The Hi-Lo’s Meet Sinatra

It seems like Frank Sinatra is showing up here a lot lately, but I happened to run across a couple of tidbits that sort of connected. While working up a piece on a close-harmony singing group called the Hi-Lo’s, I found that Ol’ Blue Eyes had encountered the guys a time or two — and I even found a video of them all singing together.

Although the Hi-Lo’s might not be as familiar now as other singing groups from the 1950s and 1960s, at the time it was a tremendously respected combo. The group’s name indicated the singers’ vocal ranges, and when combined with precise and complex arrangements, the resulting sound earned a lot of admiration from other musical pros.

The group first came together in Hollywood in the early 1950s, and included Gene Puerling, Bob Strasen, Bob Morse and Clark Burroughs. All were very talented singers who’d already performed in other groups, and it didn’t take long for them to get noticed. They began to hit the recording studio with regularity, and even though the group would never spin out any real chart-busters, it generated a lot of successful records.

Over the next few years, the Hi-Lo’s kept busy with records, clubs, and even an appearance in a movie (1957’s Calypso Heat Wave). The group also began showing up regularly on TV variety shows, including those hosted by Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney — and Frank Sinatra. In the video below, Sinatra sings with the guys, doing a version of his “I’ll Never Smile Again,” and judging by the look on his face we can only wonder what was going through his mind. As a much younger singer he’d had a break-out hit on the song, backed by Tommy Dorsey and the Pied Pipers. (I’ve included it for comparison.)

As for the Hi-Lo’s, Bob Strasen eventually left the group and Don Shelton joined up. The guys went through some ups and downs but in 1962 were recruited by Sinatra for his fledgling Reprise label. A few successful records resulted but changing tastes in music (rock and roll) eventually led to the group’s dissolving. In later years, some of the guys have occasionally gotten together again, with mixed success.

The Hi-Lo’s – “Speak Low”

Frank Sinatra w/ Pied Pipers & Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (1940) – “I’ll Never Smile Again”

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