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BARRY LEVINE: Sonny and Cher buck singing trend with success

THE OLD ROCKER: Sonny and Cher were one of the most successful husband-and-wife music duos

Sonny Bono and Cher (Special photo)

Sonny Bono and Cher (Special photo)

Of all the different vocal group combinations — all male, all female, male-female groups, trios, mixed trios, male duos and female duos — the least successful has been male/female duos.

From the summer of 1955 — the beginning of the modern rock ‘n’ roll era — through 1965, only four male-female pairs managed to notch Top 5 hits. Ironically, three of the pairs had No. 1 hits in 1963. The fourth duo, Sonny & Cher, scored in 1965.

Three male/female duos, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Mickey and Sylvia, and Billie and Lillie, all had hit records during that period but none that reached the Top 5.

From 1955 to 1961, the husband-and-wife duo of Les Paul and Mary Ford had five Top 40 hits, the biggest of which was “Hummingbird,” which rose to No. 7 in 1955.

Mickey and Sylvia had their only hit in the winter of 1957 when “Love is Strange” jumped to No. 11. The song, recorded 56 years ago, is now an integral part of a Nationwide Insurance TV ad.

Billie and Lillie scored with “La Dee Dah” and “Lucky Ladybug” in 1958 and 1959, respectively. “La Dee Dah” reached No. 9 and “Lucky Ladybug” No. 14.

There also were male/female duos who combined for a song or an album but did not perform on a regular basis. Those combinations include Chubby Checker and Dee Dee Sharp, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Marvin Gaye with Tammi Terrell and Mary Wells, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Dawson’s own Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, and Johnny Cash and June Carter.

Ray “Paul” Hildebrand, of Joshua, Texas, and Jill “Paula” Jackson, of McCaney, Texas, were the first male/female duo to have a No. 1 hit when “Hey Paula” hit the top spot on Feb. 9, 1963.

A basketball scholarship student at Howard Payne College in Texas, Hildebrand was inspired by Annette’s hit “Tall Paul” and started writing a song about Paul and Paula. Hildebrand lived in a boarding house during the school year, and Jackson was the owner’s niece. They were introduced and performed Hildebrand’s initial version of “Paul and Paula” at an American Cancer Society benefit. The duo recorded the song, and it broke into the Top 100 in December 1962. Seven weeks later in was No. 1.

Two of their other songs, “Young Lovers” and “First Quarrel,” were Top 40 hits in 1963, rising to No. 6 and No. 27, respectively.

A brother-sister duo from Niagara Falls, N.Y., Nino Tempo and April Stevens, had a No. 1 smash with a remake of “Deep Purple” on Nov. 16, 1963. It also was a No. 1 hit for Larry Clinton and his Orchestra in 1939.

Originally working as solo performers, Tempo and Stevens joined to record “Deep Purple,” which quickly became a smash hit.

They had three other Top 40 hits. “Whispering” jumped to No. 11 in the winter of 1963. It was a No. 1 hit for Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra in 1920. Their version of “Stardust” rose to No. 32 in 1964 after being a No. 1 hit for Isham Jones and his Orchestra in 1931. Their final hit was “All Strung Out,” which climbed to No. 26 in 1966.

One week later, on Nov. 23, 1963, another male/female duo unseated “Deep Purple” with the nation’s No. 1 hit.

Dale Houston, of Ferriday, La., hometown of Jerry Lee Lewis, and Grace Broussard, of Prairieville, La., were the third male-female duo to chart a No. 1 song in 1963 with “I’m Leaving It Up to You.”

Sam Montel, owner of Montel records, introduced the pair, and they recorded “I’m leaving It Up to You” a short while later. It quickly reached the top spot.

Dale and Grace had their other Top 40 hit when “Stop and Think It Over” climbed to No. 8 during February 1964.

A combination of Houston’s health problems and professional differences caused the duo to disband.

The husband-wife duo of Sonny Bono, of Detroit, and Cher Sarkisian Bono, of El Centro, Calif., hit the top of the charts with “I Got You Babe” on Aug. 14, 1965, unseating “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.

The pair first worked together as backup singers for renowned record producer Phil Spector. Among the rock classics they sang backing vocals on were “Da Doo Ron Ron” by the Crystals, “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers.

They had 10 other Top 40 hits, five of which reached the Top 10: “Laugh at Me” and “Baby Don’t Go” in 1965, “The Beat Goes On” in 1967, “All I Ever Need is You” in 1971 and “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done” in 1972.

The duo quickly diversified their interests.

Sonny and Cher had a variety show on CBS-TV from 1971 to 1974, the year their 11-year marriage ended. The show returned in 1976 and ended in 1977.

Sonny turned to politics, serving as mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., from 1988 to 1992 and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994. He was killed in a skiing accident on Jan. 5, 1998 in Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Cher, meanwhile, worked as a solo artist and had three No. 1 hits after splitting from Sonny: “Half-Breed” in 1973, “Dark Lady” in 1974 and “Believe” in 1999.

She became one of Hollywood’s premier actresses, winning an Oscar for “Moonstruck” in 1987. Cher also developed into one of the top acts in Las Vegas and on the concert circuit.

Barry Levine writes about music and the movies for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at dot0001@yahoo.com.