Although he died more than four decades ago, Frankie Lymon’s name is still familiar to many music fans. But they might not realize how much Lymon inspired later R&B musicians, including many who became part of the Motown revolution — among them Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five, whose style was very similar.
Lymon’s life ended sadly at just age 25, but in the early years it certainly had its moments. Although his parents were hard-working and respectable, the family was poor and he spent a lot of time on the streets, sometimes finding part-time jobs to make a little cash. It’s been said that by the time he was 10 or 11 he was even hustling for hookers — and learning the facts of life first hand.
In any case, he was just 12 when he began hanging around some of the mid-1950s doo-wop groups in his Harlem neighborhood, and he soon joined one of them. He’d turned 13 and was the lead singer by the time the newly-christened Teenagers recorded their first and biggest hit, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” and it wasn’t long before Frankie and the guys were rocketing to the top. Young Frankie’s singing drew a lot of the attention, but for added attention he was also promoted as the song’s composer. That would be later be disputed in court, but for the moment everybody just rode the rising wave.
But it was to be a short-lived ride. After making a lot of records and hitting the Top Ten with several, including “I Want You To Be My Girl” and “The ABCs Of Love,” the group feuded and broke up during a tour of Europe in 1957. The Teenagers would continue to plug along for several years with varying personnel but not much success. Lymon’s solo career started well but went mostly downhill, probably helped along by drug problems and personal entanglements. In fact, it was the latter that would still be felt long after his death from drugs in 1968, when various wives, girlfriends, and others went to court over the rights to his estate — but his musical legacy still inspired countless R&B stars.