Proudly Canadian: The Diamonds

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Submitted by Sandy Graham

I am a huge rock ‘n’ roll fan – I even owned a nightclub in 1979 in downtown Toronto that played and hired nothing but vintage music and musicians. Route 66 was so popular it had three hour line-ups – right at the height of disco. That is when my love affair with rock ‘n’ roll began.

So many artists were considered American when they were really Canadian. I wanted to start writing about these guys and set some of the record (no pun intended) straight. I thought I would start with The Diamonds.

The Diamonds are a Canadian vocal quartet that rose to prominence in the 1950s and early 1960s with sixteen Billboard and Cashbox hit records. The original members were Dave Somerville (lead), Ted Kowalski (tenor), Phil Levitt (baritone), and Bill Reed (bass). They were most noted for interpreting and introducing rhythm and blues vocal group music to the wider pop music audience.

In 1953 Dave Somerville, while working as a sound engineer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto, Canada, met three other guys one evening who liked to sing as much as he did. They decided to form a stand-up quartet called The Diamonds. The group's first performance was in the basement of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Toronto singing in a Christmas minstrel show. The audience's reaction to the Somerville-led group was so tremendous that they decided that night they would turn professional.
After 18 months of rehearsal, they drove to New York and tied for 1st Place on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. The prize of being guest artist for a week on Godfrey’s show led to a recording contract with Coral Records. Professional musician, Nat Goodman, became their manager. Coral released four songs, the most notable being "Black Denim Trousers & Motorcycle Boots", written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

The next big step was an audition with Cleveland, Ohio, radio disc jockey, Dr. Bill Randle, who had aided in the success of some popular groups, such as The Crew-Cuts. Randle was impressed with The Diamonds and introduced them to a producer at Mercury Records who signed the group to a recording contract.

The Diamonds’ first recording for Mercury was "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" (originated by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers), which reached #12 in the U.S. as their first hit, and their follow-up hit single, "The Church Bells May Ring" (originally by The Willows), reached #14 in the U.S.

The Diamonds biggest hits were 1957's "Little Darlin'" (originally recorded by The Gladiolas, written by Maurice Williams who had the hit “Stay”) and "The Stroll", an original song written for the group by Clyde Otis, from an idea by Dick Clark, who wanted to create cool dances for his American Bandstand crowd. They also had a hit with “Silhouettes”, later to be recorded by Herman’s Hermits. With 3 gold records (Silhouettes,The Stroll and Little Darlin’) inductions into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, The Doo Wop Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and a resurgence of popularity by being on two soundtracks (Happy Days and American Graffiti) The Diamonds had an outstanding record of 33 appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s The Diamonds performed mostly in Las Vegas led, at first, by Mike Douglas, later being continued by Glenn Stetson. At one time, there were at least two groups performing under The Diamonds name, the other principally being led by John Felten until his death on May 17, 1982, in a plane crash. This created an issue in the late 1980s that ultimately went to court. The right to the use the name "The Diamonds" was awarded to Gary Owens (a member of Felten's group) with the original members being allowed to use their name on special occasions each year.

The past members included Dave Somerville, Ted Kowalski (deceased), Phil Levitt, Bill Reed (deceased). Bill New and Bob Duncan. The current lineup is Gary Owens, Sean Sooter, Jerry Siggins, and Jeff Dolan who are still performing as The Diamonds. ‘We’ve been pleased to find a growing audience of all age groups. They still love songs they remember and actually be able to sing the words to when they see us perform.’

Little Darlin’ The Diamonds