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Doo-wop singers: Show is a way to spread the love

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Rock-Away Music Enterprises
Jay and the Americans
Charlie Thomas’ Drifters

When doo-wop music gained popularity in the 1950s and '60s, it earned fans at mostly the grassroots level, literally on the streets, says an old pro of the vintage-music genre. The doo-wop artists in those days resembled the street-corner saxophonists of today.

“We were kids standing on the corner, harmonizing and snapping our fingers,” says Sandy “Deanne” Yaguda, of Jay and the Americans. “We just wanted to get the girls — that's what it was about. Nobody ever thought that it was going to be a career — a lifelong career where people come up to you at the show and say, ‘We named our kid after you' or ‘We got married to your song.' ”

Yaguda and his band will join six other acts at the annual Pittsburgh Holiday Doo Wop show on Dec. 19 at Heinz Hall for an evening of warm nostalgia. The show has become a beloved tradition for many older Pittsburghers, who loved the music as youths and love to relive it, and introduce new generations to it. For the artists, the show offers a reunion, not only with other bands they know, but, sometimes, with former band members who are now in other bands.

“It's kind of a big, happy doo-wop family,” says Yaguda, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who lives on Long Island.

The musical tradition continues with the children and grandchildren of doo-wop's original fans, Yaguda says.

“Thank goodness we're getting some new, young blood. We see some young faces at the concert,” he says. “The best part of anything is when the people run up to us and say, ‘You were selling this album in 1966.' We get a kick out of it.

“We've got to keep this music alive because it is special,” Yaguda says.

Jay and the Americans, which banded together in Yaguda's Brooklyn basement in 1962, has charted a dozen Top 10 records, starting with the breakout record “Tonight.” The band's best-known hits include “She Cried,” “Only in America,” “Come a Little Bit Closer” and “This Magic Moment.”

The band is now on its third “Jay” singer, Jay Reincke, and his name really is Jay, which the band members saw as a divine sign that he was meant to be their next singer. The first singer was John “Jay” Traynor, who left to become a soloist, and David Blatt became Jay No. 2. Seven people have been in the band since it began, including Kenny Vance, who now has his own band, The Planotones. Jay and The Americans' current lineup is Yaguda, Reincke, Howie Kane and Marty Sanders.

Singing the doo-wop music, known for its vocal harmonies, provides Yaguda with a thrilling, almost-religious experience, he says.

“All of the people who are involved with this love it,” he says. “It's not about money. It's like drugs; you're a junkie for the music. We love what we do.”

This year will be the band's third as part of the Pittsburgh doo-wop show, always held in December. Yaguda says he especially loves coming here.

“I've got to admit that when it comes to doo-wop and oldies … Pittsburgh is the capital of the world,” he says. “I have never seen such enthusiasm. We're thrilled to go anywhere at this point and have fans show up … but Pittsburgh is special.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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