Willie Winfield, Angelic Voice Doo-Wop Singer, Dies at 91

Willie Winfield, whose silky vocals on the Harptones in the 1950s made him a favorite of doo-wop experts, died in a Brooklyn hospital on July 27, although the band never achieved mainstream commercial success. He was 91 years old.

His daughter, Tina Winfield, said the cause was cardiac arrest.

Mr. Winfield’s angelic voice was first heard in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll and continued to sing in the 1970s when doo-wop bands turned into acts of nostalgia. He toured with various incarnations of the Harptones until his retirement in 2019 at the age of 89.

“He had one of the best voices around,” Dick Fox, a producer who has booked the Harptones dozens of times on their live old show, said in a phone interview. “His voice was unique and lasted all his life. The higher record has never lost.”

In the 1950s, Mr. Winfield and the Harptones performed at the Apollo Theater and in shows sponsored by influential disc jockeys Alan Freed (at Brooklyn Paramount) and Murray the K (at Palisades Amusement Park, New Jersey). They were seen in the 1956 musical revue “Swinging the Blues.”

Among the band’s best-known songs were “A Sunday Kind of Love”, “Since I Fell for You” and “My Memories of You”.

“Singing the songs feels fresh every time,” Mr. Winfield told critic David Hinckley in a 1985 interview for The Daily News. “It’s the way people react. I suddenly forget my age. I lose the meaning of everything except the song. I go back to when we first recorded it, when we had no idea what was going to happen.”

Robert Palmer, chief pop music critic for The New York Times, Wrote He said in 1982 that Mr. Winfield’s voice had “a flawless pitch and an implicit way in a sentence”. And in a 2019 article on the Medium website, Mr. Hinckley wrote: “Willie Winfield is to rhythm and blues vocal group harmony music what Jackie Robinson and Mariano Rivera are to New York baseball. Top of the list. It’s not even a discussion.”

But despite Mr. Winfield’s catchy voice, the Harptones’ exquisite harmonies and jazz-inspired arrangements. Raoul CitaAs pianists, they never achieved the level of commercial success that their contemporaries, such as the Drifters, Cadillacs, and Flamingos, achieved.

Willie Lee Elijah Winfield was born on August 24, 1929, in Surry, Va. His father, named Willie, was also a merchant sailor. His mother, Christine (Cooke) Winfield, was a housewife.

Mr. Winfield sang in a church band in Norfolk and with his brothers Clyde and Jimmy. After moving to New York City in 1950, he and his siblings sang on street corners with two other men and practiced under the Manhattan Bridge.

In 1953, some members of the Skylarks, another doo-wop act, merged with some of the Winfield brothers’ group to form a new group, first called the Harps and shortly thereafter the Harptons. In addition to Mr. Winfield and Mr. Cita, the cast consisted of William Galloway, Billy Brown, Nicky Clark and William Dempsey. Mr. Dempsey is the only member of the original group still alive.

The Harptones “demand that the doo-wop era be considered in any serious discussion of the truly immortal acts” Jason Ankeny Wrote on the AllMusic website. But success has proven elusive.

Charlie Horner, who runs the company Classic Urban Harmony The website said in an interview that the Harptones were popular in New York and other cities in the Northeast, and in Chicago, but their local success did not create any national hits.

That said, if Billboard’s rhythm-and-blues chart had the Top 100 (instead of the Top 10 or 20) in the mid-1950s, during the Harptones’ most prolific years, they might have had as many as 10 hits. Their only listing was “What to Tell My Heart”. peaked at number 96 It was on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961.

The Harptones’ recording for a number of smaller labels with limited distribution did not help their cause.

“Once we decided to promote our own records,” Mr. Winfield said in an interview with Mr. Hinckley’s Daily News. redesigned Last week on the Medium website. “It was like giving the DJ $75 to play the record. Our producers should have paid attention to this.”

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Winfield began distributing prayer cards to funeral homes; He retired from this job in 1995. She continued to perform part-time with versions of the Harptones, particularly as a background vocalist. “René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dogs After the War” A soft song from Paul Simon’s album “Hearts and Bones” (1983), reminiscent of the doo-wop music that Mr. Simon grew up listening to.

In addition to his daughter Tina, Mr. Winfield is survived by another daughter, Stephanie Winfield; sons Vincent, Timothy and DeWayne; two sisters, Serita Alexander and Goldie Bronson; two brothers, Clyde and Abraham; 44 grandchildren; and 22 grandchildren. His wife, Alice (War) Winfield, died in 2011.

At the last performance of Mr. WinfieldDuring a doo-wop weekend at Half Hollow Hills East High School in Dix Hills, NY in April 2019, she wrapped up her career with another signature ballad, “Life is just a dream.”

He sat on a stool until the end of the song, and after the band sang “Will you no part in”, he stood up, fixed on his cane, and finished the line and song with his familiar tenor – “darling… my love? It’s my dream.”

And it hit high notes.

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