Without a doubt, one of the most underrated talents of his generation was Frankie Lymon. The leader of Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, he was a popular doo-wop singer who tragically left us too soon.
While he was famous for his catchy songs, he also had a troubled personal life. He abused drugs and was also known to be quite the womanizer. He often sang about the troubles of love but it seemed he himself could not escape from it.
He left us way too soon – still in his twenties when he died. Yet his life and short legacy is worth exploring and we have quite an interesting tale to tell about his life, his career, and the aftermath of his death.
Join FactsVerse to learn about Frankie Lymon’s life and career, and how he had 3 wives at once, complicating his death…
FRANKIE LYMON’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Franklin Joseph Lymon was born on September 30, 1942, in Harlem, New York.
His father was a truck driver and his mother was a maid. His parents were also singers in a local gospel group and this struck a chord with Frankie Lymon – he had interest in singing from an early age.
While his parent’s experience with gospel-inspired his own singing, the Lymon family struggled financially and his parents couldn’t make a living solely from their music. They worked many odd jobs in addition to their main job in order to survive.
As a young boy, he worked for grocer to earn extra pocket change to help his family. Yet, he had an insatiable thirst to pursue a singing career. And unlike his parents, he didn’t want singing to be a hobby – he wanted it to be his career.
As he came of age, he decided to start singing in a relatively new genre at the time. Doo-wop was becoming popular in the 1950s and he decided to pursue a career as a doo-wop singer.
He eventually befriend the Puerto Rican singer Herman Santiago and joined his band – which became known as The Ermines and The Premiers. They began performing in local talent shows and in clubs.
They were slowly gaining popularity but they were far from fame. They needed to come up with a song that could match the likes of the popular doo-wop songs of the time. They needed to make their mark on the genre.
This happened finally in the mid-1950s. And it all started with a series of seemingly endless love letters that came their way. This was the birth of perhaps Frankie Lymon’s most famous song and the one which would define his career…
WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE?
Herman Santiago received many letters from one of his neighbors. This neighbor had received many love letters from his girlfriend and showed them to Herman and to Frankie Lymon.
Frankie and Herman analyzed these letters together and decided to write a song based on what they read in them.
They worked tirelessly to come up with a song about the foolhardiness and often the silliness of falling in love. Rather than creating a song about the joys of falling in love, they wanted to create a song about the…well…the foolishness of falling in love.
The song was called ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’ and this would become the band’s biggest hit. They had changed their name to The Teenagers and were now known collectively as Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers.
The song eventually topped the Billboard R & B charts and remained at the #1 spot for five weeks. It is still remembered as the best song that Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers recorded and is one of the most famous doo-wop songs of all time.
This song also became the title of a film about Frankie Lymon’s life, starring Larenz Tate, Vivica A. Fox, Lela Rochon, and Halle Berry.
The song tries to explain the mystery of why anyone would want to fall in love. While we might be used to such songs today, this poetic cynicism was rather unique for the otherwise innocent 1950s.
Nevertheless, Why Do Fools Fall In Love was by no means a sad song. It was melodious and upbeat. It brought Frankie Lymon’s golden voice to a wider audience. It made him more respected amongst his colleagues. And it won him scores of fans across the country. It especially made him popular among the ladies and he was now receiving more attention from women who wanted to be with him. As he grew older and developed into a handsome man, the attention from women would just continue on and on…
FRANKIE LYMON’S CAREER
Let’s have a look at some of Frankie Lymon’s other popular songs and his career achievements.
While Why Do Fools Fall In Love? remains his best-known song he still won acclaim for his other releases and was by no means a one-hit wonder. With The Teenagers, his most popular songs included I Want You to be My Girl, Goody Goody, I Promise to Remember, Who Can Explain?, I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent, and The ABC’s of Love.
All of these songs were massive hits and were always near the top of the charts. The radio would play these songs again and again, and youngsters across America had no hesitation with memorizing the catchy lyrics.
While the entire group was responsible for their success, it was clear that Frankie Lymon was becoming a star in his own right. They eventually broke up while touring Europe in 1957, and it was then when Frankie Lymon decided to pursue his own solo career.
He did have a few successes and his most notable success as a solo artist was his cover of the song “Little Bitty Pretty One.”
He was still a huge star and was adored by fans.
But, the fact was, he wasn’t as successful in his solo career as he was with The Teenagers. No doubt, this lack of success and the intensity of fame had taken its toll on him and his life took a turn for the worse…
FRANKIE LYMON’S DEATH
In his teenage years, Frankie Lymon became addicted to heroin – which was sadly the fate of many artists of his generation.
Eventually, he became so addicted to it that his performances weren’t as great and he had lost much of the charisma and the stamina needed to succeed at performing live music. Professionals in the music industry took notice and he began performing less and recording less.
His career had gone uphill fast but it sadly went downhill fast as well. He did briefly reunite with The Teenagers but it was to no avail. While his songs were still relatively popular, there were now other artists who were taking his place.
At the age of 25, Frankie Lymon died from a heroin overdose. He was found dead in his grandmother’s home in Harlem. He was one of the early examples of a great artist who died young but sadly, his life wasn’t as immortalized as many other artist were.
For many years, discussion about Frankie Lymon had greatly halted.
That is, until the subject of his estate came up…and there was a trio fighting for what they claimed was theirs…
FRANKIE LYMON HAD 3 WIVES AT ONCE, COMPLICATING HIS DEATH
Frankie Lymon was known to be a womanizer and continued to have relations with beautiful woman even as he became an adult and his career began to go downhill.
Upon his death, there were 3 women vying to inherit what he left behind with is estate. All 3 of these women, claimed to be Frankie Lymon’s wives! Their story and their relations with Frankie Lymon became the basis of the movie “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”
Frankie Lymon, at different times in his life, got married to 3 different women with whom he had relations and never divorced any of them. The 3 women were the singer Zola Berry, Elizabeth Waters, and Emira Eagle.
These were all older women and during his lifetime, he claimed that he loved older women and had no interest in dating women who were around his age.
The 3 women all had to go to court to fight for his estate. A court ultimately had to determine which of the 3 wives was most entitled to Frankie’s estate.
Zora Taylor wasn’t able to prove strong evidence that she was married to Frankie Lymon. At first, Elizabeth Waters won the court case but after an appeal against her, Emira Eagle ended up winning Frankie Lymon’s estate. These court cases began in the 1980s and went on for years until it was finally decided that Emira Eagle was entitled to all of Frankie Lymon’s estate.
These shenanigans have often overshadowed Frankie Lymon’s career. But one must look back and remember that his career, though short-lived, produced some of the best doo-wop songs that we’ve ever heard. He also came at a time when black artists were entering the mainstream in an America that was trying to fight against segregation. He was one of the first singers to dance with a white woman on live TV and he helped break the racial barrier.
And if you happen to be in love and are experiencing the wonder but also the agony that comes with it, you might be asking yourself ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’
Frankie Lymon’s music had a resurgence with the release of the film ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love?’ and we hope to see more music fans discover his music for generations to come.
So, now let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Frankie Lymon? Did you know about his 3 wives and the fight over his estate?
And now, here’s what we want to know from you:
Do you think that there his music is still well known today?
Or has he been largely pushed aside by other artists of his generation?