The Diamonds are a Canadian vocal quartet that rose to prominence in the 1950s and early 1960s with 16 Billboard hit records. The original members were Dave Somerville (lead), Ted Kowalski (tenor), Phil Levitt (baritone), and Bill Reed (bass). They were most noted for interpreting and introducing rhythm and blues vocal group music to the wider pop music audience. Contrary to popular myth, the father of Tom Hanks was never a member of the group.
In 1953 Dave Somerville, while working as a sound engineer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto, Canada, met three other guys one evening who liked to sing as much as he did. They decided to form a stand-up quartet called The Diamonds. The group’s first performance was in the basement of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Toronto singing in a Christmas minstrel show. The audience’s reaction to the Somerville-led group was so tremendous that they decided that night they would turn professional.
After 18 months of rehearsal, they drove to New York and tied for 1st Place on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. The prize of being guest artist for a week on Godfrey’s show led to a recording contract with Coral Records. Professional musician Nat Goodman became their manager. Coral released four songs, the most notable being “Black Denim Trousers & Motorcycle Boots”, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
The next big step was an audition with Cleveland, Ohio, radio disc jockey, Bill Randle, who had aided in the success of some popular groups, such as The Crew-Cuts. Randle was impressed with The Diamonds and introduced them to a producer at Mercury Records who signed the group to a recording contract.
The Diamonds’ first recording for Mercury was “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” (originated by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers), which reached #12 in the U.S. as their first hit, and their follow-up hit single, “Church Bells May Ring” (originally by The Willows), reached #14 in the U.S.
The Diamonds’ biggest hits were 1957’s “Little Darlin'” (originally recorded by The Gladiolas, written by Maurice Williams) and “The Stroll” (1957), an original song written for the group by Clyde Otis, from an idea by Dick Clark.
Although they were signed to do rock and roll, Mercury also paired them with jazz composer and arranger Pete Rugolo, in one of his Meet series recordings. The album, entitled The Diamonds Meet Pete Rugolo, allowed them to return to their roots and do some established standards.
The group sang “Little Darlin'” and “Where Mary Go” in the film The Big Beat, and sang the theme song for another film, Kathy-O.
Their television appearances included the TV shows of Steve Allen, Perry Como, Vic Damone, Tony Bennett, Eddy Arnold and Paul Winchell. They also appeared on American Bandstand.
In the late 1950s Reed, Kowalski and Levitt left the group and were replaced by Mike Douglas, John Felten and Evan Fisher.
1960s and 1970s
Despite the ever-changing style of rock & roll and their Mercury contract expiring, The Diamonds continued touring the country. After Dave Somerville left the group in 1961 to pursue a folk singing career as “David Troy”, he was replaced by Jim Malone. There were no more hit records by The Diamonds after Somerville left. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s The Diamonds performed mostly in Las Vegas led, at first, by Mike Douglas, later being continued by Glenn Stetson. At one time, there were at least two groups performing under The Diamonds name, the other principally being led by John Felten until his death on May 17, 1982, in a plane crash. This created an issue in the late 1980s that ultimately went to court. The right to the use the name “The Diamonds” was awarded to Gary Owens (a member of Felten’s group) with the original members being allowed to use their name on special occasions each year. Owens, along with members Bob Duncan, Steve Smith (both former members of Lawrence Welk’s band and television program) and Gary Cech, released an album in 1987, “Diamonds Are Forever”, which contained two songs that entered the lower reaches of the Country Music Charts, “Just a Little Bit” and “Two Kinds Of Women”. As of 2014, this “trademark” group still tours with Owen, Jerry Siggins, Sean Sooter, and Jeff Dolan.