Born Franklin Joseph Lymon, 30 September 1942, Washington Heights, New York City
Died 28 February 1968, New York City, New York

The short life of Frankie Lymon was a turbulent one. As the leader and soprano voice of the vocal group the Teenagers, he rose to world-wide fame at the age of thirteen. It was too much for him to handle. Five years later he was picked up from the gutter and at the age of 25 he was penniless and dead. His influence has been huge, especially on Michael Jackson and other Motown artists like Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross.

Frankie Lymon grew up in a poor extended family in Harlem. Musically gifted, he sang gospel songs with his family and played bongos with his brother Howard in a mambo group. In 1954 he joined a group called the Premiers, then consisting of two Puerto Ricans (Herman Santiago and Joe Negroni) and two black youngsters (Jimmy Merchant and Sherman Garnes), all born in 1940 or 1941. Lymon became the youngest member.

One night they were heard by Richard Barrett, lead singer of The Valentines and also a talent scout for George Goldner's Rama and Gee labels. Barrett brought them to Goldner to record a song they had written, "Why Do Birds Sing So Gay". Until then, Herman Santiago had been the lead singer, but Goldner was so taken with Frankie's high soprano voice that he forced the group to let him sing lead. Goldner also changed the name of the group to The Teenagers and the title of the song to "Why Do Fools Fall In Love". Released on Gee on January 1, 1956, the record was an immediate smash, peaking at # 6 pop and # 1 R&B. In the UK it was an even bigger hit, climbing all the way to the top of the charts and young Frankie was flown over to tour Britain, including a performance at the London Palladium (the youngest artist ever to top the bill on that prestigious stage).

"Why Do Fools Fall In Love" sold two million copies worldwide in 1956 alone. Dropping out of school, Lymon and the Teenagers hit the road for a succession of tours. Several other hits followed in 1956 : "I Want You To Be My Girl" (# 13), "I Promise To Remember" (# 57) and "The ABCs Of Love" (# 77). In 1956 the group appeared in the movie "Rock Rock Rock". The two songs they sang in the film, "I'm Not A Juvenile Delinquent" and "Baby Baby", did not chart in the USA, but they were big hits in the UK. A second movie appearance followed in 1957, in "Mister Rock and Roll". By then, Gee Records had been taken over by the larger Roulette label, owned by Morris Levy. The final Gee release ("Goody Goody", a # 20 hit, recorded in London during the UK tour) was also the first solo record by Lymon, as he split with the Teenagers in mid-1957. Both Lymon and the Teenagers saw their careers decline after the break-up. In July 1957, Lymon caused a small scandal when he was seen dancing with a white girl on Alan Freed's ABC TV programme "The Big Beat", which led to the show's immediate cancellation. In March 1958 Lymon recorded a fine album with covers of major rock & roll hits. A single from the LP, "Little Bitty Pretty One", was a # 58 hit in 1960. But it was his only hit on Roulette (also his final chart entry) and his novelty appeal waned when his voice broke.

Lymon had enjoyed the excesses of stardom, smoking cigars, drinking heavily and enjoying underage sex with women old enough to be his mother. But by 1961 he was in a bad shape. His Roulette contract was not renewed and he had developed a heroin addiction. His new managers made him undergo a drug rehabilitation programme at Manhattan General Hospital. He tried to get his career back on track, took dancing lessons and studied as a jazz drummer, but his drug habit endured. In February 1968, Frankie Lymon was discovered dead on the bathroom floor of his grandmother's New York apartment with a syringe by his side. The Teenager who never grew up was dead at the tragically young age of 25.

In 1981, Diana Ross scored an international hit with the Teenagers' most famous song, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and a struggle about royalties began. Three women, including the Platters' Zola Taylor, claimed to be Lymon's widow. Moreover, Herman Santiago and Jimmy Merchant claimed to have written the song, not Lymon and Goldner (who later sold his rights to Morris Levy). In 1989, after a lengthy trial, Emira Eagle was awarded Lymon's estate as his lawful widow. Three years later, a US Federal Court ruled that Santiago and Merchant were co-authors of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love", but their lawsuit had been filed too late and the authorship of the song remains in the names of Frankie Lymon and Morris Levy. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Lymon's life was the subject of a so-so movie, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love", in 1998.

More info :

Discography :

CD recommendation :
- Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Their Greatest Recordings (Jasmine JASCD 567, 2010, UK). 57 tracks on 2 CDs.
- For completists there is "Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers", Complete Recordings (Bear Family BCD 15782, 1994). 5 CDs. Includes the Teenagers' recordings without Lymon.

Acknowledgements : Marv Goldberg, Allmusic (anonymous biography), Wikipedia.

YouTube :
Why Do Fools Fall In Love :
I Want You To Be My Girl :
I Promise To Remember :
The ABCs of Love :
I'm Not A Juvenile Delinquent :
Baby Baby :
Goody Goody :
Portable On My Shoulder :
Little Bitty Pretty One :

Dik, May 2016

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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