R&B vocal group hailing from New York City, USA. James Sheppard (c.1936, Queens, New York City, New York, USA, d. 24 January 1970, Long Island, New York, USA) was lead and songwriter successively for two R&B groups, the Heartbeats and Shep And The Limelites. He created the first song cycle (i.e., a string of songs constituting a musical and literary unit) in rock n roll. With the Limelites he attained his only Top 10 pop success with Daddys Home, making him a one-hit-wonder. However, that song was part of a long cycle of songs, among the most distinctive being A Thousand Miles Away (US R&B number 5 and pop Top 60 in 1956), 500 Miles To Go (1957), recorded with the Heartbeats, Daddys Home (US R&B number 4 and pop number 2 in 1961), Ready For Your Love (US pop Top 50 in 1961), Three Steps From The Altar (US pop Top 60 in 1961), Our Anniversary (US R&B number 7 in 1962) and What Did Daddy Do (1962). The song-cycle first emerged in the nineteenth century as part of the Germanlied tradition, and many critics have thought that the Beatles, with Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, had created the first rock n roll song cycle.
The Heartbeats were formed in New York City in 1954, and first recorded the following year. Members on the first record were James Sheppard (tenor/baritone lead), Albert Crump (first tenor), Vernon Sievers (baritone), Robbie Tatum (baritone) and Wally Roker (bass). The group distinguished itself with smooth tight harmony and a knack for creating great nonsense vocal riffs. Their sound was the ultimate in romantic doo-wop balladry. In 1960 the group broke up, and the following year Sheppard, after a brief solo career as Shane Shep, formed a new group, Shep And The Limelites, with two veterans of the New York doo-wop scene, first tenor Clarence Bassett (b. Jamaica, New York, USA, d. 25 January 2005, Richmond, Virginia, USA) and second tenor Charles Baskerville. A rarity among doo-wop groups, using no bass and relying on two-part harmony, Shep And The Limelites magnificently continued the great smooth romantic sound of the Heartbeats, albeit with less flavourful harmonies. The group broke up in 1966. Sheppard was robbed and shot dead on 24 January 1970. Bassett continued singing, firstly in the Flamingos, and later in Creative Funk. Wally Roker became a successful executive in the music business.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.