Willie Winfield, whose silken lead vocals with the Harptones within the Nineteen Fifties made him a favourite of doo-wop connoisseurs, regardless that the group by no means achieved large mainstream industrial success, died on July 27 in a hospital in Brooklyn. He was 91.
The trigger was cardiac arrest, his daughter Tina Winfield mentioned.
Mr. Winfield’s angelic voice was first heard within the early days of rock ’n’ roll, and he continued to sing when doo-wop teams became nostalgia acts within the Nineteen Seventies. He toured with varied incarnations of the Harptones till he retired in 2019, when he was 89.
“He had top-of-the-line voices round,” Dick Fox, a producer who booked the Harptones dozens of occasions on his reside oldies reveals, mentioned in a telephone interview. “His voice was distinctive, and it lasted his entire life. He by no means misplaced the upper register.”
In the course of the Nineteen Fifties, Mr. Winfield and the Harptones carried out on the Apollo Theater and at reveals promoted by the influential disc jockeys Alan Freed (on the Brooklyn Paramount) and Murray the Ok (at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey). They have been seen within the 1956 musical revue movie “Rockin’ the Blues.”
Among the many group’s best-known songs have been “A Sunday Sort of Love,” “Since I Fell for You” and “My Recollections of You.”
“Singing the songs for me feels recent each time,” Mr. Winfield informed the critic David Hinckley in a 1985 interview for The Day by day Information. “It’s the way in which folks reply. Abruptly, I neglect my age. I lose all sense of all the things besides the track. I am going again to the primary time we recorded, after we had no concept what would occur.”
Robert Palmer, the chief pop music critic of The New York Occasions, wrote in 1982 that Mr. Winfield’s voice had “immaculate pitch and an insinuating approach with a phrase.”
However regardless of Mr. Winfield’s memorable voice, the Harptones’ beautiful harmonies and the jazz-inspired preparations of Raoul Cita, their pianist, they by no means reached the identical degree of economic success that contemporaries just like the Drifters, the Cadillacs and the Flamingos did.
Willie Lee Elijah Winfield was born on Aug. 24, 1929, in Surry, Va. His father, additionally named Willie, was a service provider seaman. His mom, Christine (Cooke) Winfield, was a homemaker.
Mr. Winfield sang in a church group in Norfolk and together with his brothers Clyde and Jimmy. After he moved to New York in 1950, he and his brothers sang on avenue corners with two different males and practiced underneath the Manhattan Bridge.
In 1953, some members of one other doo-wop act, the Skylarks, merged with some from the Winfield brothers’ group, forming a brand new group, which they first known as the Harps and, quickly after, the Harptones. Along with Mr. Winfield and Mr. Cita, the lineup consisted of William Galloway, Billy Brown, Nicky Clark and William Dempsey. Mr. Dempsey is the one member of the unique group who continues to be alive.
The Harptones “demand consideration in any critical dialogue of the really immortal acts of the doo-wop period,” Jason Ankeny wrote on the web site AllMusic. However success proved elusive.
Charlie Horner, who runs the Traditional City Concord web site, mentioned in an interview that the Harptones have been common in New York and different cities within the Northeast, in addition to in Chicago, however that their native successes didn’t add as much as any nationwide hits.
Nonetheless, he mentioned, if Billboard’s rhythm-and-blues chart had a High 100 (as an alternative of a High 10 or 20) throughout the Harptones’ best years, within the mid-Nineteen Fifties, they may have had as many as 10 hits. Their solely chart hit, “What Will I Inform My Coronary heart,” peaked at No. 96 on the Billboard Sizzling 100 in 1961.
The truth that the Harptones recorded for a succession of small labels with restricted distribution didn’t assist their trigger.
“At one time we determined to attempt to promote our personal information,” Mr. Winfield mentioned within the 1985 Day by day Information interview, which Mr. Hinckley repurposed final week on the web site Medium. “It was like, give the D.J. $75 to play the document. Our producers ought to have been caring for that.”
Within the mid-Nineteen Sixties, Mr. Winfield started delivering prayer playing cards to funeral houses; he retired from that job in 1995. He continued to carry out half time with variations of the Harptones, notably as background vocalists on “René and Georgette Magritte With Their Canine After the Warfare,” a young track on Paul Simon’s album “Hearts and Bones” (1983) that recollects the doo-wop music that Mr. Simon grew up listening to.
Along with his daughter Tina, Mr. Winfield is survived by one other daughter, Stephanie Winfield; his sons, Vincent, Timothy and DeWayne; two sisters, Serita Alexander and Goldie Bronson; two brothers, Clyde and Abraham; 44 grandchildren; and 22 great-grandchildren. His spouse, Alice (Battle) Winfield, died in 2011.
At Mr. Winfield’s last efficiency, at a doo-wop weekend in April 2019 at Half Hole Hills East Excessive College in Dix Hills, N.Y., he wrapped up his profession with one other signature ballad, “Life Is However a Dream.”
He sat on a stool till the top of the track and, after the group sang “Will you participate in,” he rose, steadying himself on his cane, and completed the road and the track in his acquainted tenor — “my life … my love? That’s my dream.”
And he hit the excessive notes.