Hill Happenings

Happy 80th birthday (July 22) to Illanga Scott, the lone survivor of the G-Cleffs, a local pop soul vocal group. Also in the band were Illanga’s three brothers Teddy, Chris, Tim Scott and their next-door neighbor from Roxbury, Ray Gipson. Illanga is a wonderful gentleman, and I enjoy conversing with him when I often see him at Mike’s Donuts. 

As teenagers, the group would hone their singing skills throughout the Mission Hill project because they liked the reverberating sounds of the melody. 

In 1957, just a few years after singing in the project, the G-Cleffs were the quintessential success story, appearing at the famous Apollo Theater in New York. They were later featured on the faddish “American Bandstand” television show, and they performed locally at the Strand Theater in Dorchester, the Boston Garden and the old Boston Arena. The G-Cleffs often played at the “Beach Ball” in Revere, a popular spot for Mission Hill music lovers who would ride the Blue line train to Revere Beach to hear the great music. 

The G-Cleffs first big hit was “Ka- Ding –Dong,” but my favorite is “I Understand,” a tenderhearted slow song. Illanga, who still lives in Roxbury, stays busy doing the choreographing at the Tony Williams Dance Studio in Jamaica Plain.

Thirty summers ago in Mission Hill, an atrocity happened when the beloved Earley family was victimized by violence at their 137 St. Alphonsus St. apartment. The landlord, Nicola Colafella, who unsuccessfully attempted to raise the Earley’s rent to $1,200 per month (an unrealistic amount for 1990), allegedly shot both Walter Earley and his son Bobby Earley to death. Walter’s wife, Katherine, and the couple’s older son, Tom Earley, were wounded in the unprovoked attack, but they survived. 

Colafella has been confined at Bridgewater State Hospital, a facility for the criminally insane, since the incident. I mention this not to conjure up awful memories, but to reflect on the lives of Walter and Bobby.

Walter was a World War II veteran who served in the Navy before joining the Boston Police in 1948. Until his retirement in 1980, he spent his entire career in law enforcement working in District 14, Brighton. In a Boston Herald story from 1990, Officer Vinnie Imbimbo, who worked with Walter for years, said; “Walter was an old time cop who loved walking the beat and talking and joking with the constituents he served.” 

Walter was quite the character and a great guy. He was a jolly storyteller, and I heard many of his tales sitting with him at the Mission Hill Post. 

Walter’s grandson John Earley is a dedicated Boston Police officer who grew up in Mission Hill. When John joined the department years ago as a patrolman, he wore Badge # 1881 – the same badge number his grandfather wore. Walter would have loved that. 

Bobby Earley graduated in 1964 from Mission High School, where he was a terrific basketball player. Bobby had an unruffled personality, and he was always unflappable on the basketball court, particularly when he played in the Tech Tourney at the packed Boston Garden on the great ‘64 Mission High team. He was also an excellent baseball player and later played for Larry’s Pub in the Mission Hill Softball League. 

After high school, Bobby served in the U.S. Army and did a tour in Vietnam. As a little kid playing basketball in the Mission Hill project, Bobby would often join my friends and myself and tutor us in the fundamentals of the great game of basketball. I always appreciated Bobby’s consideration.

I was saddened to hear of the death of Joe Cosby last month. Joe, a U.S. Marine and former Boston Firefighter, was a wonderful Mission Hill guy. 

About 40 years ago I coached Joe on the Mission Hill C.Y.O. baseball team. It was a summer of fun coaching Joe and the other fine Mission Hill youngsters, including John Kern, Eric Alden and Tony Green. Joe loved sports and playing for “Richie’s Rebels”; he was among the best players ever in the Mission Hill Softball League. 

While I was recently walking with my son, Rob Martin, we crossed paths with Joe at Brigham Circle, and the three of us had a nice chat. The last thing Joe said was, “See you guys later, I’m going to stop in Mission Church.” 

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