In this episode, we focus on the young 50s artist Frankie Lymon. The emergence of Rock&Roll, racial division, and the dark side of fame.
Have you ever heard of Frankie Lymon or listened to his music? Well have to ever heard of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson or Diana Ross? What it I told you he influenced these artist? Franklin Joseph Lymon was part of what you would called a ‘boy band’ of his time, The Teenagers; a group of 5 young doo wop artists in the 50s that literally took the music nation by storm.
A child star from Harlem, loved by all black and whites for his demeanor and energy, with a promising career in music, who came to a timely demise due to his heroin addiction at just 26.
In just 18 months this artist toped the charts and hit rock bottom. A man who went from being one of the most influential teens in the world to someone people only recalled in hindsight. Once fame had left him, he sold everything he owned to support his drug addiction and his former producers swooped in to claim his publishing rights to his hit records.
The global acceptance Lymon received is a notable one. The racial divisions, segregation and brutality towards people of colour during the years of Frankie’s chart topping reign was, for the most part, blurred. As with the majority of the coloured celebrities, their commodifiable talent allowed them certain privileges while on stage. However, the silver spoon stopped there, and once Frankie fell from fame, he returned to his cultural place on the social chain as a negro.
Another important thing to note was the national and global insecurity during those decades. The minds of every citizen was plagued by threats of war, fear of communist ideals and its sympathizers. Notably, Frankie Lymon enlisted in the US Army during the Vietnam War in 1966, of which Frankie deserted and met his last wife, Emira Eagle in the process.
In 1998, director Gregory Nava made a move adaptation of the late star’s life entitled, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” featuring Larenz Tate as Frankie Lymon, Halle Berry as Zola Taylor, Vicica A. Fox as Elizabeth Waters and Lela Rochon as Elmira Eagle. It also featured famed artist and friend to Frankie Lymon, Little Ritchard as himself.
The movie centred around the infamous 3 widow trial of 1986. When Lymon’s wife, Emira Eagle went to collect royalties from mob associate and former manager, Morris Levey she discovered her late husbands lively love life. Levey offered $20 million to the woman that could prove she was indeed the legal widow of Frankie Lymon. The trial lasted for 2 years and a court appeal granted Emira royalties to her husbands estate.
Now, I know this type of child star downward spiral continues to happen today especially in North America with with a lot of Disney stars for example, but I wonder if there is anything we can change within society or the music industry to attempt to lessen these problems.
K-pop for example, is a popular music originating in South Korea, artists go through an intensive training program before being let out onto the stage, and into the public eye. From vocal to dance to language classes and public speech, just about their entire public persona is constructed in this Bootcamp, or “K-pop Factory” as it is colloquialized. Perhaps Western music take on a similar approach and prepare young artists for the publicity.
In 1993, Frankie Lymon and the living members of The Teenagers were recognized and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition, the group was honoured a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Frankie Lymon left a lasting mark on Rock and Roll. He lived fast and died young.