Ramblin' Rhodes

Stroll down memory lane with music columnist Don Rhodes.

Ramblin' Rhodes: Musical recounts life of teen sensation Frankie Lymon

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         Editor's Note: Wednesday afternoon, shortly after this column was posted online, columnist Don Rhodes got a call from a media company in Atlanta that represents American Family Insurance, the sponsor of the Frankie Lymon show.  The caller said they didn't mean to overlook Bryant but weren't sure whether she still was alive and didn't know how to get in touch with her. Rhodes gave the representative Bryant's phone number. Bryant told Rhodes later, "I just got off the phone with a person who invited me to the show, and so I and my husband plan to be there on Friday night."

Emira Bryant Lymon, once the wife of 1950s rock legend Frankie Lymon, sits in her living room with one of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers' records in 2007.  FILE/STAFF
FILE/STAFF
Emira Bryant Lymon, once the wife of 1950s rock legend Frankie Lymon, sits in her living room with one of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers' records in 2007.

You would think the legally declared widow of teenage rocker Frankie Lymon would have been invited to the touring musical stage adaptation of his life coming to Augusta on Friday, but think again.

It’s a sure bet that if the true life of Lymon is told in the musical Fool in Love: A Musical Night in the Life of Frankie Lymon, then surely Augusta’s own Emira Eagle Lymon Bryant will be included in it.

The musical can be seen at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 31, at Imperial Theatre. It is being sponsored by American Family Insurance, and tickets are free. Go to imperialtheatre.com or foolinlove.eventbrite.com to register for the free tickets. Registration ends at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 30.

During his brief lifetime, Lymon became world-famous for his hit singles with The Teenagers including Why Do Fools Fall in Love? (Diana Ross also had a hit with it), Goody Goody, Little Bitty Pretty One, I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent and So Young.

Lymon’s widow, Bryant, said last week that no one from the touring show has invited her to attend even though worldwide fans of Lymon know his widow always has lived in Augusta.

That was made clear in the 1998 movie Why Do Fools Fall in Love? co-starring Halle Barry, Lela Rochon and Vivica A. Fox as three women contending they were the legal wife of Lymon, who died Feb. 27, 1968, at age 25 in New York City, reportedly of a heroin overdose.

Rochon portrayed Bryant, who married Lymon on June 30, 1967, at Beulah Grove Baptist Church near Paine College when Lymon was stationed that year at Fort Gordon.

In December 1989, the New York Supreme Court ruled that Bryant was Lymon’s only legal wife. The retired Richmond County schoolteacher now is married to Augustan Leroy Bryant.

“I got a call from a little kid who told me that he had heard something about this musical coming to Augusta, but other than that I don’t know anything about it,” Bryant said.

“I did call my agent to make sure there were no financial responsibilities tied to my part,” she added. “But, no, I haven’t heard from anyone responsible for this musical. ”

In February 1967, Lymon talked about his life and show business career with Chronicle reporter P.K. Cheesborough. Lymon then was a private in the U.S. Army taking basic infantry training at Fort Gordon and assigned to Company D, 16th Battalion, 2nd Training Brigade.

He told Cheesborough that he started singing publicly with his three brothers in a choral group at Gospel Church in New York City. That eventually led to singing on street corners with friends and being discovered at age 12 by George Goldner of GEE Records.

And that led to his 1955 smash hit Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, singing for Queen Elizabeth II at the London Palladium and performing in nightclubs and theaters worldwide.

Ten years after his initial success, however, he was wearing an Army uniform as a private at Fort Gordon.

“While growing up in New York City, I never had much discipline,” Lymon told The Chronicle. “As a child star, however, I was subjected to discipline from agents, managers and lawyers, but it was a discipline that protected me from myself so to speak.

“Army discipline, I think, teaches a man how to protect himself. It teaches him responsibility and how to stand on his own two feet. It makes him not only a good soldier, but a better individual. I know it’s been good for me.”

Yet just over a year later, Lymon would be found dead in his grandmother’s bathroom from drug abuse.
His widow says that she was lucky to know and love Lymon at a good time in his life when he was happy being in the Army and still had hope for the future.

“I’m sure it probably would bring back some good memories,” she said of the show at the Imperial. “And you are so right that I caught Frankie at a good time in his life. I often tell people that Frankie didn’t end up living a glorified life. His in the end was a wasted life ruined by drugs.

“He was used and misused, and he used others also,” she concluded. “His was a wasted life, and he was so talented.”

OKA’CHAFFA FESTIVAL RETURNING: Former Augusta Mayor Bob Young, now the president of the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy at Phinizy Swamp, has confirmed that the Oka’Chaffa Indian Festival will be returning to the swamp in November.

An estimated 7,000 people last November attended the event which was mainly organized by French-Cherokee Indian Chipa Wolfe of Jasper, Ga., who has been putting on such festivals for more than 20 years.

Young said the second annual event to be held Nov. 9-10 over Veterans Day weekend will for the first time feature national tribal dance contests that should lure Native American dancers from across the United States. Favorites from 2012 such as Ray Pena and his falcons and hawks also are being invited back.

CONGRATULATIONS PARADE OF QUARTETS: My longtime friend the Rev. Karlton Howard, the host of WJBF-TV’s Parade of Quartets show, called to say the program is being honored June 7 in Atlanta by the Georgia Association of Broadcasters for its 60 years of broadcast history.

Howard’s father, the late Georgia state Rep. Henry Howard, was a co-host of the show for many years alongside the program’s originator Steve Manderson.

Parade of Quartets airs Sundays at 10 a.m. on WJBF and 10 p.m. on MeTV. Visit paradeofquartets.com.

ONSTAGE

WHAT: Fool in Love: A Musical Night in the Life of Frankie Lymon

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 31

WHERE: Imperial Theatre

DETAILS: Free; sponsored by American Family Insurance. Go to imperialtheatre.com or foolinlove.eventbrite.com to register for the free tickets no later than 4 p.m. Thursday, May 30


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