Vocal group Jay and the Americans were discovered while performing in student venues as The Harbor Lites at New York University in the late 1950s.
With Jay Traynor as lead singer, the group were produced for United Artists by Leiber and Stoller – who also suggested the name change – in 1962. The title song from the album She Cried reached the Top Ten. Other tracks on the album included standards such as Ben E. King‘s Stand by Me and The Drifters‘ Save The Last Dance for Me.
Traynor left the group after the next two singles did not fare as well and David Black took over on lead vocals (adopting the name “Jay”) for Only in America (1963), a Leiber–Stoller composition originally written for The Drifters. The next hits – Come a Little Bit Closer (1964) and the florid Cara Mia (1965) – were produced by Wes Farrell.
The group next recorded Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Some Enchanted Evening and Sunday and Me, one of Neil Diamond‘s first successful compositions.
Jeff Barry produced Try Some of This (1967), but Jay and the Americans’ biggest hit was another Drifters‘ song, This Magic Moment (1969).
After Walkin’ in the Rain reached the Top Twenty in 1970, the group’s recording career was halted by a legal dispute with United Artists. However, they continued to perform during the early seventies, with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan among their backing musicians.
Both Vance and Black made solo albums for Atlantic in 1975, while Black appeared with Frank Sinatra in the 1977 telefilm Contract on Cherry Street.
During the seventies and eighties, Black led the Americans at numerous ‘oldies’ concerts, climaxing in the twentieth anniversary of Richard Nader’s pioneering revival shows in New York in 1989.
In 2006, Jay Black filed for bankruptcy due to gambling debts, and his ownership of the name “Jay & The Americans” was sold by the bankruptcy trustee to Sandy Deane for $100,000.
With the name purchase, former members Deane, Howard Kane, and Marty Sanders reunited and recruited sound-alike singer John Reincke from Chicago (who also inherited the nickname “Jay” for continuity). The group then returned to touring in the US and internationally.
Black died on 22 October 2021.
Sandy Deane (Yaguda)
Howie Kane (Kirschenbaum)
John Jay Traynor
David ‘Jay’ Black
Kenny Vance (Rosenberg)