A very short-lived group with just one session and one single to their name, but when that single turned out to be the most valuable in rock history, not because of its contents but its rarity, the group’s infamy surpassed anything they might’ve achieved with an armful of treasured hits in a longer career.

The Five Sharps were one of many rock vocal groups formed on the streets of New York neighborhoods in the early 1950’s, theirs being Jamaica, Queens, as like their high school aged peers they were all drawn to the sounds exploding on the airwaves during the time they came of age with groups like The Orioles and Larks and Royals who sang delicate harmonies in new and invigorating ways.

Consisting of lead singer Ronald Cuffey, tenors Clarence Basset and Bobby Ward, bass vocalist Mickey Owens and baritone Tommy Duckett who doubled on piano, The Five Sharps sang locally and one night in a club impressed two people worth impressing – Billie Holiday, showing they might actually have some talent, and Oscar Porter, which showed they had some commercial potential as he offered to manage them.

He did his job too, right away getting them a session with Jubilee Records, presumably done as a favor to him by owner Jerry Blaine. They went into a studio in Sugar Hill, sang just two songs, one original and the other a version of the standard “Stormy Weather” they had worked up. With Duckett’s piano the only instrument, it was a glorified demo session but the resulting two performances were in fact issued in small quantities in stores in the immediate vicinity and the record got played over the airwaves by popular rock oriented disc jockey Hal Jackson, but it sold very few copies, even in their own neighborhood, and so a 45 RPM issue got pulled and the remaining stock melted back into new records for somebody else.

The group hadn’t like their performance and still being in school they couldn’t make many public appearances either. No further session was scheduled and since they hadn’t cut four songs, only two, there was not a follow-up release. The group broke up by summer 1953 with Cuffey going into the Army that fall and Duckett joining another local group, The Rivileers, as their pianist.

In the future Cuffey and Bassett would form The Videos who made some good records, and then Clarence and another member of that group joined Shep Shepard in The Limelites.

But The Five Sharps would attain their greatest fame starting in the early 1960’s when the discovery – and inadvertent destruction – of one of the 78 RPM copies of “Stormy Weather” set off a frantic search for more, which due to its scarcity became an obsession among collectors. It took years before a second copy was found, then dubbed and re-issued for the world to hear, and in the late 1970‘s a third copy set the record for the highest price ever paid for a rock single, one which another copy shattered more than twenty years later, netting almost twenty thousand dollars.

The group members, buoyed by this attention, re-formed with some original members – Ward and Duckett – as well as those from another group in their neighborhood in the early 1950’s, and got to enjoy some of the attention they were denied at the time they made their one and only record.

THE FIVE SHARPS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Jubilee 5104; December, 1952)
The most valuable record of all-time is not valuable for its content, though not nearly as bad as some suggest – or as good as others attest – it’s too slow and sparse for its own good, but the vocals are at least fairly nice at times. (5)

(Jubilee 5104; December, 1952)
Though not nearly as well known, an injustice for reasons beyond the content, the vocal arrangement here is actually better than the other side with Owens’ bass especially standing out, even if the original composition is a little trite. (5)