The Truetones were a D.C. vocal group whose history is a bit mysterious due to limited sources of information and the fact that multiple groups eventually used some form of that name. Regarding the group we’re highlighting on this page, one established fact is that Ronald Henderson was the one constant member, being the leader and lead vocalist. Born in Southeast D.C. in 1936, Henderson - like many young men of the time - was inspired by popular vocals groups such as The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots, whom he was listening to on local radio. Often singing at the intersection of 16th and C Street S.E., Henderson formed his first vocal group in his early teens. And as others of that generation did, he and his singing peers became more serious during their high school years. His group took on the name “The Truetones.”
It is believed that Ron Henderson was previously a member of a local act called The Capitols and took some guys from that group to form The Truetones. (The Capitols recorded for DC Records, which was operated by Mrs. Lillian Claiborne.) Another piece of the puzzle is that, after The Truetones had already formed, Henderson recruited members of a neighboring DC group named The Emanons to be part of The Truetones. The Emanons who joined Henderson were James ‘Jimmy’ Green (first tenor), Marshall Hawkins (second tenor), Earl Briscoe (baritone), and Leonard Campbell (bass). According to Campbell, they all attended Kelly Miller Junior High and Eastern High Schools in Northeast D.C. Ron Henderson recalled that his group visited Bo Diddley's D.C. home, which included a recording studio, to rehearse and meet with other young, like-minded D.C. area musicians.
The Truetones’ manager was Vivian Mills, and she was instrumental in arranging gigs for group. Through her network, she booked one of their early dates on a program with Count Basie. The Truetones had an impressive performance history, at venues like the Howard Theatre in D.C., the Apollo in New York, and the Uptown in Philadelphia. Following up on the steady success that they had performing, the group then sought to record. The Truetones' membership when they first recorded is still unsettled, but their first commercial recording was "Honey, Honey" backed with "Whirlwind", released on Monument Records in 1958. Jimmy Griffin's Orchestra provided the instrumentation on those songs. Likely the year before, a demo of “Honey, Honey” was recorded by The Capitols, the DC group that Ron Henderson is believed to have been part of initially.
Three years later in 1961, the group – still led by Henderson - recorded for New York City-based Felsted Records based in New York City, releasing the songs "Blushing Bride" and “Singing Waters." In 1966, they recorded "Girls are Sentimental” and "One More Time" for the LSP label. (They also made recordings for Soulville Records in Atlanta and Josie Records in New York City.) Due to insufficient marketing, none of The Truetones' records reached the charts.
Another interesting note about the group is that Ron Henderson named Andrew Lawyer, Gene Williams, Johnny Johnson and Kenny Willis as original Truetones. However, it appears that these vocalists were part of a later configuration of the group alongside Henderson. In the early 1970’s, Gerald Gregory, who was the bass singer for The Spaniels, heard The Truetones in a club on 14th Street and was impressed. As a result, Gregory hired the group and formed a spin-off of The Spaniels that performed for a number of years, capitalizing on the name.
(Picture 2) Top: Ronald Henderson, Gene Williams, Andrew Lawyer
Bottom: John Johnson, Kenny Willis
Photos courtesy of Jay Bruder
“Oh little girl, get out of my pocket”
- Honey, Honey