band until his death (of cancer) in 2010.

The Crests sans Maestro continued with Tony Middleton (for only one single) and then with James Ancrum as their new lead singer. They also left Coed in 1962 and went on to record for Selma, Trans Atlas, Lana, Coral and Eric with no success. After 1968 there were no further record deals. Through the 1960s, they toured on their name. In the 1970s they turned into a lounge act. J.T. Carter formed a new Crests group in 1980, from over 200 singers he screened at his studio. By the end of the 20th century, Carter sold the trademark to The Crests' name to Tommy Mara (then the group's lead vocalist), who still continues the group, without Carter. J.T. is still alive though, unlike the other three original members. Patricia Van Dross died in 1993, Hal Torres at an unknown date and Tommy Gough in August 2014.

The Crests were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.

More info :

Discography :

CD's :
Johnny Maestro and the Crests, 20 All-Time Greatest Hits (Varese Sarabande, 2001). 20 Coed tracks. Liner notes by Bill Dahl.
Or : The Best of The Crests Featuring Johnny Maestro (Ace CDCHD 297, UK, 1991). 18 Coed tracks. Liner notes by Bob Hyde.

Acknowledgements : Jay Warner, Bob Hyde, Todd Baptista, Wikipedia.

YouTube :
My Juanita :
Pretty Little Angel :
16 Candles :
A Year Ago Tonight :
The Angels Listened In :
Step By Step :
Trouble In Paradise :
Isn't It Amazing :
Model Girl (Johnny Maestro) :

Dik, January 2015

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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