January 20, 2017 – Ronald ‘Bingo’ Mungo was born April 20, 1940 in Alleghany County, Pennsylvania. Just out of high school he joined the doo wop group The Marcels, named after a popular 1950s hairstyle ‘the Marcel wave’.
The group formed in 1959 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and signed to Colpix Records with lead Cornelius Harp, bass Fred Johnson, Gene Bricker, Ron Mundy, and Richard Knauss.
In 1961, the Marcels recorded a new version of the ballad “Blue Moon” that began with the bass singer saying, “bomp-baba-bomp” and “dip-da-dip”. A demo tape sent to Colpix Records landed them at New York’s RCA Studios in February 1961 to record, among other things, a rockin’ doo-wop version of the Rodgers and Hart classic “Blue Moon” with an intro they had been using on their take of The Cadillacs’ “Zoom.” As legend has it, the day he heard it, New York DJ Murray the K played “Blue Moon” 26 times in a four-hour show. In March 1961, the song knocked Elvis Presley off the top of the Billboard chart, becoming the first No. 1 rock ’n’ roll hit out of Pittsburgh. The million-seller went top 10 hit all over the world, as far as Israel and South Africa, and that summer the Marcels sang in the Hollywood movie “Twist Around the Clock.” Blue Moon is featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
They released a number of other singles that year, hitting No. 7 with “Heartaches” and No. 24 with the “Porgy and Bess” classic “Summertime.” The group’s 1961 debut album also included The Chantels’ song “Goodbye to Love”were less successful, although “Heartaches” peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and eventually sold over one million copies worldwide.
In August 1961, due to racial problems encountered while touring in the Deep South because of the group being multi-racial, Knauss and Bricker—the group’s white members—left and were replaced by Allen Johnson (brother of Fred) and Walt Maddox. Bingo Mundy left soon after, leaving the group a quartet.
That year, Bingo, as he was known to friends and family — “I didn’t even know my uncle’s name was Ron,” said Sarah Huny Young — met Janet Brandon, who recalled her first real date was a Marcels gig at an East Liberty club.
She was unimpressed by stardom, but she said, “My sister and I were waiting, all dressed up in front of The Pittsburgh Courier and this big white limo pulled up. Jules Kruspir, their manager, was driving. We went to the show, where they were presented with a plaque by Porky Chedwick.”
That year, 1961, was a whirlwind for the Marcels — with the tours, the TV shows, the movie, the recording sessions — but the jet-set life was fleeting for Mr. Mundy.
“The fact that they were racially mixed caused a lot of problems,” said oldies promoter Henry DeLuca. “They couldn’t tour down South that way, and had to go with an all-black lineup.” That shook up some of the chemistry of the group.
“It got to be hard,” Ms. Mundy said. “He called me and said, ‘I’m going home and getting a job.’ ”
He left by the end of 1961, the last year the Marcels charted on Billboard. They got married in March 1962, and Mr. Mundy, after a few different jobs, became a bus driver for Port Authority of Allegheny County, where he retired after 25 years.
In 1962, Harp and Allen Johnson left and were replaced by Richard Harris and William Herndon. There was a brief reunion of the original members in 1973.
The group made several recordings in 1975 with Harp back on lead. Original member Gene Bricker died in 1983. Allen Johnson died in 1995. By the early 1990s, the group included Johnson, Maddox, Harris, Jules Hopson, and Richard Merritt.
Mundy sang in oldies throwback group the Memories, which sure enough did Marcels songs, and he sang in the Wesley Center AME Zion Church. “He always had singing in his blood,” Ms. Mundy said. “He loved the oldies and my kids were all raised on them.”
“He owned a candy store on the North Side for a short while. That store may not have made it because he just gave us, his nieces and nephews, all the candy they wanted.”
The group split around 1995. Fred Johnson formed his own group with new members, while the other four members recruited new bassist Ted Smith. Maddox won a lawsuit against Sunny James Svetnic, the manager of Johnson’s group, for trademark infringement in 1996. Johnson, DeLuca and T.J. Lubinsky reunited the original Marcels with Harp, Mundy and Knauss in 1999 for the PBS special “Doo-Wop 50.”
The Marcels were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.
Original lead singer Cornelius “Nini” Harp died on June 4, 2013 at the age of 73.
Ronald “Bingo” Mundy (born on April 20, 1940) died of pneumonia on January 20, 2017 at the age of 76.