In 1957, Frankie Lymon was one of the most exciting and popular singers in America. He had an angelic voice, good looks, and an unteachable charisma. Backed by his band, “The Teenagers”, his song “Why do fools fall in love” had made him a household name the year before. They were five kids from Washington Heights, just north of Harlem who were discovered singing doo-wop songs the year before outside an apartment complex.
62 years ago tonight, Mr. Lymon and his band appeared on a popular show featuring music and dancing called “The Big Beat.” The show was hosted by D.J. Alan Freed, who many music historians call, “The father of rock and roll.” Teenagers all over the country turned in each sunday night to watch their favorite artists and dance along. It began airing four months before “American Bandstand.”
Frankie Lymon was just 14 years old.
That night, Lymon left the stage while performing to briefly dance with a white girl. It was the first time a black human and a white human danced together on television.
This sparked an outrage and controversy that is sickening and embarrassing.
Southern ABC affiliates were outraged and said they would not air the show any more because of this abomination. Despite the show’s growing popularity, ABC cancelled it the following week.
Two years later, industry executives pressured Lymon to leave the group to pursue a solo career. At age 15, a woman twice his age introduced him to heroin. He soon became an addict. In February of 1968, Frankie Lymon died of a heroin overdose at age 25 at his grandmother’s house.
His story is tragic not only for him, but for the rest of us as well. Think about how many people missed out on the talent and beauty of people like Frankie Lymon because of the color of their skin.
Bigots rarely realize how much they steal from themselves and others.
Stories like this are important to learn, because they remind us of how far we have come, and how we can never allow ourselves to go backwards.
“The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
P.S., I tried to find a picture of this event, but ABC destroyed the tape.