Before rock & roll took over the charts and became a decades-spawning cultural phenomenon, Toronto-spawned vocal group The Four Lads dominated the early 1950s North American pop scene. Their four-part harmonies and clean-cut image helped make hits of songs like “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” “Moments to Remember” and “No, Not Much!” in both America and Canada.
The group emerged from Toronto’s St. Michael’s Cathedral Choir School in 1947. The original quartet consisted of teenaged friends Jimmy Arnold (lead tenor), Frank Busseri (baritone), Connie Codarini (bass), and Bernie Toorish (tenor and arranger). They would sing at local hotels under the name The Four Dukes.
An impromptu performance backstage at Toronto’s Casino Theatre for their idols, the African-American “spiritual” group the Golden Gate Quartet, led to a 30-week gig at the posh New York nightclub Le Ruban Bleu. The club’s owner informed the boys that there was another Four Dukes working out of Detroit, and suggested they change their name to The Four Lads. They did.
At the behest of the band’s manager, Columbia Records A&R executive Mitch Miller scouted the quartet during their Ruban Bleu residency. He liked what he heard and offered the Lads the chance to provide accompanying vocals for his artists. Thus, in 1951, The Four Lads made their first commercial splash, singing back-up on the Johnnie Ray track “Cry” and its B-side, “The Little White Cloud That Cried.” Both songs were arranged by Toorish, and single was credited to Johnnie Ray and The Four Tops. Both songs became hits and the pair would continue to record together through 1952.
That same year The Four Lads would have a minor hit of their own with their debut single “The Mocking Bird.” They would have greater success in 1953 with “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and, in 1954, the African-influenced “Skokiaan.”
Miller, who chose all the group’s material, would continue to produce their songs, often in three-hour sessions with upwards of 50 musicians sitting in. The hits kept coming, with 1955’s “Moments to Remember” followed by 1956’s “No, Not Much” and “Standing on the Corner (Watching All the Girls Go By),” the latter taken from the Frank Loesser-penned Broadway musical The Most Happy Fella.
The Four Lads also became a fixture on the newly-emerging medium of television. They hosted a 1955 summer replacement series for Perry Como and were guests on any number of TV shows. The emergence of rock & roll curtailed the success of vocal groups, although The Four Lads would continue to record and perform through the ‘70s, albeit with various lineup changes.
Alongside their contemporaries The Crew Cuts and The Diamonds, The Four Lads were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame during the 1984 JUNO Awards broadcast. They also performed “Standing on the Corner” on the show, an experience that led original member Busseri to head back out onto the road with a reinvigorated version of the quartet. The group still performs today.
“Moments to Remember” hit No. 2 on the American singles chart
Inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame
Inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame