Lee Andrews (June 2, 1936 - March 16, 2016) was the lead singer of the American doo-wop quintet The Hearts which were recognized as one of the finest doo-wop groups of the '50s.
Arthur Lee Andrews Thompson was born in Goldsboro, North Carolina (June 2, 1936) to a musical family. His father, Beechie Thompson, had been with the Dixie Hummingbirds gospel group. Around 1940 Lee’s family moved to the Woodland Avenue and 49th Street section of Southwest Philadelphia, where Lee grew up. He attended Bartram High School, where, in 1952, he helped to form a vocal group called the Dreamers. This group was comprised of: Lee (lead), Royalston "Roy" Calhoun (first tenor), Thomas "Butch" Curry (second tenor), Jimmy McCalister (baritone), John Young (bass), and Kenny Lowe (piano).
Their influences were the usual: the Orioles, the 5 Keys, the 5 Royales, and the Ravens. Lee's special influences were Nat "King" Cole and Bing Crosby; he loved Pop music, and it shows in the recordings, which are not as heavily R&B as those of their contemporaries. They originally sang spirituals, guided by Butch's aunt. But little by little they expanded their repertoire to include Rhythm & Blues.
In 1954, one of the big wheels in Philadelphia was DJ Kae Williams (nicknamed "The Jet Pilot") who encouraged local groups to come up and audition for him, and that's just what the Dreamers did, singing "Maybe You'll Be There" and "Bells Of St. Mary." You could tell that Williams was impressed; he instantly became their manager. A couple of months later, they recorded a few demos, but since there already was a local group called the Dreamers, a name change was needed. Jimmy McCalister saw a heart on a secretary's desk, and "The Hearts" were born. At the same time, Arthur Thompson used his two middle names to become "Lee Andrews."
The demos were released by Rainbow Records but shakeups started occurring. With nothing happening for the group, Jimmy McCalister joined the Navy, in 1955, to be replaced by baritone Ted Weems. Kenny Lowe left, and Gerald Thompson became the new pianist. Finally, Kae Williams gave up on Rainbow. The Hearts had all graduated from High School by this time, and both Lee and Roy ended up working in the processing plant of Philadelphia's Gotham Records. Although still under contract to Kae Williams, they did no recording at all in 1955.
One day the Hearts found out that their contract with Kae was invalid, since they had all been minors when they'd signed it. That was the day that Lee and Roy started pestering their employer, Gotham owner Ivin Ballen, to listen to the group. He put them off repeatedly, until, in late 1955 he finally agreed to an audition. He must have liked them, since he signed them to Gotham on January 3, 1956.
A Gotham employee, Bill Scott, became their manager. Recording them at Gotham's Federal Street studio, in May he released "Bluebird Of Happiness" backed with "Show Me The Merengue". After releasing a few more unsuccessful singles they tried the Main Line label. Finally, after three years with no hits, the luck of Lee Andrews and the Hearts was about to change. In June 1957, Main Line issued "Long Lonely Nights"/"The Clock" (both re-recordings of tunes originally done on Gotham). "Long Lonely Nights" was an instant local hit. In fact, it was doing so well that Atlantic Records wee initially interested, but Chess was more amenable, and in July it was released on the Chess label. By the time "Long Lonely Nights" had peaked, it had gone to #45 on the Pop charts and #11 on R&B.
After recording more singles the group switched to United Artists. And that was that. Ted Weems left for the service, and Lee Andrews just left. He had a single release on Casino in 1959 (backed by a chorus): "I Wonder"/"Baby Come Back" (a reprise of the first Rainbow recording). Sometime in 1962, Lee reunited with the Hearts, to turn out their final release together. Issued on Gowen records, it was the aptly-named "Together Again" backed with "My Lonely Room" (a re-make of "Lonely Room"). Unfortunately, it too failed to chart. February 1963 found Lee recording for Parkway.
In 1964, Lee decided to get another Hearts group together. Richard Booker and Richard Mason were joined by Robert Howard and Victoria McCalister. Their first release that year was on Crimson records. Another solo spot for Lee in 1965, this time for the V.I.P. label. After this, Lee opened a dress shop in Philadelphia. He kept it going until around 1970, but it didn't affect his singing career too much. Lee and the Hearts then did "You're Taking A Long Time Coming Back"/"Quiet As It's Kept" for RCA-Victor, released in August 1966 and had more releases on Crimson in 1967 and 1968.
The last appearance of Lee Andrews on record was with Congress Alley, which consisted of Richard Booker, Karen Briscoe, and Lee's wife, Jackie. They had two singles and an album on Avco Embassy in 1973.
Lee Andrews passed away on March 16, 2016. (Edited from Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks)