Little Oscar



George Molchan
aka "Little Oscar"

Born June 5, 1922 in Lanfair, Pennsylvania.
Died April 12, 2005.
Little Oscar
George Molchan came to Gary in 1928 with his seven siblings and after High School, enrolled at Gary Community College.  In 1951, he met Meinhardt Rabbe, one of the original "Wizard of Oz" munchkins who later became the original Oscar Meyer "Little Oscar".  Raabe heard about Molchan while on a stop in Gary.  Raabe, who wished to retire, offered the four feet, five inch Molchan the job as the Oscar Meyer mascot and he accepted.  weinermobileGeorge traveled the country in the hotdog-shaped Weinermobile, passing out whistles and meeting the crowds.  He appeared in commercials and on TV.  He retired in 1987 and moved back to Hobart in 2001.

Source: Post-Tribune Kass Stone April 14, 2005 A13

Tom Harmon

Born September 28, 1919 in Gary, Indiana.
Died March 16, 1990.
Tom Harmon
Tom Harmon was a famous football player, All-American, and a Heisman trophy winner in 1940 while playing for the University of Michigan.  Harmon was chosen by the Chicago Bears in the first selection of the NFL Draft, but chose not to play football. He had a brief career as an actor, starring as himself in the biopic Tom Harmon of Michigan. He appeared occasionally in films throughout the forties and fifties.  From 1946-1947 Harmon played football professionally with the Los Angeles Rams, but wartime injuries to his legs limited his effectiveness. He focused his professional career as planned on being a sports broadcaster on radio and television, one of the first athletes to make the transition from player to on camera talent.
His son is actor Mark Harmon, star of the t.v. series NCIS.  His grandchildren are musical performers Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, and actress Tracy Nelson; being the children of the late teen idol, Ricky Nelson and Kristin Harmon.

The Spaniels

James "Pookie" Hudson, Opal Courtney Jr., Willis C. Jackson, Gerald Gregory and Ernest Warren

The Spaniels started their career singing at dances and talent shows at Roosevelt High School in Gary. A year later, they were making records in the rhythm and blues vocal harmony group style of the 50's which was later known as doo wop. Their best known hit was "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight".


Photo Courtesy of The Calumet Regional Archives

The Spaniels are best known for their massive 1954 hit, "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" (number five R&B).  They were the first successful Midwestern R&B group, coming from Gary, IN, by way of Chicago.  Lead vocalist James "Pookie" Hudson was a graceful lead singer who influenced many who came after him, most notably Aaron Neville.  They were also one of the first (if not the first) R&B groups to perform with the lead singer on one microphone and the rest of the group sharing another, and initiated a trend toward using tap dance routines in live shows.  Their often a cappella recordings showcase the purity of a sound and style uniquely their own.  It was also the Spaniels who partially brought about the formation of one of R&B's legendary labels, Vee-Jay, which became one of the most successful black-owned record companies in the country.

The story of how the Spaniels came to prominence begins in late 1952, when lead singer Hudson was convinced by four of his Roosevelt High classmates — Ernest Warren (first tenor), Opal Courtney, Jr. (baritone), Willie Jackson (second tenor), and Gerald Gregory (bass) to join them for a school talent show.  They had debuted as Pookie Hudson and the Hudsonaires for the Christmas show and fared so well they decided to continue.  Not wanting to join the bird group club (Orioles, Ravens, etc.), they decided on the name Spaniels.

In the spring, the group visited the local record shop owned by James and Vivian Bracken, who had begun developing a record label called Vee-Jay Records.  They soon moved their operation to Chicago, in a garage off 47th Street (later they would relocate to offices at 1449 South Michigan Avenue).  The Spaniels were one of the first two artists signed to the label (the other was blues guitarist Jimmy Reed).  On May 5, 1953, the Spaniels recorded "Baby It's You," released in July.  On September 5, "Baby" hit number ten on the national R&B best-seller charts.

The Spaniels' next session produced additional singles, including "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight," which took off in March 1954, but it took about six months for the record to break nationally, charting at number five on the R&B charts.  Its success prompted the McGuire Sisters to cover it for the "white" market, stealing a lot of the Spaniels' thunder when their version landed in the Top Ten (number seven).


Original member of the Spaniels dies at age 71
BY BOB KOSTANCZUK Post-Tribune staff writer
[20 Sept 2008]

GARY -- Opal Courtney Jr., an original member of the legendary Spaniels, was found dead Thursday in his Gary home.  He was 71.  The singer's daughter, Mona Courtney, said her father died of a heart attack.

Part of one of rhythm and blues' seminal vocal groups, Courtney sang on the original recording of "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight."  An R&B hit in 1954, the Spaniels' lovely street-corner song is considered a classic of the doo-wop genre.  Courtney also sang on "Baby, It's You," a national R&B hit for the Gary-based Spaniels in 1953.  The song helped launch Vee Jay Records, a trailblazing black-owned label, formed in Gary.

"He had a real high tenor voice," said Gary's Willie C. Jackson, an original Spaniel.  "His voice always cut through; it was very clear," noted Gary's Wilton Crump, a latter-day singer and musical director for the Spaniels.

Courtney, who could also sing baritone, was preceded in death last year by James "Pookie" Hudson, lead singer and songwriter for the Spaniels.

In 1991, the Spaniels received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Additional Information Links: :: Gary musical icon lost battle with cancer
The source for this info is: 


Vee Jay Records

Vivian Carter and James Braken
Vee Jay Label-Sherry by the Four Seasons

Ewart G. Abner Jr., ran Vee-Jay Records, a company that had been founded in Gary, Indiana, in 1953, by Vivian Carter and her husband.  James Bracken -- Vee for V. Carter.  Jay for J. Bracken -- and had moved to Chicago in 1954.

From the beginning -- Vee-Jay's first release, by the Spaniels, a quintet formed at Roosevelt High School in Gary, established the group as one of the leading doo-wop acts of the Midwest -- the company was one of the most powerful of the independents, strong in the full spectrum of R&B from the Spaniels to the Dells, and from Jimmy Reed to John Lee Hooker.  In 1963, it was Ewart Abner – with the blessing of Carter and Bracken, who was the guiding force of the label -- While he was at the helm, Vee-Jay became the Beatles' first American label.

It was Blavat, the year before, who had convinced Abner that Vee-Jay could prosper with white artists as well as black, bringing him a quartet of Italian-American kids from New Jersey, the Four Seasons, who had a song called "Sherry," which became a No. 1 pop hit and a No. 1 R&B hit for Vee-Jay in 1962.

"I got him to pick up 'Sherry' at the 1962 convention, down in Miami, at the Fontainebleau, Association of Record Merchandisers," says Blavat.  "I was with Morris Levy.  I bump into Bob Crewe, who I knew forever.  He wrote 'Silhouettes.'  He says, 'I want you to hear something I just cut with these kids.  It's a song called "Sherry.'"  I hear it.  I said, 'I think this f....n' thing's a hit.'  I play it for Morris; he says, 'That's the worst piece of shit I've ever heard.'  I say, 'Crewe, don't get discouraged.'  Now, Abner loves me for my ear, O.K.?  Between 'He Will Break Your Heart,' by Jerry Butler, which I busted wide open for him, between this, that, the other thing -- I mean, God gave me an ear.  I take Crewe up to Abner's suite.  Abner hears it.  He says. 'You know, Geator, I think you got something here.  But it's a white artist.'  I said. ‘Abner, who the f... knows the difference on an acetate or a record if it's white or black?  If a hit's a hit, it's got no f....n' color, man.'  They make the deal.

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 Created Saturday, 9 Feb 2008 - 19:17:14 Hrs.

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