Carlton A. Black — Always Sheddin’

Carlton Black “Sheddin'” in his home.

By Dino Robinson —

Positioning himself on top a red bar stool, his vintage electric guitar propped on his leg. Plug in, adjust, twist of knobs, a bid of feedback, Mr. Black is back in a self-imposed school. The eight-foot by eight-foot room has one function – “Shedding”. The room walls document his accomplishments in music, past and present. “I only wish I started to play earlier in my life.” Black laments, repositioning his fingers and as if on cue he begins again, “Now its time to shred.”

I never thought any of the songs I wrote would go anywhere

His fingers tap along the long wood arm of his electric guitar, his eyes close as he begins to form new chords being composed in his head. After some time, Black stops, “You see, I started playing relatively late in my life, about 22-23 years old.” To his testament, Black has penned many songs and performed with several groups. Today, there are several modern musical groups covering the songs Black penned more than 40 years ago. He still collects royalties from his compositions.

Born September 30, 1944 to Mildred Minola Burnette of Memphis, Tennessee and Warren Black of Evanston, he attended Foster elementary, Haven middle and then Evanston Township High School in 1962. Blacks’ mother worked as a domestic. His father served in the military. For much of Black’s life he and his four older cousins, the Pryor’s, was raised by his grandmother, Esther Black and aunts Ellen and Mildred Black (same name as his mother).

After graduation, Black began his working career at David Lifhord Groceries on Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Later he was employed at a glass factory on Emerson Street. It was while working there when he discovered music. “While working at the factory, I would always come with a pen and a pad of paper.” Black says, “In no time, I had one hundred songs or more.”

“I never thought any of the songs I wrote would go anywhere. Some I threw out, some were prose or poetry, some I wrote for other groups.”

Reflecting on his life growing up in Evanston, he remembers that the local fellas always liked to sing. “Groups would form and sing on street corners, school hallways, at the Foster Center shower room.” Black says. “We would do it for fun and in competitive talent shows.”

One time we opened up for Marvin Gaye in Highland Park

Some of the groups Black remembered included the Velvet-Airs, The Hands of Time, The Naturals (the original group) and the Renells, a rival singing group. “There was a female group as well but I cannot remember the name. Anne Pope was in it. And Gloria. Its been too long.”

The Velvet-Airs was the first group Black was in. The group consisted of Richard Gibbins, Marty Lidell, Donald Pryor and Wellington Giles. The Hands of Time consisted of Barry Young, Lennorard Perkins, Billie Giles, Bobby Caldwell. Black later joined the DuVals. The music scene in Evanston was tight-knit. They were all friends, cousins, or loosely knew each other in the surrounding communities.

A Member of the Foster Brothers, Robert “Bobby” C. Robinson, and Donald Clay formed the record label, Boss Records. Boss recorded several musicians in the Chicago metro area and the Evanston group that Black was in, the DuVals (1962). Members of the group were Charles Joseph Woolridge, Charles Perry, Andrew Thomas, Arthur Cox and Carlton Black. “I was the last to join the group”.

The first two songs on the Boss label was “Cotton” written by Charles Perry and “What am I” written by Carlton Black. The “Cotton” was a minor hit in the Chicago area. Smash Records later pick up the group and they performed in various talent shows and record hops in high schools and colleges around the Chicago area. “One time we opened up for Marvin Gaye in Highland Park.” Black said.

The DuVals group eventually disbanded. Black then was part of a revised group, the Naturals. The original group, from in the 1950s, included Charles Davis, Charles Frazier, Keith (Dicky) Frazier and Richard Lee. A later changed up brought in Ike Wilson who took the place of Charles Davis.

“We wanted to honor the original group.” Black says. “So we brought back the name in 1963.” The new Naturals recorded at the legendary Chess Record Studios on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. There they recorded “Three Banditos”, “Let Love Be True”, “Hey Little Girl”, “Different Girls” and “Hey Fellas”.

An Evanston based companion female group, the DruVels, also recorded at Chess Records. “On the same day we recorded “Let Love Be True”, we assisted with the recording of “Tell Him” for the DruVels.” Black’s baritone voice became the iconic opener for that song. The lead singer of the DruVels, Patti Drew, later went solo on Capitol Records and produced four albums.

Black reflected again, that it was so many years ago. The music scene changed over the decades. He held a day job in the northern suburbs where he eventually retired from. Throughout the years, Black continued to play in local bars and clubs. He also continued to practice. If you see Mr. Black today, but you might possibly hear him first, ask him what he would be doing today. He may answer, “Going to the Woodshed”.

Note: From a recorded interview conducted September 13, 2008 (1:27) by Dino Robinson and archived at the Shorefront Legacy Center as well as sample selections from the Foster Brothers, The Naturals, The DuVals, DruVels and Patti Drew.  Additional information on many of the groups in this article can be found in Robert Pruter’s publications, Doo Wop, The Chicago Scene and Chicago Soul.

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11 thoughts on “Carlton A. Black — Always Sheddin’

  1. Very interesting article. I haven’t seen Carlton in many, many years, however I have thought about him a number of times over the years. Ironically I was with him and the DruVels on the night they recorded “Tell Him”. I drove them to the recording studio on King Drive which was known as South Parkway Drive at that point in time.

  2. The female group Carlton is speaking of was called the Darnell’s. Members included Ann Pope Brown, Emarie Jackson Randle, Gloria Marshall Ivy, Carol Braden Price and Janet Cole Alexander Davis. Gloria passed on earlier this year and Ann died a few years ago. Emarie lives in Texas and Carol lives in California. Our group really began as I remembered in junior high. In fact there were a lot of us at that time-more than doo-wop groups normally had. Eventually, and by the time we reached high school, our group was intact with the five members above. We sang for musicals at ETHS and other places that slipped my mind now.

    Just reminiscing on a time in my life that was very exciting and productive. I just wish our recording at Vee Jay Records on Chicago’s Record Row had gone somewhere like the talented DruVels. Maybe Emarie or Carol will know or remember.

      1. Hi!
        I’m Charles Perry-Kelly, original founder of The Duvals/Naturals(2nd Rendition). Carlton & I were both featured on the flip side of “Tell Him” originally penned as “Tell Her” by Carlton. I’m not familiar with “Mel” and all of our songs were recorded on S. Michigan at Chess Studios. It was Andrew Thomas and I who finally convinced Carlton to join my group. I then loaned him $25 to purchase his first guitar after I’d bought one. He’d later be 10 times better than I! He deserves lots of credit for joining me in penning most of our songs.
        Thanks Bro,
        Chuck Perry-Kelly

      2. Thanks Mr. Perry. I listened to your radio interview several years ago and it was a great program. Are you familiar with our archives up here in Evanston? We have a nice collection on Evanston musicians dating back to the Foster Brothers.

  3. What a surpris fpr me to read this wonderful tribute to Mr. Carlton A. Black. Carlton was a classmate of mine. I just had a brief surprise conversation with not too long ago. Congradulation Carlton on all your accomplishments. I wish you many more years of greatness. Your classmate Elizabeth A. Burnett.

  4. Yes,
    I’m familiar with most of the talent that came from or lived in Evanston. Being that I’m from Florida(Winter Park), I never heard a lot of the songs from northern area until I arrived in Evanston in June of ’55’. I met Carlton in the summer of ’56’ never knowing that he and I would be the central peices of my group after I got out of the service. I also partied with Ann, Gloria, Emmarie, et al before I graduated from high school and went into the military. I haven’t seen those females since!

  5. BTW, I’m sure you’ve heard of David L. Oliver, the writer and singer of “I Want To Write You A Love Song”. Well, he was from Winter Park, Fl. and my friend from 1st through 9th grades here in Winter Park and Eatonville Fl. David used to sing in the doorway of my mothers’ beauty parlor whenever he came by to visit with me and he and I also worked for his grandfather, Mr. Taylor part time prior to my moving to Illinois. He had a wonderful voice and always sang a song for my moms. Heck, my sister, Barbara, brother Bishop Lorenzo Kelly and I formed the “Kelly Trio” and sang in churches from Orlando to Jacksonville. Get this, I didn’t want to do it but no one told Beatrice Kelly “no”!

    1. Wow. Great information. By the Way, I have been down to Winter Park, Florida. Specifically, the Heritage House in Hannibal Square has a 4 panel timeline exhibit that is my work. I wend down there for the opening of the center and the unveiling of the wall mural. The Idea Woman’s Club started by and the Senior home there is named for an Evanston resident, Mary Lee De Pugh.

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