The Five Satins did not appear. But their standard, “In the Still of the Night,” showed up twice. The audience at Beach Channel High School’s 18th Anniversary Doo Wop Spectacular on Saturday, March 26, heard one version of the song from Manhattan Skyline, a tribute group of performers from various 1960′s ensembles.
Then, Rockaway’s own Kenny Vance and his Planotones belted their interpretation as the show came to a close at 12:28 a.m. Shh… Don’t tell the Board of Ed. We were supposed to be out of there at midnight!
Rarely do you see hundreds of people peacefully enjoying themselves on the peninsula after midnight–particularly at an event in which alcohol is not involved. When the concert ended, we stepped out into freezing temperatures and a stiff wind off the bay. Thankfully, the long evening of music had warmed us from the inside out!
Another rarity–this concert has always attracted Brooklyn and Queens mainlanders to the peninsula in droves. And they pay a good price for tickets ($37-45), with a portion of the proceeds donated to the Susan G. (Komen) Memorial Scholarship Fund. Volunteers from Lew Simon’s political clubhouse usually step up to sell the 50-50 tickets, and last night the pot was over $800–Rockaway’s version of the Mega Millions jackpot.
Yet, the long-running annual extravaganza may be coming to a close after 18 years, a victim of rising production costs, changes at the Beach Channel campus, and shrinking audiences. Forty-five dollars may seem like a lot for a ticket to anything that doesn’t include a meal. But, you get five hours of top-quality music, plus a chance to buy a cupcake home-baked by the BCHS home economics students, under the guidance of their teacher, local Sheila Murray. That’s on a par with the Rockaway Theatre Company, which charges $20 for a 3-hour Broadway musical, and also offers yummy home-baked cakes for sale.
Back to doo wop. If you think that a bunch of 70-something guys from Staten Island and Brookyn can’t convincingly carry off the dance moves on an R&B favorite, you would be very wrong. You haven’t seen the Fireflies. I learned to dance on the urban playgrounds of 1960′s Cleveland, with an all-R&B soundtrack, so I’m a pretty tough critic of the “white guy shuffle.” The Fireflies exceeded my expectations on that score, and so did virtually the entire group of performers, from the U.K.’s Gene Pitney/Roy Orbison impersonator, Tony Lee, to the well-known Vito & the Salutations (theirs was one of the more bankable 1960′s recordings of “Gloria”).
However, the group that got me all misty-eyed was the Quotations, with their rendition of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
Kenny Vance is my hat- and sunglasses-clad, Beach 137 Street neighbor who is often seen around the area on his bicycle. I think he must be close to 70, yet he seems to be a kid at heart. Kenny achieved fame in the 1960′s, alongside lead singer Jay Black, as a member of Jay & The Americans. It’s always a treat to hear him spin memories of teen “makeout parties” in a Neponsit basement, back when he was known as Kenny Rosenberg.
Last evening, he proved (several times) that he still has the pipes to hold the high notes as well as his more-famous counterpart. On the stage at BCHS, Kenny and the Planotones gave the group’s signature hit, “Cara Mia,” way more passion and energy than Black did when he performed it with three fairly listless back-up singers on the recent PBS oldies special produced by T.J. Lubinsky. The Planotones just ooze togetherness, which I find so appealing. And who can resist the unabashedly romantic ballads of that era, when they transport us back “Under the Boardwalk” or “Up on the Roof?” Perhaps your 18-year-old heavy metal fan would be a lone hold-out.
In short, the last time I saw the stage at BCHS rocked quite so solidly was about five years ago, during one of the final concerts of the school’s gospel choir, under the direction of the late Ronald Kornegay, a phenomenon whose life was cut short in a truly untimely fashion.
So, the peninsula bids goodbye to doo wop, and possibly, BCHS and its memories, this year.
All text and photos are copyrighted by Vivian R. Carter, 2011, or used with permission of the source.