The Starlighters formed in high school, as was the case with many DC vocal groups. They formed around 1955, and the original members were Van McCoy (lead vocals), Fred Smith, Paul Comedy, Bernard Whisonant, and Charles Smith. Later, Bernard Whisonant and Charles Smith left the group and Smith was replaced by Van's brother, Norman McCoy. The group, initially working as The Starlings, recorded a demo of the songs "Slim Jim" and "So Close to Me" at Edgewood Studios in Washington, D.C. Early on, their manager was Fred Smith's cousin, Vi Burnside, who was a musician in her own right. She was a saxophonist with the all-women's band, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm.
Legend has it that The Starlighters hung out backstage at the Howard Theatre where Wally Roker, bass singer for The Heartbeats, heard them harmonizing. Roker introduced The Starlighters to New York-based manager George Goldner, and Goldner signed them to his label, End Records. The group ultimately released three singles on End, namely "The Birdland" backed with "It's Twelve O'Clock" in 1958; "I Cried" backed with "You’re the One to Blame" in 1959; and "A Story of Love" backed with "Let's Take a Stroll" in 1960.
During their tenure with End Records, The Starlighters experienced a few changes. Paul Comedy left for the service, and Marvin Gaye stepped in for him temporarily. Also, when Norman McCoy suffered vocal difficulties, he was replaced by Jerry Jones as first tenor.
Unfortunately, none of the singles recorded by The Starlighters for End Records took off because George Goldner, who also managed notable groups like Little Anthony and the Imperials; The Chantels; and The Flamingos, did not actively promote The Starlighters' recordings. The group eventually disbanded.
In 1964, Van and Norman McCoy cut a song on Imperial Records called "I Want to Be the Boy You Love." Rather than go by their names, they recorded the tune as The Four Buddies, which also happened to be the name of an already-existing vocal group in Baltimore, MD. Although it was just the two McCoy brothers singing on "I Want to Be the Boy You Love," it sounded like an entire group of singers because Van and Norman recorded overdubs (or enhancements) of their own voices. Therefore, the record had the vocal group harmony sound that the brothers knew so much about.
Van McCoy, who began writing songs as a pre-teen, went on to have a successful career as a composer and arranger with over 1,000 songs to his credit. His compositions have been recorded by artists including Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Melba Moore, Barbara Lewis, and D.C. solo artist Chris Bartley. McCoy's major hit was "The Hustle", a disco classic that reached Number 1 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1975. A few years later, Van McCoy passed away on July 6, 1979, at the young age of 39.
Courtesy of Jay Bruder. (L to R) Freddie Smith, Paul Comedy, Van McCoy, Norman McCoy
"Teenage love is a wonderful thing, a love as sweet as the breath of spring"
- A Story of Love