They have been called the first successful Midwestern R&B group. Some historians of vocal groups consider Pookie Hudson to be the first true leader of a vocal group, because the Spaniels pioneered the technique of having the main singer solo at his own microphone, while the rest of the group shared a second microphone.
The original members included:
- Thornton James "Pookie" Hudson (June 11, 1934 – January 16, 2007)
- Ernest Warren (December 2, 1933 - May 7, 2012)
- Willie C. Jackson (died February 18, 2015; aged 79)
- Opal Courtney, Jr. (November 22, 1936 – September 18, 2008)
- Gerald Gregory (died February 12, 1999)
The group debuted in late 1952 at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana as Pookie Hudson & The Hudsonaires. They changed their name to The Spaniels that spring and, upon graduation, became one of the first two artists to sign with Vee-Jay Records, the first large, independent Afro-American owned record label. The group recorded their initial release, "Baby It's You" on May 5, 1953. Released in July, the song reached #10 on Billboard's R&B chart on September 5, 1953.
In Spring 1954, "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight" hit number twenty-four on Variety's pop chart, and rose to number five on Billboard's R&B chart. The Spaniels played regularly at the Apollo, The Regal and other large theaters on the Chitlin circuit.
The line-up changed numerous times over the ensuing years.
The Spaniels were the top selling vocal group for Vee Jay. The band broke up when the label went bankrupt in 1966, but in 1969, the group reformed, releasing hits like "Fairy Tales" in 1970. An entire new generation was exposed to the group's music when "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight" was featured prominently in the movies, American Graffiti and Three Men and a Baby.
Two Spaniels groups later performed simultaneously: one in Washington, D.C., and the original group still based in Gary.
Courtney, Jr. died on September 18, 2008 at the age of 71, after suffering a heart attack.
Ernest Warren died on May 7, 2012 in Gary, Indiana, at the age of 78.
Willie C. Jackson died of a rare lung disease on February 18, 2015, at the age of 79.
- Thomas, Bryan. "The Spaniels". Answers.com. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
- "The Spaniels". vocalgroup.org. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
- "The Spaniels Biography". Oldies.com. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
- Thedeadrockstarsclub.com - accessed May 9, 2012
- Michelle L. Quinn (February 25, 2015). "Last surviving Spaniels member dead at 79". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
- Marv Goldberg's Article on The Spaniels
- The Spaniels at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame
- The Spaniels via soul-patrol.com
- Answers.com entry
- A Cappella News
- Oldies.com article on The Spaniels
- Interview with member Don Porter at UC Santa Barbara - February 2000 via archival edition of website Njs4ever