Franklin Joseph “Frankie” Lymon (September 30, 1942 – February 27, 1968) was an African-American rock and roll or rhythm and blues singer and songwriter, best known as the boy soprano lead singer of the New York City-based early rock and roll group, 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.
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).
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 befriended their 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.
By late 1955, the once Ermines and Coupe de Villes, changed their name again to the Premiers.
Richard Barrett, a member of another vocal group, the Valentines and a part-time record company employee, heard the Premiers singing “Lily Maebelle” a Valentine’s hit outside his bedroom window.
Barrett liked what he heard and promised to praise the group to his boss, Gee Records producer/promoter George Goldner, if they would stop waking him up every morning.
Goldner, awed by one song “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” asked Lymon, as quoted in the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, “You got any sheet music for it?” Lymon replied, “Nope, we don’t know anything about written-down music.
In early 1957, Lymon and the Teenagers broke up while on a tour of Europe.
During an engagement at the London Palladium, Goldner began pushing Lymon as a solo act, giving him solo spots in the show.
Lymon began performing with backing from pre-recorded tapes.
The group’s last single, “Goody Goody” backed with “Creation of Love,” initially retained the “Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers” credit, but they were actually solo recordings.
Lymon had officially departed from the group by September 1957; an in-progress studio album called Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers at the London Palladium was instead issued as a Lymon solo release.
Lymon’s slowly declining sales fell sharply after his voice changed and he lost his signature soprano voice. Adopting a falsetto, Lymon carried on.
His highest charting solo hit was a cover of Bobby Day’s “Little Bitty Pretty One”, which peaked at number 58 on the Hot 100 pop chart in 1960, and which had actually been recorded in 1957.
Addicted to heroin since the age of 15, Lymon fell further into his habit, and his performing career went into decline.
According to Lymon in an interview with Ebony magazine in 1967, he was first introduced to heroin when he was 15 by a woman twice his age.
In 1961, Roulette, now run by Morris Levy, ended their contract with Lymon and the singer entered a drug rehabilitation program.
On February 27, 1968, Lymon was found dead of a heroin overdose at the age of 25 in his grandmother’s bathroom.
Lymon, a Baptist, was buried at Catholic Saint Raymond’s Cemetery in the Throggs Neck section of The Bronx, New York City, New York.