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Jimmy Beaumont is the lead singer of Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners.

James Beaumont.jpg

CHS 1958 - Jimmy Beaumont Skyliner Fame

Silky-voiced Jimmy Beaumont, frontman for Skyliners, dies at 76

SCOTT MERVIS Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Jimmy Beaumont, the golden-voiced singer of the Skyliners, died Saturday in his sleep at his home in McKeesport at age 76 after a career that lasted nearly 60 years.

“He was just a phenomenal talent,” said Henry DeLuca, who promoted the Roots of Rock and Roll concerts that celebrated many a Skyliners anniversary. “All the Pittsburgh singers idolized him. A distinctive voice that no one could imitate.”

Mr. Beaumont, a humble and soft-spoken star, was still singing as recently as Sept. 17 when the Skyliners performed a concert in New York.

He was best known for the 1959 hit “Since I Don’t Have You,” a magical, tearful ballad that topped the Cashbox R&B chart and went to No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart.

Mr. Beaumont, from the city’s Knoxville neighborhood, was just 18 when it happened. Joe Rock, a promo man working with Mr. Beaumont’s group the Crescents, jotted down the lyrics as he sat in his car at a series of stoplights, lamenting that his girlfriend was leaving for flight attendant school on the West Coast.

Mr. Rock took them to Mr. Beaumont, who wrote a melody just as quickly as Mr. Rock wrote the words.

“I had been listening to all the doo-wop groups from that period — The Platters, The Moonglows. I guess just from listening it came out of me,” Mr. Beaumont told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2009.

Thirteen labels rejected the song as a demo, but the record was released in late December 1958. In short order it went to No. 1 in Pittsburgh, prompting an invitation to “American Bandstand.”

“He was one of the people who inspired me to get in the business,” said Glenwillard native Lou Christie, who had many successful hits of his own. “When I found out they were from Pittsburgh...I was cleaning the cellar and I heard Art Pallan playing ‘Since I Don’t Have You’ on on KDKA. I thought, ‘Oh my God, what is this song?’ It was not doo-wop. It had a sophistication that was way extended: Strings and horns and classical changes. Done so beautifully. I said, ‘I have to get to know this guy,’ and that’s why I got into this business.”

“Since I Don’t Have You” went to No. 12 on the Billboard Pop chart on March 23, 1959, and No. 3 on R&B charts. In Cashbox, the Skyliners became the first white group to top the R&B charts.

When Dick Clark put the group on his Caravan of Stars tours, people expected the Skyliners to be a black group.

“At the Apollo Theater in New York,” Mr. Beaumont said, “everyone was laughing and pointing to each other when we came out. They couldn’t believe we were a white group. They got real quiet during the song, then when we went into the ‘you’s’ the women in the audience were all singing along.”

For the past four decades, the song has taken on a life of its own, remade by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Patti LaBelle, Art Garfunkel, Don McLean, Ronnie Milsap, The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Guns N’ Roses. The song was used in George Lucas’ 1973 period classic “American Graffiti” and also turned up in “Lethal Weapon 2.” Stevie Wonder, a huge fan of the song, performed it at the Mellon Arena in 2007, and then, on his return trip in 2015, summoned the Skyliners out of their seats, to their surprise, to perform it with him.

The Skyliners hit No. 26 with a second ballad, “This I Swear,” in June 1959, and scored another hit with a cover of “Pennies From Heaven” a year later. The group split in 1963, just before the British Invasion, and reunited for an oldies revival concert in 1970 at Madison Square Garden.

The only time Mr. Beaumont had a non-music job in the years just after that reunion when he drove a cab from 1970 to 1974. People were always surprised, he recalled, to be picked up an international star.

In 1975, the Skyliners squeaked into the Top 100 again with “Where Have They Gone,” and it was just enough of a spark. Mr. Beaumont had kept the group going in one form or another ever since as the only remaining original member. Whereas so many groups in the oldies circuit brought in young singer to handle the leads, Mr. Beaumont never handed over that duty.

“People still want me to hit that high note,” he said in 2009. “I’ve lost a little bit, but I’d like to think not much. I’m not going to retire. People will retire me when they stop coming.”

Donna Groom, a member of the Skyliners for the past 37 years, said that for all his talent, “He was very humble, very talented. He never put on airs of any kind. Just a pleasure to work with. He knew music.”

She recalled that about 10 years ago they played a birthday party for the wife of a Texas billionaire.

“Skyliners played the cocktail set, Chuck Berry played the dance set and Martina McBride did the concert. The pay was great. In the dressing room, the wife comes in and says ‘You’re my favorite group,’ and wanted to have pictures. We had already gotten paid, but her husband handed Jimmy an envelope. When he opened it, there was another check in there — a tip for $25,000. He had every right to keep that, but do you know he split that with all of us. We all went home with $8,000.”

One of his more esteemed Pittsburgh fans was R&B legend Billy Price.

“I was stunned by how great Jimmy Beaumont was,” Mr. Price told the Post-Gazette last year when they were inducted together as Pittsburgh Rock and Roll Legends. He said that when he first listened to a collection of Skyliners’ recordings, “I remember thinking, ‘This guy could be the best white R&B singer ever.’”

Another fan, Frank Czuri, formerly of Diamond Reo and the Silencers, got the pleasure to join the Skyliners several years ago. “My four years with him as a Skyliner were truly a dream come true, as I learned about harmony at 10 from my head in the record player listening to how the Skyliners did it. Jimmy was the best.”

Nick Pociask, who has sung with the Skyliners, for 25 years, said, “Jimmy was somewhat of a quiet person and pretty much kept to himself, but he was very appreciative of all of his fans and people who supported the Skyliners. That was what was most important to him.”

“I never met an artist so humble and so sincere,” said T.J. Lubinsky, creator of the “Doo Wop 50” series for PBS. “I was doing a radio show for a while, my 3WS show, a soul show late at night. I was nervous the first night and the first call I get was Jimmy. And he says, ‘Hey, you would make my night if you would play “Walk Away From Love” by Jimmy Ruffin.’ It just went to show how much of a fan he was of the music, especially R&B artists. He had R&B in his soul, in his blood, and he worshipped any R&B vocal group and singer and that’s what inspired him and that’s what came out in his music and that why we will all love him ‘til the end of time.”

He is survived by his wife, Ann Carol, daughters Stacey Schork of White Oak and Christina Shank of Penn Township and five grandchildren.

Visitation is 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Jaycox-Jaworski Funeral Home, 2703 O’Neil Boulevard, McKeesport. Burial is Friday at 10 Corpus Christi Parish in McKeesport.

Sharon Eberson contributed to this report.

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Joseph Verscharen.jpg

CHS 1958 – Joe Verscharen – Original member of the Skyliners (he is deceased)

They have been a force in the record industry since 1958. Their song, "Since I Dont Have You," is one of the ultimate songs of the 50s and 60s.

They still perform today. In fact, they celebrated their 50th year in music at the Roots of Rock and Roll Concert in February 2009 at the Benedum Center Downtown Pittsburgh.


Stevie Wonder takes Skyliners by surprise at Consol

October 20, 2015 11:23 AM

Skyliners pg.jpg

The Skyliners, from left, Nick Pociask, Frank Czuri, Donna Groom and Jimmy Beaumont, perform with Stevie Wonder at Consol Energy Center Monday night.

By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It seemed as though the Skyliners were missing their cue Monday night during the encore of Stevie Wonder’s marathon concert at Consol Energy Center.

Wonder started into the Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You,” which he’s documented as one of his favorite songs from the late ’50s, and called the Pittsburgh group to the stage. An awkward minute or two went past, during which he toyed with the song, wondering where they were.

The amazing thing is, the members of the Skyliners were sitting in the crowd with no idea they were going to be summoned to the stage.

They were expecting to simply meet Wonder at the post-show gathering. The spark of the encounter meeting was Wonder performing “Since I Don’t Have You” the last time he was here, in 2007 at the Civic Arena.

The Skyliners were aware that he had also talked to Rolling Stone in an old interview about how much he loved the 1959 hit.

About a month ago, Skyliners’ bass singer Nick Pociask managed to get an email contact for Wonder’s entourage and contacted them about meeting at Consol.

He said of Skyliners singer Donna Groom, “It was on her bucket list to meet and say hello and tell Stevie that she loved him.”

Mr. Pociask never heard anything back until Sunday night, when the Skyliners got home from a gig in Denver. In an email, Wonder’s manager invited them to the meet-and-greet, saying, “As you know, he loved ‘Since I Don’t Have You,’ and looks forward to meeting you.”

So the group bought five tickets in “peanut heaven,” which were upgraded closer to the stage when they got there.

After Wonder finished performing the entire “Songs in the Key of Life” album, around 11:15 p.m., he started in on his Skyliners tribute, talking about hearing Jimmy Beaumont’s great vocal when was a “nappy-headed boy.” (He would have been about 9.)

“We never expected to have him recognize that the Skyliners were there, let alone be brought up to sing,” Mr. Pociask said.

As for the delay, he said, “There were so many people there and we were right in the middle of the aisle. We almost didn’t get there fast enough. I heard him saying, ‘Are they coming?’ ”

So what was it like being called to the stage by Stevie Wonder?

“I thought he’d mention it, but my heart jumped when he invited us up!” said Frank Czuri, who joined the Skyliners several years ago after having performed in Diamond Reo, The Silencers and Pure Gold, among others.

Mr. Beaumont, who turns 75 on Wednesday, showed grace under fire, taking lead on the song he’s sung thousands of times over the past 56-plus years.

“Oh, Stevie, he’s the greatest. There’s no one like him,” Mr. Beaumont said. “I wasn’t nervous because of his presence and I know he likes our group. When he said, ‘What key?’ it was just us and Stevie.”

They ended the night with a post-show gathering for photos and handshakes in the visitors locker room.

“I said, ‘Stevie, you make people feel so good. That’s all I could think of,” Mr. Beaumont said. “He said, ‘Jimmy, did you know Jesse Belvin?’”

He was a late ’50s singer who co-wrote “Earth Angel” and died in car accident in 1960.

“Stevie’s face lit up like a Christmas tree when Jimmy said yes, he had been to Jesse’s house for dinner,” Mr. Czuri said.

Ms. Groom got to do just what she wanted to do. “I threw my arms around him and said ‘Stevie, I love you.’ He said, ‘I love you, too.’” Four years ago, she recorded a CD of Stevie Wonder songs called “Just Wonderin’.” “I put one right in his hand. My life has come full circle.”

Scott Mervis:; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.

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