One day in 1955 Richard ‘Ritchie’ Barrett heard The Premiers, a young multi-racial vocal group from the Bronx, singing on the stairs of a tenement on Manhattan’s 165th Street near his New York home.
He liked what he heard, became their manager, re-named the group Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers and took them to George Goldner’s Gee Records to record Why Do Fools Fall In Love?
Detroit-born Frankie Lymon was just 13 when the group scored a hit with the track in 1956, while the other four members were either 15 or 16.
Finding themselves overnight sensations the group left school and started performing full-time. Subsequent hits included I Want You To Be My Girl, I Promise To Remember, The ABC’s Of Love and Teenage Love.
By the summer of that year, Lymon had gone solo, recording his classic showbiz rocker Goody Goody, while The Teenagers pressed on, with a female replacement trying to emulate Lymon’s lead.
By the age of 18 though, Frankie Lymon had seen success go as quickly as it came and – with his voice naturally altered by age and hindered by a debilitating heroin addiction – he moved into nightclub singing.
By the tail-end of the Sixties Lymon seemed to have kicked his heroin habit. He had sought medical help to clean up, had joined the army and was planning to record for the Roulette label once more.
But on 28 February 1968, his body was found on the bathroom floor of his grandmother’s apartment at 470 West 18th Street in New York City.
Lymon had picked up a syringe full of smack for a celebratory blast before returning to Camp Gordon army base in Augusta, Georgia. The singer was dead at 26.
His death sparked a war of wives. Three women – all claiming to be married to the one-time wunderkind – fought legal battles to get their hands on accrued royalties.
The winner was Georgia schoolteacher Emira Lymon – other contenders included Platters singer Zola Taylor who claimed the pair had wed in Mexico in 1965, and Elizabeth Waters, who had been in jail in Philadelphia.
Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.
Philadelphia-born Ritchie Barrett moved on to become one of the most important figures in R&B history, helping shape The Cleftones, discovering The Chantels and Little Anthony & The Imperials, and producing the early output of The Isley Brothers and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. He eventually managed and produced The Three Degrees.
Barrett died on 3 August 2006, a victim of prostate cancer.