The Diamonds

Formed: 1953, Toronto, Ontario
Last Hit: 1961
–  Dave Somerville (lead)
–  Phil Levitt (baritone) – Replaced by Mike Douglas 1957
–  Bill Reed (bass) (died 2004) – Replaced by John Felten 1958 (died 1982)
–  Ted Kowalski (tenor) – Replaced by Evan Fisher 1958
Genre: R&B
Achievements: Canadian Music Hall of Fame
Biggest Hit:
“Little Darlin’” (1957)
–  Peaked at #2 on the charts
–  6th biggest single of the year (Cashbox)
Some Other Hit Singles:
–  “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” (1956)
–  “The Church Bells May Ring” (1956)
–  “Words Of Love” (1957)
–  “Zip Zip” (1957)
–  “Silhouettes” (1957)
–  “The Stroll” (1957)
–  “Kathy-O” (1958)
–  “Walking Along” (1958)
Canada‘s third and final famous quartet in the 50s was The Diamonds. Like the Four Lads and Crew Cuts, they were also from Toronto; unlike those two, the members were not from St. Michael’s Boys Choir. Their road to fame was similar to the Crew Cuts as we’ll see in a minute.
The band’s founding member Levitt said the beginnings of the Diamonds came when he was vacationing with a friend one summer at Crystal Beach on Lake Erie. Some girls heard them singing and encouraged them to continue. That autumn, Levitt entered the University of Toronto and met Ted Kowalski. Later on, they went to the CBC to audition for a local talent show where they met sound engineer Dave Somerville who decided to give them vocal training. He joined them as their lead singer when they were invited to sing for a Christmas party at a local church. It was then that the Diamonds were born.
The group began to work on radio shows for the CBC and Nat Goodman became their manager. He got them an appearance on the same show that launched The Crew Cuts’ career—Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Show—in Cleveland, U.S.A.. They tied with another contestant and their prize was to perform as guests of the show for a week. This led to a recording contract with Coral Records. Four songs were released but did little to bring fame to the group.
In 1955, they played the Alpine Village Club in Cleveland and were discovered by the same deejay as The Crew Cuts—Bill Randle. Like the Crew Cuts, Randle got them signed onto Mercury Records who asked them to do cover tunes, converting R&B songs to pop. These covers became big hits and included Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers’ “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” (#12 on the U.S. charts), The Willows’ “Church Bells May Ring” (#14), and their biggest hit, which reached #2 on the charts, The Gladiolas’ “Little Darlin’”. The latter was listed as the 6th biggest single of 1957 according to Cashbox. On December 30th, 1957, they released an original song, “The Stroll” which peaked at #4 on the charts, made them a dance sensation on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and launched a dance craze of the same name. In the late-50s, The Diamonds appeared with a number of big-name acts on TV: Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Steve Allen and Jimmy Dean. They were also featured in the movie musical The Big Beat and sang the theme song for Kathy-O. The band scored their last hit in 1961.
With a number of personnel changes and the expiration of their record contract, the group focused on touring for the next few decades. Apparently they made it to the country charts in 1987. They were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

Birth of Canadian Rock ‘n Roll (1950s)

In the 1950s, Canada continued contributing new musicians to the world stage in the genres of country (Tommy Hunter), jazz (Moe Koffman, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, and guitarist Lenny Breau), and classical (Pierrette Alarie, Lois Marshall, Louis Quilico, Léopold Simoneau, and contralto Maureen Forrester). Following in La Bolduc’s footsteps were Quebec artists who enriched the landscape of Canadian music by singing folk music in fabulous French. It wasn’t until Beatlemania swept Canada in the 1960s that Quebec artists began to perform pop and rock; for now, folk was the genre of choice. An important word on this is best summed up by the Canadian Music Encyclopedia: 

In Québec, the history of popular music unfolded quite differently. Instead of copying Americans, French Canadians created their own style of pretty and simple poetry inspired by traditional folk songs and played on the guitar by chansonniers (“songmakers” or singer-songwriters).

First and foremost among these chansonniers was the inspired genius of Félix Leclerc, who deservedly became Canada’s first international folk superstar. Second in rank to him was Jean-Pierre Ferland who started out as a folk musician in the 50s, but in the 70s switched to pop/rock releasing some critically-acclaimed albums. Other chansonniers included Yves Albert and Jacques Labrecque. In 1956, Raymond Lévesque scored a big hit with his “Quand les hommes vivront d’amour”. Its message of brotherhood and search for justice, its folky guitar and jazzy piano made it, amongst changing pop styles, a timeless classic of chanson québécoise. The song has been performed by many French singers.  

Percy Faith became Canada’s second easy listening star (after Guy Lombardo). In the following decade he scored a massive hit with his “Theme from a Summer Place”, the number one single of the year on 1960′s Billboard chart. 

Nearly-forgotten Winnipeg songstress Gisele MacKenzie (no relation to Bob and Doug, eh), after getting her own CBC radio show, recorded some songs of her own which became hits in 1955. 

Prior to American Bill Haley’s revolutionary comet-clocking chart-topper, Canada had already set itself up to usher in the rock ‘n roll era with its hit R&B group The Four Lads. Following suit were The Crew Cuts and The Diamonds. These three Toronto-based quartets launched the rock era in Canada by converting some American R&B tunes into rock and by creating some original selections of their own.  

With all this activity in the 1950s, Canadians would never have believed what was to happen in 1957. Their first anglophone international pop superstar arrived from within the nation’s capital. And he was of neither European nor African descent, but Asian. He released a single that rocketed up to Number One on both sides of the Atlantic and became the second best-selling single of all-time (after Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”). He was Canada’s first real teen-idol, scored several more chart-toppers in the late 50s, became a millionaire while still a minor, switched from rock to adult contemporary in the 60s, wrote the theme for the Tonight Show, composed Tom Jones’ biggest hit, foiled Frank Sinatra’s plans of an early retirement by writing his signature song, and rekindled his own singing career with several chart-toppers in the 70s. To date, he has written some 400 songs. He should be regarded as the godfather of Canadian pop. And his name is Paul Anka.