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Harmony Lane: Remember 'Summertime' with The Jamies

The Jamies — and “Summertime, Summertime” — were the brainchild of Thomas Jameson, Serena’s oldest brother.

On a typical July day in Boston — high humidity, temperatures in the mid-90s — lifelong friends Serena (Jameson) McKenney and Jeannie (Roy) McLeod sit together at the latter’s dining room table in a quiet suburban home just outside the city. Their respective husbands of nearly 50 years — longtime friends — enjoy a televised sporting event.

It’s a scene the families have played out on a regular basis for decades, sharing stories of friendship, children, grandchildren, hopes and dreams. But on this particular Saturday, the ladies drift back 50 years to when “Summertime, Summertime” was blasting from radios across the nation, and they were one half of The Jamies, the quartet who recorded that timeless hit.

The Jamies — and “Summertime, Summertime” — were the brainchild of Thomas Jameson, Serena’s oldest brother. “My whole family was musical,” Serena recalls.
In 1949, the Jamesons moved to Dorchester and joined the First Baptist Church. “My grandmother took me by the hand and introduced me to Mrs. Marini, the choir director, and that’s where I met Jeannie. I was 10 and she was 11.”

Jeannie loved singing and was a regular in the choir.

“My dad used to sing in the pubs in Scotland,” Jeannie recalled. “I loved ballads. That was my thing. We had a lot of church music at home, too.”

Tom came up with the idea for “Summertime, Summertime.”

“I remember being upstairs while my grandmother lay resting on the couch downstairs,” Serena recalls. “Tom was in the living room, where the piano was, as he composed ‘Summertime Summertime’, until every word and every note was exactly as he wanted it. He was a perfectionist. I thought my grandmother had a lot of patience to listen to it over and over, but she never complained. I think she rather enjoyed it.

When he was satisfied that he had written the words and music exactly as he wanted them to be, he asked Jeannie and me if we would sing it.”

“Summertime, Summertime,” a classic ode to school vacation, featured four distinct harmony parts, from soprano to bass, painstakingly written and arranged by Jameson. Arthur Blair, a bass in the choir, and a mutual friend from First Baptist, rounded out the quartet.

“Tom was a tough taskmaster as we practiced,” Serena adds. “Everything had to sound perfect.”

For months, the unnamed group would gather — often three times a week — to rehearse the song.

“It was getting towards summer,” Jeannie remembers. “We practiced with the windows open because nobody had air conditioning in those days. My mother said the neighbors were complaining because we were doing it over and over.”

“It seemed like an eternity before Tom was satisfied that we knew it perfectly,” Serena continues. “He then informed us that it was time to make a demo.”

On May 24, 1958, a demo of “It’s Summertime” was recorded at the Roy Nelson Studio on Boylston Street in Boston.

“Tom paid,” Jeannie remembers. “He had a couple of copies made, and then he and Arthur took them around to several disc jockeys in the Boston area to see if they could interest the disc jockeys in playing them.”

One fragile 78 RPM copy remains in Jeannie’s possession today. The a cappella version within the worn grooves is identical to the hit record, minus instrumentation. Two local DJs showed interest. They were Bob Clayton, who hosted Boston Ballroom and Jukebox Saturday Night on WHDH, and Sherman Feller (1918-1994), a popular fixture on WEEI