Little Anthony & the Imperials enjoyed one of the longest career runs of any doo-wop group that began in the 1950s. From the beginning, Little Anthony's tender yet powerful voice was unique, and his ballads, along with great R&B and dance tunes, the Imperials repertoire was distinct and first-class.
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. D.J. Alan Freed came up with the name "Little Anthony."
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The B-side, "Two Kinds of People," was also a hit. The group followed up with "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko Ko Bop" in 1960. When their success dwindled in 1961, Little Anthony 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.
Little Anthony returned in 1963, replacing Seymour. The group's classic line-up – Gourdine, Ernest Wright, Clarence Collins, and Sammy Strain – was now complete. With the help of record producer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo - a childhood friend of the group - in 1965-66 the Imperials found success on the new DCP (Don Costa Productions) label with the pop-soul records "I'm On The Outside (Looking In)," "Goin' Out Of My Head," "Hurt So Bad," "I Miss You So" "Take Me Back," "Hurt" and in 1969, "Out of Sight, Out Of Mind."
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.
The Imperials then joined United Artists Records where they recorded "World Of Darkness," "Better Use Your Head," "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," the James Bond motion picture theme.
They moved to Avco Records in the early 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."
Ernest Wright left in 1971 to join Tony Williams' Platters. He was replaced by Kenny Seymour, who was again replaced after a short time by Bobby Wade. Strain left in 1972 to join the O'Jays, and was replaced by the group's choreographer, Harold Jenkins. Little Anthony left for a second and a more successful solo career. The trio of Collins, Wade, and Jenkins continued as "the Imperials."
Collins, Wright, Strain, and Little Anthony 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."
Soon after, Sammy Strain left the O'Jays, and permanently returned to the Imperials. 1992, the year of the group's reformation, just happened to also be the 40th anniversary of "Dick Clark's American Bandstand," and he invited the Imperials to appear as part of the televised special celebration.
|Performing in 2005|
Anthony, 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.
The Imperials - along with the Dells - are one of few 1950s-era R&B groups still touring with the great majority of their original members. 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.
Little Anthony and the Imperials released their first new LP in several years in October 2008, entitled You'll Never Know.
Little Anthony and the Imperials were inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on October 15, 2006, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, and received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Award in 1993. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 4, 2009.
Imperials member Sammy Strain is one of the few artists in popular music history that is a double RRHOF inductee, having been inducted with the O'Jays in 2005, and the Imperials in 2009.
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