Several thousand people will attend the Urban Nutcracker this month at the John Hancock Hall, presented by Tony Williams. Williams, who grew up in the Bromley-Heath projects, founded the Urban Nutcracker in 2001. Williams runs the Tony Williams Dance Center at 284 Amory St. in Jamaica Plain. A tremendously talented dancer, Williams was the first African-American dancer in the Boston Ballet in 1964.
Among the other distinguished participants in the Urban Nutcracker are Chris Scott and his brother Ilanga from the G-Clefs, a famous ’50s and ’60s doo-wop group form Roxbury. Now semi-retired, Chris and Ilanga, along with their other brothers, Tim, Scott and Teddy Scott, discovered their niche 60 years ago while singing in the choir at St. Richard’s Church in Roxbury. The four brothers, who grew up on Madison Street in Roxbury, and their next-door neighbor, Ray Gipson, honed their talent singing in the nearby Mission Hill projects. The boys liked the reverberating sounds of the melody in the hallways.
“In the early ’50s, we would sing throughout the Mission Hill projects,” said Ilanga, while sipping a coffee at Mike’s Donuts. Ten years later, the G-Clefs rose to fame, appearing on national television on “American Bandstand,” which was hosted by the legendary Dick Clark.
In the years prior to reaching stardom, the group, which was originally called the Bob O Links, sang at local dances and record hops, running their own gigs, renting halls and selling tickets. After changing their name on the advice of their mother, the G-Clefs performed at the Rollerway in Revere. Their first big hit was “Ka-Ding-Dong,” which was penned by themselves in 1953, but didn’t sell until many years later.
By 1957, the G-Clefs were the quintessential American success story. Four years after singing in the Mission Hill projects, the G-Clefs performed at the Apollo Theater in New York. They also performed at the Brooklyn Paramount, along with the Del-Vikings and Bo Diddley. The G-Clefs’ best-selling song was the 1961 hit, “I Understand.”
In 1967 at the Beach Ball in Revere, the group recorded a live album, “The G-Clefs on Stage.” The Beach Ball at that time was popular among the locals. Mission Hill revelers would ride the Blue Line to Revere to see the talented performers.
The G-Clefs have performed in Japan and Europe as well as home in the Boston Garden and at the old Boston Arena. Five years ago, they played at the 50th Roxbury Memorial High School graduation, Ilanga’s alma mater. The other Scott brothers graduated from the old Boston Trade School on Parker Street.
As a lover of “oldies” music, I remember listening to the G-Clefs on WMEX radio, hosted by legendary disc jockey Arnie Ginsburg. It was a pleasure spending a few hours with Ilanga, who still lives in Roxbury, preparing this story. Besides being a great entertainer, he is a gentleman and a class act.
Good luck to Maurice “Mo” Boland, who recently started his own business, Mt. Eagle Custom Carpentry. Mo is a hard worker who came to Mission Hill from County Kerry, Ireland.
Thanks to Jeannine Barry for sharing her delicious pumpkin pies with the patrons of the Mission Hill Post on Thanksgiving Eve. Jeannine’s formula for a great pie is that she uses hubbard squash and she mixes the ingredients with an old-fashioned “food mill.”
Spotted downtown last week driving the Orange and Green Line tourist bus was Mitch Hilton. Mitch’s fellow bus drivers refer to him as “Mission Hill Mitch.”
It was nice chatting with Paul Grant at Mike’s Donuts last week. Paul is a real estate developer, working on Mission Hill. In the ’90s, Paul was a Boston College basketball great who later played for five years in the NBA.