Spaniels founding member Warren dies at 78

By Todd Baptista

GARY, Ind. — The Rev. Ernest Douglas Warren, one of the two surviving founding members of The Spaniels, the rhythm and blues vocal group who scored a national hit with the original “Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite” in 1954, has died at age 78.

Warren passed away in his hometown of Gary, Ind., on Monday evening, May 7, 2012.

The Spaniels 1960

A 1960 incarnation of The spaniels featured (from left) Andy Macgruder, James "Pookie" Hudson, Ernest Warren, Gerald Gregory, Bill Carey and (bottom, with guitar) Pete Simmons. Photo courtesy Pookie Hudson family.

Formed at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Gary by teenagers James “Pookie” Hudson, Gerald “Bounce” Gregory, Willie C. Jackson, Opal Courtney Jr., and Warren, The Spaniels scored a national R&B hit with the group’s first release, “Baby, It’s You,” on Vee Jay Records in 1953. A minister’s son who lived a half-block from Hudson as a youngster, Warren possessed a floating falsetto tenor that shined on the quintet’s early hits and collector’s favorites including “Let’s Make Up,” “You Painted Pictures,” and “The Bells Ring Out” his own personal favorite. He sang lead on “Hey, Sister Lizzie,” the flip side of “You Painted Pictures,” in the summer of 1955.

Warren was drafted in March 1956 and was honorably discharged from the United States Army. He eventually returned to The Spaniels and sang on the group’s final charted hit for Vee Jay, “I Know,”, in 1960. He remained in the lineup until 1962.

“As the years went on, I thought we had a certain amount of professionalism where we could be considered stars, especially when we went to the Apollo Theater and we headlined the show,” Warren told researcher Richard Carter. “The Apollo was a highlight.”

In 1991, Warren and the original members of The Spaniels were honored with the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award, which included a check for $20,000.

“We were the first hits that they had on Vee Jay,” Warren explained. “All we ever got were advances that they always put against receipts. It never did come to a point where we got any money.”

In recent years, Warren, his former bandmates, and the estates of other members of The Spaniels have received royalties for satellite and Internet radio play through SoundExchange. Although Warren never performed with The Spaniels publicly after being ordained in 1976, he was understandably proud of the group’s legacy.

“The types of songs today, people try and stretch their range to impress people. I don’t think that was what we had to do. We could stay in our natural ranges and just relax and sing. Part of it, too, was the love of just singing.”

Warren was preceded in death by his fellow Spaniels, Hudson, Gregory, and Courtney.  Baritone Willie C. Jackson is the original group’s lone survivor.

(c) 2012 Todd Baptista

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