THE SATURDAY MORNING SONG CHRONICLES - PAGE 28

-- Paul B Allen III: November 16, 2019

FRANKIE LYMON

I was in sixth grade at Mill Elementary school in San Bernardino, California. The teacher had just finished writing something on the blackboard. She told the class to copy what she had written. 

I walked up to the blackboard with my paper and pencil and started writing down the information. The teacher, who was now sitting at her desk and reading something, suddenly looked up and asked me what I was doing standing up at the blackboard instead of sitting in my seat. I told her I was copying what she had written, just as she had instructed us to do. 

She asked why I wasn’t doing that from my desk. I told her I couldn’t see it from there. She asked, “You sit on the front row and you can’t see the words on the blackboard?” She thought I was kidding when I answered, “No.” I mean, even the kids sitting on the back row of the class could see and copy the words, but not me. 

I was sent to the school nurse immediately and the nurse gave me an abbreviated eye test. She called my parents directly from her office.  

A day or so after this, I was sitting in a store called White Front in San Bernardino. It was large for its time and was kind of like a smaller version of Walmart or Kmart, which would not reach our city for many years to come. 

When the optometrist came out to greet my mother and me in his waiting area, he took one look at me and turned as white as a sheet. He was visibly shaken, so much so that he had to volunteer an explanation for why he was reacting in this way. 

He said, “Please forgive me, but I'm a huge music fan and you look exactly like one of my favorite performers of all time did when he was your age. Have you ever heard of Frankie Lymon?” 

It was the first time I had heard that name. But, as fate would have it, perhaps six months later, an article about Frankie Lymon came out in Ebony magazine and it had pictures. When I saw what Frankie looked like, I could understand the optometrist’s reaction. I did look very much like Frankie did when he was my age, and that puzzled me (and led me off onto one of my many tangents, this time researching doppelgangers!). 

As fascinated as I was by our resemblance, I was mesmerized when I started reading Frankie’s story. It was wonderful, but also, devastatingly sad. 

Frankie was a super talent. I have always called him “The First Michael Jackson.” Frankie could out-sing most of the vocalist of his day. He could out-dance most of the entertainers of his time. He was a poised and articulate speaker in interviews, and he had a quick wit, he was funny, and he had tremendous self-confidence. All at only thirteen years old! Some have said that had Frankie not died so young, he would have been the Sammy Davis, Jr. of his generation. Others have said he would have been on the same level as Sinatra. 

In these very rare videos, you will hear Frankie on his first hit record and see him on his first TV show as a member of the group, The Teenagers. Later it became Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers. Then, it was just Frankie Lymon. And all of that in just a year. In these videos, Frankie is between 13 and 15 years old. In addition to three live video performances, you will see a very brief interview of Frankie in Great Britain, when he was about to perform at the London Pallidum.  He is only 14 years old in this short clip but notice how poised and personable he was. 

And the last video is a clip from the TV show, Mysteries and Scandals. It is a brief summary of what happened to Frankie, and why he ended up in the “26 years old when they died” club. This part is a bit sad, so if you don’t want to check out that video, I understand, but it is a cautionary tale about what too much success at too young of an age can bring. 

Though it is tragic that his life ended so abruptly, what he left the world of music can’t be denied. When there was a debate as to whether Frankie should be given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, even artists as prominent as Madonna, Johnny Mathis, and Billie Joel rallied on behalf of the long-departed Frankie. 

No, I won't leave you hanging. To finish my story, once the optometrist gathered himself, he gave me an eye exam. Afterward, he asked my mother, “Who has been leading this boy to school all these years?” My mother thought he was making a joke. He wasn’t. He handed my mother a pair of glasses and said, “Put these on, and they will make you see the way your son has been seeing all of his life.” She put the glasses on… and then she cried. 

I had been a straight “A” student up until I got my new glasses. Not being able to see, I had always focused tremendously on my schoolwork. But now? Now that I could see everything all around me, my focus on books took a nosedive. But I could tell you exactly how cute Lynette Cash was in her new braces, or, maybe they were not new at all. Maybe this was just the first time I could see them. 

And, I hope to see you next week for a new Saturday Morning Song Chronicles. Enjoy.    

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