Tommy Hunt


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Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee with the Flamingos and Solo Artist
Soul singer Tommy Hunt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Fame as member of the influential Doo Wop group the Flamingos.  He came to fame with his dramatic background singing on the Flamingo's all time classic hit "I Only Have Eyes for You" and singing the lead on "Jump Children" in the rock and roll movie "Go, Johnny, Go".  Hunt began his recording career releasing singles with the Five Echoes in 1953 and 1954.  He was a member of the Flamingos from 1956 through 1961. After leaving the Flamingos Hunt scored several hit singles as a solo artist including "Human",  "I Am a Witness" and the Burt Bacharach song “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” . Hunt became a mainstay at the Apollo in New York singing on the bill with many Motown greats. Moving to Europe in the 1970s he found success in the Northern Soul Scene with the U.K. chart hits ‘Crackin’ Up’, ‘Loving On The Losing Side’, and ."One Fine Morning".  He continues to live and perform in Europe.

Tommy Hunt and the Flamingos were honored with the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000, and the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

The Rock and Rock Hall of Fame honors the Flamingo's for their contribution to popular music. With their elegant, intricate and flawless vocal arrangements, the Flamingos are widely regarded as one of the best vocal groups in music history. The graceful vocals and sharp choreography of Motown’s biggest stars – the Temptations, the Supremes, the Jackson 5 and the Miracles among them – owe a debt to the Flamingos, as do such paragons of Philadelphia soul as the Spinners, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Although many of the Flamingos’ recordings did not make the pop charts or even get heard beyond a regional fan base, they have with hindsight acquired a reputation as vocal-group classics." 

Singing His Way Into Trouble

Tommy Hunt was born Charles James Hunt on June 18, 1933 in Pittsburgh. He lived with his mother Georgianna Derico and his three sisters in the Perrysville area north of Pittsburgh. He began singing for his family and his mothers’ friends at the age of 7. His family attended a little church in the country called the Peace and Heaven Baptist Church. Hunt begged the minister to the let him join the choir. He became the youngest member of the choir and sang harmonies. During his early school years his friends, who did not think he had the looks of a Charles, called him Tommy instead. The name stuck and he used it the rest of his life.

Singing took over Tommy Hunt's life. He practiced for hours and entered talent contests. He often skipped school and neglected his homework spending his time singing. To ensure that he would attend classes Hunt was sent away to a reform school.   He was released at age 10.

Gospel on the Hill

During his teens in the early 1950s Hunt's family lived in Pittsburgh's Hill District where he was exposed to early R&B and 
great gospel music. WHOD DJ Mary Dee broadcast her daily show “Movin’ Around” from her storefront "Studio Dee” at the corner of Herron and Center avenues in the Hill district. On her show Mary played the latest records by African American artists, introduced local talent, and interviewed national celebrities. Mary broadcast behind a large storefront window as young fans looked in and requested songs. One of those young fans was Tommy Hunt.  He walked past Studio Dee on his way to school.  

Mary Dee introduced Tommy Hunt to the gospel music of Pittsburgh's Swan Silvertones, the S
oul Stirrers and his favorites the Dixie Hummingbirds.. Hunt went to every Pittsburgh appearance of the Hummingbirds even when he could not afford a ticket.  He would listen from the back stage door when they performed at the Roosevelt Theater on Centre Avenue.  After the show he waited outside to greet them.  Their smooth vocals and rich harmonies greatly influenced his singing style.

The Five Echos

Around 1952 at age 19  Tommy Hunt moved with his mother to the South Side of Chicago.  There he joined with three other kids from the 35th to 39th street area of the South Side to form the vocal group called the Flames.  Members of the group included future soul superstar Johnnie Taylor and Earl Lewis who had been a member of the Flamingo. The Flames changed their name to "The Five Echoes" when they learned there was another group named the Flames in Brooklyn'.  Walter Spriggs became their manager and got them a year long gig at the Right Spot Club in Kenosha, WI.  They performed covers of songs by the Orioles, the Dominoes, and others with Tommy Hunter singing lead tenor.

Back in Chicago the Five Echos signed with the south side based label Sabre. They released the single "Lonely Mood / Baby Come Back To Me" on Sabre in September of 1953.  It found airplay in several U.S. cities but did not reach the Billboard or Cashbox charts. 

Singing His Way Out of Trouble

Hunt left the Five Echoes when he was drafted into the airforce in late 1953.  He complete basic training and was assigned to an air force base.  Shortly after his base assignment Hunts mother was hit by a taxi in Chicago.  Suffering head injuries she was hospitalized in critical condition.  Hunt request leave so that he could be with his mother.  The base commander demanded the Hunt prove proof that his mother was injured.  The Red Cross sent documentation to hunt, but the commander refused to grant him leave saying he was needed on the base.  He asked Hunt "What is more important your mother or your country".  Angered by the commander's refusal and irking question Hunt throw a book-end at the commander.  He ran off, jumped a wall and left the base.  He made it back to Chicago to help his mother who recovered.

While AWOL in Chicago in 1954  Hunt sang and recorded again with the Five Echos.  They released the singles So Lonesome / Broke on Sabre and Tell Me Baby / I Really Do ‎ and Fool's Prayer / Tastee Freeze ‎ on  Vee Jay Records.  Hunt wrote the song Tastee Freeze. 

The FBI and police arrested Hunt in Chicago.  In the car to the station a police punches Hunt repeated in the face.  Hunt was court marshaled for desertion and sentenced for five years  to the Federal Penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth.  The Five Echos disbanded in 1954.

At Fort Leavenworth Hunt joined the prison Gospel Choir. He was asked to sing O Holy Night at the annual prison Christmas Shaw. His performance was well received by the inmates and prison staff. Two weeks after the Christmas show the warden called Hunt into his office and commended him for his singing performance. Five months later Hunt was surprised when he was granted an early release getting out of jail three years ahead of schedule. Having sung his way out of jail Hunt returned to Chicago.   

International Stardom with the Flamingos

Back in Chicago Hunt when Hunt was singing at a club he was approached by Zeke Carey a member of the Flamingos.  Zeke had just been drafted into the Army and ask Hunt if he wanted to join the Flamingos as his replacement.  Tommy Hunt joined the Flamingos in October of 1956. 

The Flamingos, who were formed in 1952, had released several singles and had first national chart hit with "I'll Be Home" that which went to #5 on Billboard's R&B chart in 1955 on the Chess / Checker label.

In April of 1957 the Flamingos consisted of Nate Nelson, Tommy Hunt, Terry Johnson, Paul Wilson, and Jake Carey.  The signed with Decca Records releasing the single "The Ladder of Love".   Zeke Carey rejoined the the Flamingos in 1958 and hunt stayed on making the group a sextet.  The Flamingos moved to New York and signed with the End label  Their first release on End Records was the pop chart hit with "Lovers Never Say Goodbye" in 1958. They released their first album Flamingo Serenade.  Their 1959 cover of the Al Dubin/Harry Warren ballad "I Only Have Eyes for You." from the 1934 Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler film Dames reached number three on the R&B charts and number 52 on the pop charts.

In 1959 the Flamingos appeared in the Alan Freed movie, Go, Johnny, Go, singing and energetically dancing to the song "Jump Children". The Flamingos in addition to their rich harmonies also became known for their their choreography and stage show. Their dancing influenced the Temptations and other Motown groups.

During 1959 through 1961 the Flamingo hit the charts again with Lovers Never Say Goodbye (25), Love Walked In (88), Nobody Loves Me Like You (23), and Mio Amore (74),I Was Such A Fool (71) and more.
  

Solo Career on Scepter Records

Tommy left the Flamingos in 1961 to pursue a solo career. Luther Dixon the chief of A&R for Scepter Records approached Hunt three days after he left the Flamingos, Dixon loved Hunt's voice and asked him to record the song ‘Parade Of Broken Hearts’ and a B side. A New York deejay Jocko introduced the ‘Parade Of Broken Hearts’ but accidentally put on the B side song Human. Listeners rang the station's phones off the hook requesting to hear it again. "Human" became Tommy Hunt's 
biggest hit landing at number five on the R&B charts.

Hunt continued to record for Scepter through 1964 scoring several more chart hits with he Door is Open (1962), I am a Witness (1963), He recorded the album I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself) in late 1962 that was never released. Tracks from that album and his Specter single were released in 1992 on Capricorn's Scepter Records Story triple CD set.

Dynamo Records

After Specter Hunt recorded on Atantic, Capitol and the  Dynamo label.  He released five singles on Dynamo from 1966 through 1968.  His single "The Biggest Man" climbed to number 29 on the R&B chart in 1967.

Performing Career Takes Hunt to Europe

Hunt performed around the U.S. appearing on R&B caravan tours and at Chitlin’ Circuit Clubs.  He appeared frequently at the Apollo in Harlem performing in shows with Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Diana Ross, the Supremes, The Shirelles, Dionne Warwick, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley & Sam and Dave. 

In 1969 Hunt went on a USO tour of Germany and found his market. .After the British invasion wiped out the Doo Wop era in the U.S. Hunt returned to Europe appearing in Germany, Belgium, and the U.K.  
Hunt  became a major star in the U.K. Northern Soul Scene after he sang at the 1975 second anniversary of the famous Wigan Casino soul music dance club in Manchester.  The club’s owners Russ Winstanly and Mike Walker helped Hunt land a record deal with the Spark label. 

Hunt landed several singles on the U.K. charts recording for the Spark label including ‘Crackin’ Up’ (1975) and ‘Loving On The Losing Side’ (1976).  He won the Male Vocalist of the Year for 1982/1983 from the Club Mirror Awards.

With a decline in the Norther Soul scene Hunt  moved to Amsterdam in 1986 and performed around the work,  He moved back to the U.K. in 1997 when the Northern soul scene revived.  He still resides in Yorkshire.

Hunt's Soulful Life

Working with Jan Warburton, Hunt wrote his autobiography "Only Human, My Soulful Life"  which was released in December of 2008.  In the book Hunt tells the story of how he survived family fights, reform school, prison, crooked agents, bankruptcy and cocaine to sing soul music on five continents and record hits songs in three decades. 
Tommy Hunt Hits
The Flamingos - Jump Children
Tommy Hunt -One Fine Morning
The Five Echos 
The Flamingos
Sparks Records
Autobiography
Tommy 2013