|The Original Orlons HistoryTM
Fun filled dance tunes were ‘The Orlons’ specialty, making them one of the most popular groups ever to come out of Philadelphia. The group was originally called ‘Little Audrey and the Teenettes’ in the early 50’s and included sisters, Audrey, Jean and Shirley Brickley along with Rosetta Hightower and Marlene Davis. When Mama Brickley refused to let the youngest, Audrey, sing with the others in one of Philadelphia’s small clubs, she and her sister Jean quit the group.
Shirley, Rosetta and Marlena continued singing at Overbrook High School and were heard by student Stephen Caldwell, who sang with a local unrecorded group called ‘The Romeos’. Stephen brought his baritone lead to the girls’ attention and soon turned the unnamed trio into a quartet. They subsequently followed in the footsteps of their Overbrook rivals ‘The Cashmeres’ (who later became ‘The Dovells’) by calling themselves ‘The Orlons’.
They practiced at Shirley’s house on songs like “Mama Said” (‘The Shirelles’) and “Stormy Weather” (‘The Spaniels’). They were also influenced by acts like ‘The Chantels’, ‘Ray Charles’ and ‘The Moonglows’.
In the fall of 1961, thanks to an introduction made on their behalf by Len Barry, of ‘The Dovells’, “The Orlons” auditioned for Kal Mann of Cameo Records and were signed almost immediately. Mann/Appell started writing songs for the group. Their first single was “I’ll Be True” lead by Marlena, was described as ‘a sincere piping by the young sounding female on a wistful rock-a-balad about a gal’s message to her GI sweetheart. Wax has a chance. Ditto for their early 1962 follow-up “Happy Birthday Mr. 21”.
After backing Dee Dee Sharp (another Cameo artist) on the dance tune “Mashed Potato Time” (#3 POP, #1 R&B), ‘The Orlons’ moved in their own dance tune “Wah Watusi”. On May 26th Billboard cited it as “a solid item for teen buyers. The group sells the rhythmic swinger with enthusiasm and drive, while the combo provides effective backing. Watch it!” In July it danced to number ( 2), with only Boby Vinton’s “Roses are Red” above it. It was at this time that Cameo decided to feature Rosetta (alto), with Shirley (alto), Marlena (soprano) and Stephen (baritone) supporting her.
“Don’t Hang Up” climbed the charts in the fall and winter of 1962 to number (4) POP, number (3) R&B and number (39) in the United Kingdom. Their first major performances were in New York’s Apollo Theater with ‘The Crystals’, ‘Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans’, ‘Chuck Jackson’ (whom “the Orlons backed on stage), Tommy Hunt (of ‘The Flamingos’), and Gene Chandler.
The quartet kept up their chart barrage into 1963 with “South Street” (#3POP, #4R&B), “Not Me”, (#12 POP, #8R&B), and “Crossfire” (#19POP, #25R&B). By 1964 their style was being swept aside by the British invasion.
Still, with nine charted records and three top five hits, the group was able to work right into the 70’s until Rosetta decided to move to England. Shirley died that same year. Stephen and Marlena kept the group alive until Marlena passed in 1993. Also in memoriam are Patricia Miller, Audrey Brickley and Alberta Crump.
The Orlons have employed many ladies to keep the sound and the group alive. Today’s group is Jean Brickley Maddox, Coco Muhammad, Lillian Mitchell and of course Mr. Original Orlons himself, Stephen J. Caldwell.