Little Anthony and the Imperials is a rhythm and blues/soul/doo-wop vocal group from New York, first active in the 1950s. Lead singer Jerome Anthony "Little Anthony" Gourdine was noted for his high-pitched falsetto voice, influenced by Jimmy Scott. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 4, 2009, 23 years after the group's first year of eligibility for induction.
In 1957, a doo-wop group known as the Chesters existed with members Clarence Collins, Tracy Lord, Nathaniel Rodgers, and Ronald Ross. Anthony Gourdine, a former member of the Duponts, joined as lead vocalist. Ernest Wright took over from Ross, and the group recorded briefly for Apollo Records.
Changing their name to the Imperials, they signed with End Records in 1958. Their first single was "Tears on My Pillow", which was an instant hit. (While playing this song, D.J. Alan Freed came up with the name "Little Anthony".) The B-side, "Two People in the World", was also a hit. The group followed up with "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko Ko Bop" in 1960. When their success dwindled in 1961, Gourdine left to attempt a solo career. Some members left, and the line-up then became Collins, Wright, Sammy Strain, and George Kerr. Kerr was replaced by Kenny Seymour after a short time. This line-up had little success.
Gourdine returned in 1963, replacing Seymour. The group's classic line-up – Gourdine, Wright, Collins, and Strain – was now complete. With the help of record producer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo (a childhood friend of the group), the Imperials found success on the new DCP (Don Costa Productions) label with the dramatic pop-soul records "I'm On The Outside (Looking In)" (1964), "Goin' Out Of My Head" (1964), "Hurt So Bad" (1965), "I Miss You So" (1965), "Take Me Back" (1965), "Hurt" (1966), "Better Use Your Head" (1966), and "Out of Sight, Out Of Mind" (1969). In 1965, the Imperials appeared on the CBS-TV special Murray The K - It's What's Happening, Baby, where they performed "I'm Alright" before a live audience in New York at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre. At the height of their career, the group made two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, at the time television's top talent showcase, on March 28, 1965, and again on January 25, 1970. They also performed on many other popular television variety shows during the sixties, includingShindig!, Hullabaloo, Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall, Soul Train, Dick Clark's American Bandstand, and The Tonight Show.
The Imperials then joined United Artists Records and were assigned to its Veep Records subsidiary, and then to the parent label itself, where they recorded "World Of Darkness", "If I Remember To Forget", "Yesterday Has Gone", and the Thom Bell-produced "Help Me Find A Way (To Say I Love You)".
Albums from this era include: Reflections, Payin' Our Dues, Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (named after their hit cover of The Five Keys song), and Movie Grabbers, which included a rendition of "You Only Live Twice", theJames Bond motion picture theme.
They recorded three singles for Janus Records including "Father Father", which they later performed on the Merv Griffin Show. Then they went to Avco Records in the mid-1970s and recorded On A New Street, and charted with the songs "La La La (At the End)" and "I'm Falling In Love With You". This album was produced by both Bell and Randazzo. A second LP for Avco Records entitled Hold On was withdrawn from sale in the USA after the failure of the title track to sell and AVCO's subsequent financial difficulties. The group appeared on Soul Train on May 26, 1973. By this time, Strain and Wright had left the group, although both would eventually return.
Wright left in 1971 to join Tony Williams' Platters. He was replaced by the returning Kenny Seymour, who was again replaced after a short time by Bobby Wade. Strain left in 1972. He had a restaurant in Los Angeles and was not singing for three years; at the end of that period he was briefly a member of The Fandangos with Lonnie Cook and Alvin Walker. He also auditioned for the lead voice of Arpeggio. Strain had been replaced by Harold Jenkins as a member of The Imperials. He then joined The O'Jays as the replacement for original O'Jays member William Powell, who left the group due to illness. (Powell died of cancer shortly thereafter.) Jenkins had already been functioning as the group's choreographer. Jenkins and Seymour had previously performed together in the Impacts. Little Anthony left for a second (more successful) attempt at a solo career. The trio of Collins, Wade, and Jenkins continued as "the Imperials". Collins left in 1988, and was replaced by Sherman James. They then toured as "Bobby Wade's Imperials". James left in 1992, and was replaced by Ron Stevenson.
That same year, Collins, Wright, Strain, and Gourdine reunited for a concert at Madison Square Garden. This reunion proved to be a success. When the decision was made for the foursome to tour together again, Wade relinquished the Imperials name, with his group becoming "Bobby Wade's Emperors". They[which?] became the house band at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. At this point Strain left the O'Jays, and permanently returned to the Imperials. 1992, the year of the group's reformation, was the 40th anniversary of Dick Clark's American Bandstand, and he invited the Imperials to appear as part of the televised special celebration.
On August 30, 1997, the group was featured on NBC's Today show as part of that show's "Summer Concert Series", and appeared on two popular PBS specials: Rock, Rhythm, and Doo-Wop and Soul Spectacular: 40 Years Of R&B in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Also, during this period, they recorded two new CDs: Little Anthony & the Imperials – Live: Up Close & Personal (the group's first ever live album), and Pure Acapella, an all a capella CD showcasing the group's vocal talents on several classic 50's doo-wop songs, including their own hit, "Two People In The World", which was written by Imperials member Ernest Wright. These two recordings marked the first time that the classic line-up had recorded together in over 30 years.
Gourdine, Collins, Wright, and Strain continued touring as "Little Anthony and the Imperials", until Strain retired in 2004, and Harold Jenkins returned to take his place.In 2010, Jenkins also retired, and was replaced by Robert DeBlanc. As of 2012, the Imperials are (along with the Dells), one of the few 1950s-era R&B groups still touring with the great majority of their original members (Gourdine, Collins and Wright). They are also one of the very few late 1950s-based groups to successfully re-invent themselves and go on to maintain consistent recording success well into the 1960s/1970s, while many of their contemporaries had long since faded from the charts.
Little Anthony and the Imperials released their first new LP in several years in October 2008, entitled "You'll Never Know", and they performed on the Late Show with David Letterman on August 26, 2008. On theirDiscovery album, the electronic music duo Daft Punk sampled Little Anthony and the Imperials' 1977 recording of "Can You Imagine" for the track "Crescendolls".
As of February 2014, Gourdine is touring the UK with David Gest's Legends of Soul where he performs "Tears on My Pillow" and "Goin' Out of My Head".
Little Anthony and the Imperials received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award in 1993. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on October 15, 2006. On January 14, 2009, it was announced that Little Anthony and the Imperials had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to Anthony, Wright, Collins, and Strain, original Imperials member Nathaniel "Nate" Rogers was also present to be honored, and deceased original Imperials member Tracy Lord was inducted posthumously. The group was inducted by longtime friend, Miraclesmember Smokey Robinson. In October 2009, the group performed "Two People in the World" at the 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert.
Imperials member Sammy Strain is one of the few artists in popular music history who is a double Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, having been inducted with The O'Jays in 2005 and the Imperials in 2009.
- "Tears on My Pillow / Two People In the World". End 1027 (July 1958) - POP #4, R&B #2
- Original pressings shown as by "The Imperials", later changed to "Little Anthony and the Imperials"
- "So Much / Oh Yeah". End 1036 (December 1958) - POP #87, R&B #2
- "Wishful Thinking / When You Wish Upon A Star". End 1039 (March 1959) - POP #79
- "A Prayer And A Juke Box / River Path". End 1047 (June 1959) - POP #81
- "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop / I'm Still In Love With You". End 1060 (November 1959) - POP #24, R&B #14
- "My Empty Room / Bayou, Bayou, Baby". End 1067 (April 1960) - POP #86
- "Please Say You Want Me / So Near Yet So Far". End 1086 (February 1961) - POP #104
- "I'm on the Outside (Looking In) / Please Go". DCP 1104 (August 1964) - POP #15, R&B #8
- Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1240
- "Goin' Out Of My Head / Make It Easy On Yourself". DCP 1119 (October 1964) - POP #6, R&B #6
- Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1241
- "Hurt So Bad / Reputation". DCP 1128 (January 1965) - POP #10, R&B #3
- Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1242
- "Take Me Back / Our Song". DCP 1136 (June 1965) - POP #16, R&B #15
- Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1243
- "I Miss You So / Get Out Of My Life". DCP 1149 (September 1965) - POP #34, R&B #23
- Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1244
- "Hurt / Never Again". DCP 1154 (December 1965) - POP #51
- Re-released in 1966 on Veep 1245
- "Better Use Your Head / The Wonder Of It All". Veep 1228 (April 1966) - POP #54; UK #42
- "You Better Take It Easy Baby / Gonna Fix You Good (Every Time You're Bad)". Veep 1233 (August 1966) - POP #125
- "It's Not The Same / Down On Love", a/ANTHONY & The IMPERIALS. Veep 1248 (October 1966) - POP #92
- "Don't Tie Me Down / Where There's A Will There's A Way To Forget You", a/ANTHONY & The IMPERIALS. Veep 1255 (February 1967) - POP #123
- "I'm Hypnotized / Hungry Heart", a/ANTHONY & The IMPERIALS. Veep 1278 (February 1968) - POP #98
- "Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind / Summers's Comin'In". United Artists 50552 (July 1969) - POP #52, R&B #38
- "The Ten Commandments Of Love / Let The Sunshine In". United Artists 50598 (October 1969) - POP #82
- "Don't Get Close / It'll Never Be The Same Again". United Artists 50625 (January 1970) - POP #116
- "World Of Darkness / The Change". United Artists 50677 (June 1970) - POP #121
- "Help Me Find A Way (To Say I Love You) / If I Love You". United Artists 50720 (November 1970) - POP #92, R&B #32
- "I'm Falling In Love With You / What Good Am I Without You". Avco 4635 (April 1974) - POP #86, R&B #25
- "Hold On (Just A Little Bit Longer) / I've Got To Let You Go (Part 1)", a/ANTHONY & The IMPERIALS. Avco 4651 (March 1975) - POP #106, R&B #79
- "Who's Gonna Love Me / Better Take Time To Love", a/The IMPERIALS. Omni 5501 (May 1978) - R&B #73, UK #17
- We Are The Imperials, featuring Little Anthony – End LP 303 (1959)
- Shades of the 40's – End LP 311 (1960)
- The above two albums were issued only in mono
- I'm On The Outside Looking In – DCP DCL-3801 (Mono)/DCS-6801 (Stereo) (1964) -- Pop #135
- Re-released in 1966 on Veep VP 13510 (Mono)/VPS 16510 (Stereo)
- Goin' Out Of My Head – DCP DCL-3808/DCS-6808 (1965) -- Pop #74
- Re-released in 1966 on Veep VP 13511/VPS 16511
- The Best Of Little Anthony & The Imperials – DCP DCL-3809/DCS-6809 (1965) -- Pop #97
- Re-released in 1966 on Veep VP 13512/VPS 16512
- Payin' Our Dues – Veep VP 13513/VPS 16513 (1966)
- Reflections – Veep VP 13514/VPS 16514 (1967)
- Movie Grabbers – Veep VP 13516/VPS 16516 (1967)
- The Best of Anthony & The Imperials, Volume 2 – Veep VPS 16519 (1968)
- The above four albums are credited as "Anthony & The Imperials"
- Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind – United Artists UAS 6720 (1969) -- Pop #172
- On A New Street – Avco AV-11012 (1973)
- Hold On – Avco SWX 6263 (1975)
(Only demo copies existed until 2013, when this album was released in a 2-for-1 CD with The Imperials' "On A New Street" album by Soulmusic.Com Records