The One And Only
A single Jewish singing group scaled
the heights ofMotown.
Special to the Jewish News
filled in the old days as "Motown's best kept secret," the
Valadiers — Motown's only Jewish singing group — is making
a comeback on the Detroit Jewish community's party circuit.
Singing a cappella (without musical accompaniment), the
then all-male teenage group, whose name means "strong men" in Latin,
landed an audition with Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., then made
appearances with many of the famous Motown singers and groups, such ..
as Jackie Wilson, the Supremes, Platters, Temptations and Marvin Gaye. '
Berveen 1958-63, the Valadiers cut many recordings, with six of them
scoring well on the charts. Their biggest hits were "Take a Chance" .and
"Greetings, This Is Uncle Sam," which became popular after the 1961
Cuban missile crisis.
"We were in the thick of the competition among , the manyMotown
groups trying to get Berry Gordy's attention," recalls
Jerry Light, one of the original members, who now
serves as manager for the modern Valadiers.
"Gordy really didn't have time to
bother with you unless you had a song
in the Top 40. But he always liked us
because he said we were a white group
with a black sound. Actually, we had a
tighter, higher harmony sound."
Motown insiders point out that
Gordy tried to achieve cultural
desegregation because he fretted
over the Motown acts coming
across as "too black," and he was
always devising plans to sell to
Light, 59, formerly of Oak Park, has
lived in St. Augustine, Fla., for the past
11 years. The other original Valadiers
were Stuart Avig, Art Glasser, Marty
Coleman and Gary Frenkel. Most of them
work in the precious metals refining busi-
Avig, of West Bloomfield, is part of the
comeback group, along with Don ReVels,
Andy Alonzo and Sal Prado.
Light is running ads in local newspapers
for the group to sing Motown hits and mod-
ern musical numbers at bar/bat mitzvahs,
weddings and other special parties and func-
tions. "All of us were on a cruise together
recently to celebrate a special birthday and we
started harmonizing in a men's room," he
Today's Valadiers —
"Everyone remembered his part from the old
original member Stuart
days. We laughed that we were playing the finest
Avig of West Bloomfield,
toilets on the cruise ship. We also won the ship's
center, along with Don
talent contest." ❑
ReVels, Andy Alonzo
and Sal Prado —
are now playing on the
bar/bat mitzvah and
To contact the Valadiers, call Jerry Light at
MR. EXCITEMENT from page 63
everyone he was, although this fact
never really was documented.
"There's no doubt in my mind that
he converted to Judaism and was cir-
cumcised," said Simon Rutberg, who
befriended Wilson as a teenage fan
and was close to him for the rest of
"He certainly spoke and acted like
it all of the time. His sister told me
on several occasions that he had con-
Rutberg has all of Wilson's records
and owns the Hatikvah Music Store
in the heavily Jewish Fairfax Ave.
section of Los Angeles.
"[Jackie] was very conversant in
Yiddish, and used many Jewish
expressions. He loved to eat chicken
soup at delicatessens. He wore a Star
of David, a mezuzah and a gold
medallion of Moses with a diamond
for each of the Ten Commandments.
"No one could sing 'My Yiddishe
Mama' better than Jackie — espe-
cially when he opened for Georgie
Jessel at the old Fontainebleau Hotel
in Miami Beach.
"He knew all about the Jewish
holidays and traditions, but he rarely
went to synagogues," Rutberg said,
"mainly because he was traveling and
performing most of the time. But
the way he spoke and acted, I think
he was just as Jewish as anybody."
Motown's first public relations
manager, Alan Abrams, now a
Toledo-based freelance writer, recalls
that Wilson used to call everyone
"booby," short for bubbele.
"He could even talk to my mother
in Yiddish — in fact, so could Berry
Gordy, because their association with
Jewish people rubbed off on them,"
said Abrams. "Jackie really admired
all of the Jewish people around
Abrams is convinced that African-
American entertainer Sammy Davis
Jr., himself a convert to Judaism,
played a strong role in encouraging
Wilson to convert.
"But the biggest Jewish influence
on Jackie's life probably came from
his manager, Nat Tarnopol. He was a
very controversial figure, but Jackie
really admired him," Abrams said.
A Fair Share?
Tarnopol took over as Wilson's man-
ager in 1957 when his previous
manager died, just as the singer
signed with Brunswick Records.
Wilson's fans and biographers have
questioned the fairness of the finan-
cial arrangements Tarnopol set up
for the singer throughout his career.
The relationship resulted in law-
suits and various charges being
hurled back and forth. But Tarnopol
had to implement astute managerial
prowess to keep Wilson on course in
his career, considering his erratic
behavior, personal problems and
scrapes with violence and death.
After Wilson once tried to sever his
connections with Tarnopol, the latter
and some Brunswick executives were
implicated in an incident in which
Tarnopol's thugs allegedly let Wilson
dangle out of a high-rise window
while Jackie — pleading for his life —
used his one free hand to sign a
renewal of his Brunswick contract.
"Some of these stories were myths,
but they really weren't too far off,"
Rutberg said there are many sides
to the Jackie Wilson story. "I was as
close to him as anyone until the end,
but there are some things you just
don't discuss," he said. "There's an
old saying, 'If you love a restaurant,
don't go into the kitchen.'"
Posner tells how Tarnopol, who
used to hang out in Gordy's office,
once told a group of auditioning
teenagers called the Matadors to
"come back after you've had more
practice." But Gordy ran out into
the hall and kept the 17-year-old
lead singer from leaving, thus begin-
ning a relationship with William
In The Jackie Wilson Story,
Tarnopol never appears on stage, but
he is talked about often.
"The Tarnopol influence is sort of
soft-peddled," said BET touring
ensemble head Kabatznick, "but the
overall Jewish influence is evident.
There were many suspect characters
in Jackie's life, and there are many
allegations, but the show really
focuses on Jackie himself, the great
The Jackie Wilson Story (My Heart
Is Crying, Crying) runs 8 p.m.
Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 8 p.m.
Saturday and 3 and 7 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 4-9, at Music Hall
for the Performing Arts, 350
Madison Ave., in Detroit.
$22.50-$37.50. For information,
call (313) 963-2366. For tickets,
call (313) 963-2366 or (248)
645-6666, or go to the Web site