Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, October 5, 2001

Being a racially mixed group in '61 was progressive
but impractical for the Marcels.

The Marcels took risks but
they always stayed in tune

By Tim Ryan

The Marcels were one of several doo wop-influenced American vocal groups to score success in the early '60s, despite the passing of the genre's golden age. The original group included Cornelius Nini Harp (lead singer), Ronald Bingo Mundy (tenor), Fred Johnson (bass), Gene Bricker (tenor) and Richard Knauss (baritone), all native to Pittsburgh, Pa. Allen Johnson soon replaced Knauss, and Mundy walked out on the group during this same period. Walt Maddox replaced Bricker three months after the group formed.

Doo Wop Hop

Starring: The Platters, Cadillacs, Penguins, Marcels and Toys; with two dance floors.

When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

Where: Blaisdell Center arena.

Tickets: $25 and $35.

Call: 526-4400.

The Marcels achieved fame for the wildest version of Rodgers and Hart's "Blue Moon" ever attempted. The song topped both the American and U.K. charts in 1961. The quartet scored another U.S. Top 10 hit that year with "Heartaches."

Although the Marcels perform about 40 concerts a year, the rescheduled Doo Wop Hop tomorrow night at the Blaisdell Arena will be the group's first Hawaii performance. The Star-Bulletin caught up with Maddox, 64, at his Pittsburgh home.

Question: Where did the Marcels get their name?

Answer: It's a French word for a type of hairstyle that's very wavy. A guy in the group had a style like that, which back then we called a "Process."

Q: Why was the song "Blue Moon" chosen to record?

A: It was a choice between "Blue Moon" and "Heart and Soul" and our producer Stu Philips liked "Blue Moon," so we made that song fit to the style of another song we had called "Zoom."

Q: How many takes did it take to record "Blue moon?"

A: Just two, and the first was very close to the released second take.

Q: What were the circumstances of you joining the group?

A: We were unusual because the Marcels was a racially mixed group: Richard Knauss and Gene Bricker were white; Fred Johnson, Cornelius Harp and Ronald Mundy were black. The country really wasn't ready for a mixed group in 1961. On some of the tours they had to jump off when we headed south and we didn't have as much work as you would think at the time, even with a No. 1 record for 13 weeks, so changes were made.

Q: The Marcels' other Tin Pan Alley remake was "Heartaches."

A: Yeah, Stu sent the song to us and the guys in the group thought it was awful. I called a group member at 3 a.m. and told him I've got our next hit because I created the new vocal arranging on "Heartaches."

Q: Wasn't it risky to be recording these kinds of songs when rock 'n' roll was king?

A: Not for us. It was gimmick to do the Tin-Pan alley songs. Part of the business back then was having a gimmick.

Q: How do you explain the Marcels' success?

A: Being the first with a particular style always attracts attention but then we also had awfully good harmonies.

For Tim Ryan's interview with The Penguins' Cleve Duncan that ran recently, go online at

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