Doo-Wop's Boy Band: Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

The history of R&B's first crossover group

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Who were Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers?

They were the first boy-band in rock, a group of real teens singing about real teen issues -- meaning love, mostly. But like so many boy bands and teen idols to follow, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were far from innocent, and when the music industry chewed them up and spit them back out, everything started to unravel quickly.

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers' best known songs:

  • "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?"
  • "I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent"
  • "The ABC's of Love"
  • "I Want You to Be My Girl"
  • "I'm Not a Know It All"
  • "Goody Goody"
  • "I Promise to Remember"
  • "Who Can Explain?"
  • "Out in the Cold Again"
  • "Paper Castles"

Where you might have heard them "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" is perhaps one of the dozen or so deathless doo-wop hits that define the '50s era, but while you can be sure you'll continue to hear it in period pieces like American Graffiti and Hollywood Knights or talent shows like "The Voice" and "American Idol," their other songs sometimes get mined in weird places, like "I Promise to Remember" in an episode of "The Wire"  

Formed 1955 (Manhattan, New York City, NY)

Styles Doo-Wop, Rock and Roll, Pop, R&B

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers members in their classic lineup:

Frankie Lymon (b. September 30, 1942, Harlem, New York; d. February 28, 1968, Harlem, New York): lead vocal (soprano)
Herman Santiago (b.

February 18, 1941, Manhattan, New York): vocals (tenor)
Jimmy Merchant (b. February 10, 1940, Bronx, New York): vocals (tenor)
Joe Negroni (b. September 9, 1940, Manhattan, New York; d. September 5, 1978, Manhattan, New York): vocals (baritone)
Sherman Garnes (b. June 8, 1940, Manhattan, New York; d. February 26, 1977, Manhattan, New York): vocals (bass)

Claims to fame:

  • First rock and roll group consisting of teenagers
  • 13-year-old lead singer Frankie Lymon was a tremendous influence on all future vocal groups in R&B, doo wop, and rock
  • Established the template for boy and girl groups
  • A fine doo-wop outfit adept at many styles of music
  • Berry Gordy of Motown modeled his assembly-line approach to vocal groups after The Teenagers
  • Lymon popularized the falsetto lead in pop, R&B, and rock

The History of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

Early years

Formed in the Washington Heights section of New York, the half-black, half-Puerto Rican Teenagers began as an assemblage of schoolmates and neighbors practicing popular R&B in the hallways of their respective apartment buildings. A performance at Edward W. Stitt Junior High School got the attention of 12-year-old Frankie Lymon, there to play bongos in his brothers' mambo band. His seemingly innocent falsetto was a perfect fit, and he was soon singing with the group -- but not always as lead.

Success

An apartment neighbor gave the group some poems his girlfriend had written to him as letters -- partly in an attempt to get them to practice something new. One poem was worked into a song called "Why Do Birds Sing So Gay," and when a member of the doo-wop group The Valentines got the Teenagers an audition with the Rama label, it was further morphed into "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," featuring Lymon on lead.

It was a smash, and the group followed up with hits like "I'm Not a Juvenile Delinquent."

Later years

Unfortunately, despite the squeaky-clean image of the group, they were no innocents -- Harlem native Lymon had been a pimp at ten -- and when Frankie was convinced to go solo, his lack of hits and the eventual loss of his falsetto to puberty doomed him to a downward spiral. Lymon, who'd been abusing drugs at sixteen, eventually became a full-fledged heroin addict. He died in his grandmother's apartment at the age of 25; the group never matched their success with him on their own, either. Santiago is the only original member still touring with a Teenagers group.

More about Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

Other Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers fun facts and trivia:

  • Members went to the same public school in New York as The Cadillacs
  • Previously known as the Ermines, the Coupe DeVilles, and the Premiers
  • The Teenagers recorded two dozen takes of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?"
  • Lymon got Alan Freed's "Big Beat" show canceled by dancing with a white girl during an appearance
  • The group caused a controversy by allegedly trashing their hotel rooms on a British tour
  • Lymon's two, possibly three widows fought over his estate for years

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers awards and honors Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1993), Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2000), Grammy Hall of Fame (2001), Hollywood Walk of Fame (7083 Hollywood Blvd.)

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers songs, hits, and albums

#1 hits
R&B "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" (1956)

Top 10 hits
Pop "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" (1956)

R&B "Who Can Explain?" (1956), "I Want You to Be My Girl" (1956), "I Promise to Remember" (1956), "The ABC's of Love" (1956), "Out in the Cold Again" (1957)

Famous covers Diana Ross unexpectedly took a fun, sweet, bubblegummy version of "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" back to the Top 10 in 1981; The Beach Boys released it as the b-side to their classic 1964 anthem "Fun, Fun. Fun" 

Movies and TV As one of highly influential DJ Alan Freed's early concerns, the group appears in not one but two of his rock n' roll movies: Rock, Rock, Rock (1956) and Mister Rock and Roll (1957). Then of course there's the 1998 Halle Berry / Vivica A. Fox film Why Do Fools Fall in Love, one of the more famous and successful biopics of the era. "The ABCs of Love" is one of the songs that Laraine Newman's fictional songwriter pitches to a streetcorner group in the 1978 rock film classic American Hot Wax