Little-heard Manhattan doo wop group the Suburbans was the launching pad for songwriter Sylvester Bradford, who went on to author R&B classics including "Tears on My Pillow" and "Right Now." According to Marv Goldberg's profile on his R&B Notebooks website, tenor/baritone Bradford originally formed the Suburbans in 1952. Visual impairment required him to seek aid from the nonprofit Lighthouse for the Blind, where he befriended and began harmonizing with tenors Wayne Durham and Gregory Shankowitz and bass Chris Kiler, all of whom suffered from their own losing battles with blindness. After roughly three years rehearsing on the Lighthouse's guitar and piano, the quartet auditioned for Apollo Records before signing to rival Rainbow. Issued in mid-1955 and credited to the Bradford Boys, their first single "That Feeling" featured Durham on lead and heralded Bradford's debut as a songwriter.
The record went nowhere, however, and that fall the group splintered when Durham went off to attend Columbia University. Bradford briefly played piano with the Ivories, writing their Jaguar single "Alone," before reuniting with Kiler to form the Suburbans, adding lead tenor Cortez Franklin and tenor Andy Williams. So named after a "suburban-style" overcoat Bradford favored, the group unsuccessfully auditioned for Decca before signing with the Baton label in the spring of 1956. The Bradford original "I Remember" followed a few months later, climbing the regional charts in Philadelphia and Miami but failing to break nationally. The Manhattans next backed singer Ann Cole on her Baton single "In the Chapel," which in early 1957 cracked the national R&B Top 20.
Another support stint, this time on Ravens alum Jimmy Ricks' "Bad Man of Missouri," quickly followed before the quartet finally headlined its second single, "Leave My Gal Alone." When the record failed to catch on at radio or retail, the Manhattans dissolved, and in late 1957 Bradford recorded a solo single, "I Like Girls," for Atco. With his eyesight worsening, he decided to retire from performing to concentrate on writing, teaming with Tin Pan Alley veteran Al Lewis to pen 1958's "Tears on My Pillow," a Top Five crossover pop hit for Little Anthony & the Imperials. Bradford and Lewis also collaborated on Fats Domino's 1959 hit "I'm Ready" and Gene Vincent's "Right Now," and Bobby Darin even recorded a complete album of Bradford songs for 20th Century Fox, but Atlantic threatened a lawsuit and the project remains unreleased. ~ Jason Ankeny