One of the precious doo-wops I often listen is “Magic Kiss”. It’s one of my favorite oldie of them all and I’m thrilled each time I listen to it. This song is so vivid and strong that it simply makes me wanna get up and dance. These voices are so deep and electrifying so they made me wonder their story.

Google does not share many details about The Keystoners. I often ask myself how I stumbled upon “Magic Kiss” in the beginning. The Doo-Wop Blog mentions the for members who formed the band in Philadelphia: Norman Smith (Lead), Nathaniel “Mitch” Jackson (First Tenor), Al Singleton (Baritone), Goliath James (Bass). This is their discography, which seems to surprisingly end in 1992:

the-keystoners1956 – The Magic kiss / After i propose (Epic 9187/ Okeh 7210)
1956 – Magic kiss / I’d write about the blues (G&M 102)
1961 – Sleep & dream / T.V. girl (Riff 202)
1984 – I’ll allways remenber / I don’t Know why (Starbound 501)
1984 – That’s why i dream / Say Always (Starbound 502)
1988 – It’s too soon to know (Starbound 509)
1991 – It’s never too soon / Little Darlin’ (Starbound 512)
1991 – My heart Beats again / You’re all i want for christmas (Starbound 514)
1992 – Therm there eyes / Sweet was the wine (Starbound 516)
1992 – Gossip / Call My name (Starbound 515)

Then, I found a 1987 well-documented piece of article, presenting the story of this mysterious band:

Once upon a time, The Keystoners had a modest hit: “The Magic Kiss,” 1956. It didn’t crack the Top 100, but American Bandstand’s Dick Clark played it. “A nice little guy,” lead Norman Smith remembers. Philadelphia oldies maven Jerry Blavat later put the song on one of his For Collectors Only albums of faded singles. But by that time the Keystoners had disbanded.

The Keystoners’ Norman Smith and Mitch Jackson were singing on Philadelphia street corners before doo-wop began. “They’ve been singing together forever,” says Ken Luttrell, lead tenor for the Flip Sides, a homage group. Smith and Jackson were teenagers singing spirituals and silky pop songs from the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots. Then they heard Sonny Til and the Orioles, the Baltimore group that started the vocal-harmony craze with a 1948 song, “Too Soon to Know.” Til had taken the traditional four-part gospel harmony and added a lead tenor and a bluesy feel.

Smith, Jackson and three other guys copied the Orioles’ R&B style in a group they called the Ford Brothers, after two of their members. “John Ford (now dead) was probably the greatest bass singer ever,” says Karen Caplan, a researcher who works with Horner.

The Ford Brothers appeared each Sunday night on The Parisian Taylor Kiddie Hour radio show, broadcast live from the old Royal Theater at 16th and South Streets. Their biggest moment was playing Harlem’s Apollo Theater one amateur night.

“All we’d want to do was sing,” Smith says. “Two below zero, we’re out on the corner, singing.”

The Korean War broke up the group. After the war, the group got Alfred Singleton, dropped other guys, and became the Paragons. Around 1955, in honor of their native state, they took the name the Keystoners.

They made “The Magic Kiss” for a local record producer, Herman Gillespie. Epic Records bought the rights for national distribution, and the quartet – Smith, Jackson, Singleton and a bass singer named Goliath James – went to New York to rerecord the song. Their voices were stronger then: They say that Jackson, the high tenor, had to stand in another room while singing because he was too piercing for the studio microphone.

It was their moment. “In those days, all you wanted to do was make a record,” Smith says. “You didn’t care how much you got paid. You were a kid. You just wanted to have your voice on a record.”

They earned a total of about $150. “You got $50 a side,” Singleton says, ”and you got $25 for writing the song. We used that to buy uniforms.”

By 1958, they decided to quit music. For reasons they never understood, their record suddenly quit getting airplay. Their follow-up record, “After I Propose,” never got started.

For 25 years, the Keystoners turned their attention to families and jobs. Smith was a meat inspector with the Department of Agriculture. Jackson was a machinist. Singleton is a former postal worker. Then they all met and started playing as a tribute to the golden days.

Then, the information is again fading. I’ll search for more and update the post.


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