February 27, 1968 – Frankie Lymon was born Franklin Joseph “Frankie” Lymon on September 30, 1942.
Frankie Lymon was born in Harlem to a truck driver father and a mother who worked as a maid. Lymon’s mother and father, Howard and Jeanette Lymon, also sang in a gospel group known as the Harlemaires; Frankie Lymon and his brothers Lewis and Howie sang with the Harlemaire Juniors (a fourth Lymon brother, Timmy, was a singer, though not with the Harlemaire Juniors). The Lymon family struggled to make ends meet, and Lymon began working as a grocery boy at the age of 10.
At the age of 12 in 1954, Lymon heard a local doo-wop group known as the Coupe De Villes at a school talent show. He became friends with the lead singer, Herman Santiago, and he eventually became a member of the group, now calling itself both The Ermines and The Premiers. Dennis Jackson of Columbus, Georgia, was one of the main influences in Lymon’s life. His personal donation of $500 helped start Lymon’s career.
One day in 1955, a neighbor gave The Premiers several love letters that had been written to him by his girlfriend, with the hopes that he could give the boys inspiration to write their own songs.
Merchant and Santiago adapted one of the letters into a song called “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”. The Premiers, now calling itself The Teenagers, got its first shot at fame after impressing Richard Barrett, a singer with The Valentines. Barrett, in turn, got the group an audition with record producer George Goldner. On the day of the group’s audition, Santiago, the original lead singer, was late. Lymon stepped up and told Goldner that he knew the part because he helped write the song. The disc jockeys always called them “Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers”.
The group was composed of five boys, all in their early to mid-teens. The original lineup of the Teenagers, an integrated group, included three African American members, Frankie Lymon, Jimmy Merchant and Sherman Garnes, and two Puerto Rican members, Herman Santiago and Joe Negroni.
“Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” was released as a record by The Teenagers featuring Frankie Lymon. It made the top ten in the USA and it reached No.1 in the UK. The group appeared in the movies “Rock, Rock, Rock” and “Mister Rock and Roll”, and had 2 more hits with “I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent” and “The ABCs of Love”.
But by 1957, the group was being billed as “Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers”. This caused in-fighting, and by September, Goldner had pulled Frankie out of the group to record solo. He released some songs of his own including the top twenty song Goody, Goody and eventually he signed with Roulette Records.
By the 60’s Frankie had a serious drug problem. In 1961 he was forced into a drug rehabilitation program at Manhattan General Hospital. He attempted a comeback, but sadly could not kick his addiction and was convicted on a narcotics charge in 1964. The group was inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame in 1993 and a film based on the life of Frankie Lymon titled Why Do Fools Fall In Love? was released in 1998.
He was found dead from a drug overdose on the bathroom floor of his grandmother’s apartment on 27 February 1968. He was 25 years old.