In a different, fairer reality, the Kodaks might be remembered at least as rivals to Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. True, they never performed in any movies and only made one national television appearance, and they never wrote a song like "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" -- but they had the sound, and the beat, and a lead singer with a voice as powerful as Lymon's. Formed in Newark, NJ during the mid- and late '50s, the Kodaks' sound was driven by Pearl McKinnon's powerful lead vocals, and as a mixed male/female singing group, they stood out from the pack. They cut four singles, none of which made the national charts, but all of which are prized by collectors and enthusiasts.
The Kodaks were originally a quartet: Jimmy Patrick (lead, first tenor), William Franklin (second tenor), Larry Davis (baritone), and William Miller (bass). They were good, but they sounded a lot like every other singing group coming out of Newark's Central Ward in the middle of the '50s. Enter Pearl McKinnon, a 15-year-old friend of Jimmy Patrick's sister, who sang with Marian Patrick and William Miller's future wife Jean in a trio of their own at school. Her voice had a slightly, deeper, richer tone than most teenage girls, but also a fresh innocence and clear articulation that one more often associated with preteen boys -- the resemblance to Frankie Lymon's singing was unmistakable, and joining the male quartet, she made them unique.
The group auditioned for Harlem-based impresario Bobby Robinson. He had, until the end of 1957, recorded Louie Lymon & the Teenchords, and heard in the Kodaks a sound uncannily similar to that of Louie's more successful brother Frankie and his group, the Teenagers. He signed the group (changing the spelling of their name on record labels to the Kodoks, to avoid a lawsuit from Eastman Kodak), releasing their first single, "Teenager's Dream" b/w "Little Boy and Girl," on his own Fury label in late 1957. That record got heavy local airplay in Newark, New York, and other nearby cities, even though it never made the national charts. With rehearsals and some polishing of their sound, they issued a second single, "Oh Gee, Oh Gosh" b/w "Make Believe World," in the spring of 1958, that made the local charts in Newark (number eight on the local Cashbox chart) and other East Coast cities, and saw sales in the Midwest as well. The A-side, in particular, was popular with many local deejays, and even the legendary Alan Freed played it heavily on his show.
The result of all of this was lots of East Coast gigs for the quintet, including shows at the Apollo Theater alongside the likes of Jerry Butler, the Coasters, and Lee Andrews & the Hearts, and an appearance on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Not everybody was happy with the nature of their success, or the sound the group was cultivating -- by the summer of 1958, Davis and Franklin, tired of emulating the music of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, quit the group, to be replaced by Richard "Pumpy" Dixon and Harold "Curly" Jenkins. Ironically, in the estimation of many (including Pearl McKinnon), their arrival, as veteran performers, only improved the group, strengthening their sound and making their stage choreography more exciting. The group released two more singles, "My Baby and Me" b/w "Kingless Castle," and "Runaround Baby" b/w "Guardian Angel," but neither sold as well as their predecessors.
The group dissolved when Jimmy Patrick exited to join the Monotones, and Pearl McKinnon got married. William Miller tried to keep the ball rolling, forming the "Kadaks" with his wife Jean and Harold Jenkins, and a new member, Renaldo Gamble, but they faded after two failed singles. McKinnon returned to the business less than a year later, leading Pearl & the Deltars. They issued two singles, including a recut version of "Teenager's Dream," but never had more than local success. She later appeared in the '70s in an outfit known as 2nd Verse, but seemed to find a part of her true destiny later still, fronting a re-formed version of the Teenagers, taking Frankie Lymon's role as lead singer. ~ Bruce Eder