Frankie Lymon's Tombstone Blues 9: The Museum

Sometimes the best things in life are enjoyable accidents. My long and loving relationship with my wife Lynn started with an accidental meeting, an invitation to attend her high school graduation party, and a kiss that started us on a road that we’re still traveling today. I often wonder if our lives would have turned out differently if we had not had that chance meeting back in 1965.


Serendipity is the word we use to describe the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. I experienced it again when I purchased the Weird N.J. book. I went into the store to purchase a magazine, and I found the book by accident as I was walking among the aisles. It, in turn, led me to discover the story of Frankie Lymon’s tombstone.

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Frankie Lymon's Tombstone Blues 8: The Endgame

Ronnie Italiano, one of the true champions of vocal group harmony music, died of liver cancer at the age of 67 on March 4, 2008. The family received visitors at the Macagna Diffily Funeral Home in Rutherford, NJ on Friday, March 7th. The next morning there was a funeral mass at St Josephs R.C. Church in East Rutherford. It was followed by Ronnie’s internment at St. Joseph's Cemetery in Lyndhurst. It was a very difficult time for his family, his friends, the membership of the UGHA, and the many vocal groups he supported over the years.

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Frankie Lymon's Tombstone Blues 7: The U.G.H.A.

By 1993, Ronnie I’s Clifton Music store had become a New Jersey institution, known around the world by aficionados of the vocal group harmony sound. Ronnie had come a long way in the two decades since he quit a steady job driving truck for PepsiCo to purchase a music store with a pregnant wife and two young daughters to support.

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Frankie Lymon's Tombstone Blues 6: The Decisions

On October 31, 1988, the judge in the hearing to determine which of Frankie Lymon’s three marriages was legally binding reached a decision. It came nearly seven months after final briefs were filed in the case and a little over eight months after Ronnie Italiano and the UGHA had dedicated their Frankie Lymon memorial tombstone.

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Frankie Lymon's Tombstone Blues 5: The Wives

When Frankie Lymon died from a heroin overdose in 1968, he was broke and trying again for a comeback that he never achieved. He left no fortune, but his name was listed as one of the songwriters of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”. It was the hit that made him and the Teenagers famous back in 1956, and the one song that he recorded that remained both popular and valuable over the years. 

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Frankie Lymon's Tombstone Blues 4: The Reunions

The four surviving Teenagers, Jimmy Merchant, Herman Santiago, Joe Negroni, and Sherman Garnes, reunited in 1973. In an attempt to recapture the sound that had made them famous back in 1956, they recruited Pearl McKinnon to recreate the adolescent lead vocals of Frankie Lymon.

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Frankie Lymon's Tombstone Blues 3: The Revival

At the time of Frankie Lymon’s death, classic doo wop music had been replaced on the charts for over four years. The arrival of the Beatles and the other British Invasion artists had shifted the music dynamic not only on radio stations and in record stores, but also in the performance arena. It was now much more fashionable and lucrative for young people to buy instruments and form bands to play the hits of the day rather than joining vocal harmony groups and sing songs that appeared to be part of the past.

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