October 7, 2017 – Jimmy Beaumont (The Skyliners) was born on October 21, 1940 in the Knoxville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA. While in his teens he formed the bebop group the Crescents. Joe Rock, a promo man working with Beaumont’s group, one day jotted down the lyrics to a song as he sat in his car at a series of stoplights, lamenting that his girlfriend was leaving for flight attendant school on the West Coast.
Rock took the lyrics to Jimmy Beaumont, who wrote a melody just as quickly as Rock wrote the words to a magical, tearful ballad that soon topped the Cashbox R&B chart and went to No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart: the title …..“Since I Don’t Have You.”
“I had been listening to all the doo-wop groups from that period — The Platters, The Moonglows. I guess just from listening the melody just came out of me,” Beaumont told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette years later.
Thirteen labels rejected the song as a demo, but the record was released in late December 1958. In short order it went to No. 1 in Pittsburgh, prompting an invitation to “American Bandstand.”
“He was one of the people who inspired me to get in the business,” said Glenwillard native Lou Christie, who had many successful hits of his own. “When I found out they were from Pittsburgh…I was cleaning the cellar and I heard Art Pallan playing ‘Since I Don’t Have You’ on on KDKA. I thought, ‘Oh my God, what is this song?’ It was not doo-wop. It had a sophistication that was way extended: Strings and horns and classical changes. Done so beautifully. I said, ‘I have to get to know this guy,’ and that’s why I got into this business.”
“Since I Don’t Have You” went to No. 12 on the Billboard Pop chart on March 23, 1959, and No. 3 on R&B charts. In Cashbox, the Skyliners became the first white group to top the R&B charts.
When Dick Clark put the group on his Caravan of Stars tours, people expected the Skyliners to be a black group.
“At the Apollo Theater in New York,” Beaumont said, “everyone was laughing and pointing to each other when we came out. They couldn’t believe we were a white group. They got real quiet during the song, then when we went into the ‘you’s’ the women in the audience were all singing along.”
In the decades since, the song took on a life of its own, remade by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Patti LaBelle, Art Garfunkel, Don McLean, Ronnie Milsap, The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Guns N’ Roses. The song was used in George Lucas’ 1973 period classic “American Graffiti” and also turned up in “Lethal Weapon 2.” Stevie Wonder, a huge fan of the song, performed it at the Mellon Arena in 2007, and then, on his return trip in 2015, summoned the Skyliners out of their seats, to their surprise, to perform it with him.
The Skyliners hit No. 26 with a second ballad, “This I Swear,” in June 1959, and scored another hit with a cover of “Pennies From Heaven” a year later. But the group split in 1963, at the start of the British Invasion, but reunited for an oldies revival concert in 1970 at Madison Square Garden.
The only time Jimmy Beaumont had a non-music job in the years just after that reunion when he drove a cab from 1970 to 1974. People were always surprised, he recalled, to be picked up by an international rock and roll star.
In 1975, the Skyliners squeaked into the Top 100 again with “Where Have They Gone,” which became just enough of a spark to keep going. Beaumont had kept the group going in one form or another ever since as the only remaining original member. Whereas so many groups in the oldies circuit brought in young singers to handle the leads, Beaumont never handed over that duty.
“People still want me to hit that high note,” he said in 2009. “I’ve lost a little bit, but I’d like to think not much. I’m not going to retire. People will retire me when they stop coming.”
Donna Groom, a member of the Skyliners for the past 37 years, said that for all his talent, “He was very humble. He never put on airs of any kind. Just a pleasure to work with. He knew music.”
She recalled that in the 1990s they played a birthday party for the wife of a Texas billionaire.
“Skyliners played the cocktail set, Chuck Berry played the dance set and Martina McBride did the concert. The pay was great. In the dressing room, the wife comes in and says ‘You’re my favorite group,’ and wanted to have pictures. We had already gotten paid, but her husband handed Jimmy an envelope. When he opened it, there was another check in there — a tip for $25,000. He had every right to keep that, but do you know he split that with all of us. We all went home with $8,000.”
One of his more esteemed Pittsburgh fans was R&B legend Billy Price.
“I was stunned by how great Jimmy Beaumont was,” Mr. Price told the Post-Gazette when they were inducted together as Pittsburgh Rock and Roll Legends. He said that when he first listened to a collection of Skyliners’ recordings, “I remember thinking, this guy could be the best white R&B singer ever.’”
Another fan, Frank Czuri, formerly of Diamond Reo and the Silencers, got the pleasure to join the Skyliners several years ago. “My four years with him as a Skyliner were truly a dream come true, as I learned about harmony at 10 from my head in the record player listening to how the Skyliners did it. Jimmy was the best.”
Nick Pociask, who has sung with the Skyliners, for 25 years, said, “Jimmy was somewhat of a quiet person and pretty much kept to himself, but he was very appreciative of all of his fans and people who supported the Skyliners. That was what was most important to him.”
“I never met an artist so humble and so sincere,” said T.J. Lubinsky, creator of the “Doo Wop 50” series for PBS. “I was doing a radio show for a while, my 3WS show, a soul show late at night. I was nervous the first night and the first call I get was Jimmy. And he says, ‘Hey, you would make my night if you would play “Walk Away From Love” by Jimmy Ruffin.’ It just went to show how much of a fan he was of the music, especially R&B artists. He had R&B in his soul, in his blood, and he worshipped any R&B vocal group and singer and that’s what inspired him and that’s what came out in his music and that why we will all love him ‘til the end of time.”
“He was just a phenomenal talent,” said Henry DeLuca, who promoted the Roots of Rock and Roll concerts that celebrated many a Skyliners anniversary. “All the Pittsburgh singers idolized him. A distinctive voice that no one could imitate.”
Jimmy Beaumont, a humble and soft-spoken star, was still singing as recently as Sept. 17, three weeks before him walking over the rainbow, when the Skyliners performed a concert in New York.
Jimmy Beaumont exchanged this place for that gig in the sky on October 7, 2017, two weeks before his 77th birthday.