Formed in 1958 while attending Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., the group was first known as the Impalas, then the Renaults and later The Four Jewels. The group consisted of Sandra Bears, Grace Ruffin, Marjorie (Margie) Clarke and Carrie Mingo.
In 1962, under the direction of D.C. producer Bob Lee, The Four Jewels recorded the single “Loaded with Goodies” on the Start Label. During this time, Lee changed the name of The Four Jewels to The Jewels.
Along with other talented young singers from Washington, D.C. such as The Marquees (the first vocal group that Marvin Gaye sang with) and Billy Stewart, who was Grace Ruffin's cousin, The Four Jewels would gather at the home recording studio of the legendary R&B guitarist, Bo Diddley, who then lived in Northeast D.C. Diddley - who recorded on the Chess Label in Chicago, Illinois - was also an A&R man for the label, recruiting D.C. area talent such as The Four Jewels, Billy Stewart and the Knight Brothers. The Jewels' first recordings on Chess' subsidiary label Checker included “Loaded with Goodies” (1963), which was a re-release from the original version on the Start label; “Dapper Dan” (1963) and “That’s What They Put Erasers on Pencils For” (1964), which was also recorded by The Gems, a group that included Minnie Riperton. The Four Jewels provided backing vocals for Billy Stewart on his Chess recording “Reap What You Sow”, which became Stewart’s first song to hit the charts.
In the early 1960s, Carrie Mingo left the group and was replaced by Martha Harvin (now known as Martha High). In 1964, the group released their first national hit "Opportunity" on the Dimensions label, a label owned by promoter, Don Kirshner. The song “Opportunity” stayed on the Billboard R&B charts for seven weeks.
A year before in 1963, the Jewels had been spotted by the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown during one of their performances at the historic Apollo Theater in New York. Impressed with The Jewels talent, Brown recruited the ladies to join him as part of the legendary “James Brown Revue”. The original agreement was for The Jewels to join the revue for three dates. However, because they were so well-received, The Jewels stayed on the road for one year with James Brown and became his first female background singers. They sang background on Brown's songs “Don’t Be a Dropout” (1967) and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1968). On "Dropout", Brown gives The Jewels a shout-out, calling them by name. Prior to that, The Jewels recorded songs of their own written and produced by Brown, such “This Is My Story” and “Papa Left Mama Holding the Bag” in 1965. The latter song was, of course, a follow-up to Brown's hit from that year, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." After The Jewels' first year on tour with the James Brown Revue, Sandra Bears and Grace Ruffin left the tour to return home to D.C. However, Martha Harvin (then named Martha High by James Brown) remained with the Brown's Revue for some 30 years.
The Jewels have over 20 recordings which have made an impact on the national and local R&B charts. The group secured their place in early R&B and Doo-Wop history with their appearance in the portrait “The Pioneers of Rock & Roll, Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop, June 6, 1999”. On March 17, 2008, The Jewels were honored for their contributions to the arts and culture of Washington, D.C. in an extravagant award ceremony at The Kennedy Center Concert Hall by the city's then-Mayor, Adrian Fenty. In 2012, The Jewels were the subject of an award-winning PBS documentary “The Jewels: The Divas of DC Doo-Wop.”
On September 21, 2019, Margie Clarke of The Jewels died at age 74.
“Take a lesson from a fool's advice, opportunity knocks once not twice”
- The Jewels