EST. 1948

The Heartbreakers

Around 1948, The Heartbreakers formed in Southwest, Washington, DC, with brothers James 'Jay Boy' Ross and William Ross along with Lawrence Tate (guitar) and Fred 'Nugie' Holmes. The group added singer/songwriter Bobby Evans as their fifth member after he wrote a song in hopes of joining them entitled "Heartbreaker". (Evans would go on to write all the songs that the group recorded.)

Like many young vocal groups of the time, The Heartbreakers competed in talent contests to show off their skills. In 1949, the quintet sang on "Art Brown's Amateur Hour", a local talent showcase hosted by longtime WOL/WWDC Radio host, Art Brown (1935-1991). The Heartbreakers’ performance was a success and caught the attention of Washington, DC, record producer and talent scout, Mrs. Lillian Claiborne. She signed them to her DC Records label after they auditioned for her.

Presumably in late 1950, both William Ross and Fred ‘Nugie’ Holmes got drafted into the armed forces and were replaced by Lawrence Green and George 'Junior' Davis of the Four Dots. In the fall of 1951, Mrs. Claiborne secured a recording contract for The Heartbreakers at RCA Victor Records in New York City, which was the world’s largest record company at the time. That year, the group’s first release on RCA was "Heartbreaker" and "Wanda". (Frank “Dual Trumpet” Motley backed them up on “Heartbreaker.”)

Once the group began to record, they made appearances at DC-area clubs and/or theaters such as the Flamingo Room and Northeast Casino. They had a notable performance at the Howard Theatre in January 1952 alongside Frank Motley and Thomas “TNT” Tribble, their labelmate at RCA. Additionally, The Heartbreakers performed in theaters in neighboring cities that welcomed black artists, such as The Royal Theater in Baltimore, MD, and the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia. In 1952, the group released more singles on RCA including "You're So Necessary to Me" and "I'm Only Following My Heart".
Some thought The Heartbreakers would garner national attention like The Clovers, but that did not happen. Unfortunately, none of their songs sold widely. One reason for that could’ve been that The Heartbreakers’ sound was neither solely pop or solely R&B but a mixture of both genres, which was viewed as difficult to market. By the fall of 1952, the group’s tenure at RCA was pretty much over, and their final club appearance is believed to have been a week-long engagement with Moms Mabley at the Flamingo Room in DC in December 1952.

The Heartbreakers went their separate ways circa 1953, but members remained active on the vocal group scene as Bobby Evans and Fred ‘Nugie’ Holmes formed The Topps with Lawrence Green and recorded for Red Robin Records in New York City. Meanwhile, William Ross and Lawrence Tate, who had returned from military service, formed The Warblers who recorded as The Griffins for Mercury Records, likely under Norfolk, VA-based bandleader Jimmy Griffin.

In the 1970's, recordings by The Heartbreakers resurfaced after Les Moss, a vocal group aficionado, started a small collector-oriented label called Roadhouse Records. Roadhouse released six 45's by the group including a live version of their signature tune, "Heartbreaker", from a 1952 performance at the Howard Theater. Roadhouse also issued an album containing some unreleased tunes that the Heartbreakers recorded at RCA.

The Heartbreakers

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Courtesy of Jay Bruder

“Heartbreaker, I fell in love with you. Heartbreaker, you broke my heart in two"

- Heartbreaker

The Heartbreakers