The Crests were an American doo-wop group, formed by bass vocalist J.T. Carter in the mid 1950s. The group had several Top 40 hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s on Coed Records. Their most popular song, "16 Candles", rose to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1959 selling over one million copies and earning a gold disc status. The group's other hits include "Step By Step", "The Angels Listened In", "Trouble In Paradise", "Six Nights A Week", and "A Year Ago Tonight". The Crests were the first interracially mixed doo-wop group, consisting of three African American members (one female), one Puerto Rican, and one Italian American
Founded by J.T. Carter, the group included Talmadge "Tommy" Gough (1939-2014), Harold "Chico" Torres and Patricia Vandross (1943-1993) (older sister of R&B singer Luther Vandross). Carter selected vocalist Johnny Mastrangelo (1939-2010) (shortened to Johnny Mastro and later to Johnny Maestro) as lead vocalist.
The Crests were discovered in 1956 while singing in a New York subway by the wife of orchestra leader Al Browne. Browne connected the group with Joyce Records where they recorded their first two songs, "My Juanita" and "Sweetest One".
In 1957, they charted with their first release, "Sweetest One", on Joyce Records.
After recording two more singles for Joyce Records, Patricia Vandross left The Crests in 1958 to finish her education.
Their next single after "16 Candles" on COED Records was "Six Nights A Week" which hit #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts and #17 on the R&B. Their next release "Flower Of Love" was bland compared to other Crests cuts and attained only a six-week run-up to #79.
From 1958 to 1960 the group was almost always on the road. In the late 1950s, The Crests performed on several national teen dance television shows, including American Bandstand and The Dick Clark Show. They appeared seven times on the latter.
In 1961, The Crests recorded a new single, "Little Miracles", with Tony Middleton, lead singer of The Willows, singing lead; it was their first single not to chart in the Top 100. Gough quit the group after the single, moving to Detroit, to work for auto giant General Motors, and was replaced by Gary "Kit" Lewis (not to be confused with Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis & the Playboys fame).
Maestro recorded with other backup singers under the name "Johnny Maestro & The Crests", producing a single for United Artists in 1962, two singles for Cameo Records in 1963-64, a single for APT Records in 1965, a single for Scepter Records in 1965, and three singles for the Parkway label in 1966.
James Ancrum then took over the lead, recording "Guilty" in January 1962 and charting only to #123. The group went back to touring when their 1963 Selma side "Did I Remember?" flopped. A 1964 sequel to "16 Candles", "You Blew Out The Candles", also was not successful.
In 1965, J.T. Carter and Mel Tillison signed with Decca Records and were chosen to be the potential artists of the year to come. Carter wrote, "Closer To Your Heart" and "The Wild Ones", originally written for Jordan Christopher's group The Wild Ones. Internal problems prevented Decca from securing the worldwide release of these recordings and the company folded, leaving all their artists in limbo.
By 1968, Johnny Maestro had joined with The Del Satins as their lead singer and merged with The Rhythm Method in March 1968 to become The Brooklyn Bridge. In 1969, they had a #3 hit with "Worst That Could Happen." By that time Torres was gone; the group continued as a trio of Carter, Ancrum, and Lewis and became a lounge act, disbanding in 1978. Carter went to sing with Charlie Thomas' Drifters for a year, then moved to Plainfield, New Jersey, to teach voice and set up his own recording studio.
In 1973, Carter met his wife Leona, an accomplished classical pianist/composer. Leona Carter has been a part of The Crests since then.
Carter reformed The Crests in 1980, auditioning over 200 singers at his studio, finally settling on lead Bill Damon (a Maestro sound-alike), Greg Sereck, Dennis Ray and New York drummer, Jon Ihle. The group continued well into the 1990s and toured with a five-piece band including Leona Carter on keys.
From 1990-2010, Johnny Maestro invited Carter to join him and The Brooklyn Bridge to record with them and to re-record some of their greatest hits.
In April 2010, the Los Angeles-based rights-management firm Beach Road Music, LLC, acquired the Coed Records catalog, subsequently re-releasing The Crests' song "The Great Physician" on the 2011 compilation album From The Vault: The Coed Records Lost Master Tapes, Volume 1. "The Great Physician" was originally released in 1960 as Coed 527, under the pseudonym "Johnny Masters" in an attempt to boost Maestro as a solo performer.
In 2014, Carter also began production on "American Classics: The Stars, Music and Cars", a TV show featuring the music and cars of the 1950s and 1960s, produced by Emmy Awards winner Ashley Russo.
In the year 2000, JT Carter sold the rights and name to Tommy Mara. Today, The Crests featuring Tommy Mara are performing and touring all over the country. The highlight of Mara's Crests was in 2001 when Johnny Maestro himself passed the scepter to Tommy and blessing the group. Today's Crests consists of Tommy Mara, Tony Lauro, Jerry Frulio, Kenny Galeano, and Joe Pizzo. The group is proud to continue the wonderful music of the Crests and legacy.
Death of original members
Patricia Vandross died of complications from diabetes in 1993.
Johnny Maestro (born John Peter Mastrangelo, May 7, 1939, Manhattan, New York) lived in Islip, New York, until 2003. He died of cancer on March 24, 2010, at his home in Cape Coral, Florida. He was 70.