Earl Carroll, LaVerne Drake, and Robert Phillips were already singing together in the early ’50s as the Carnations, whose lineup also included “Cub” Gaining. Carroll and Phillips were nearly as close as brothers, Carroll having been taken in by Phillips’ family after the death of his own mother. The group — based in New York’s Harlem in the area around 131st St. and Seventh and Eighth Avenues — had an energetic approach to music, but somewhat threadbare harmonies, and they were popular at dances held at the local public school they all attended. Their main influence was the Orioles, whose slow romantic numbers went over very well with the group members and the audiences of the period. Carroll’s own musical roots included gospel, specifically the Five Blind Boys, the Swanee Quintet, and the Soul Stirrers, but also R&B vocal outfits such as the Clovers, the Ravens, the Swallows, and the Five Keys. The Carnations were heard in a performance at Public School 43 by Lover Patterson, a one-time associate of the Orioles who had organized a group called the Five Crowns (whose 1958-era membership would become the new Drifters, of “There Goes My Baby” fame), who was impressed enough with their singing to introduce the group to Esther Navarro, a secretary for the Shaw Artist Agency who also wrote songs.
– Bruce Eder