the vibes bobby thomas lenny welch

PHOTO: The Vibes with Bobby Thomas & Lenny Welch

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. - It was a scene where young players named Edward Ellington and Bill Basie made the connections that would help them earn their royal chops. A crucial stop on the road for everybody from Lionel Hampton and Billie Holiday, to Little Richard and Al Green. And, a generation before anyone ever heard the name Bruce Springsteen, the clubs and community halls of Asbury Park’s West Side were spawning singers who would soar to the top of the record charts.

More than anything else, the scene centered in and around Asbury’s Springwood Avenue had all the makings of a great American “music city”—a strong gospel tradition; a next-generation of R&B, doo wop and soul exponents; a colorful cast of club owners, plus a slew of producers, promoters and passionate listeners who’d dress their best for a night out at hotspots like the Turf Club, Cuba’s, and Big Bill’s. It even saw the city’s African American and Italian American communities cross-pollinate in ways that made some beautiful music during the glory days of vocal-group rock and roll—but until very recently, the rich history of the West Side scene was familiar only to a handful of veteran participants and ardent collectors. 

Beginning Thursday, February 1—and remaining on display throughout the month—the Pollak Gallery at Monmouth University plays host to the area’s first major exhibit of images and memorabilia from this too-long overlooked crossroads in popular music. Curated by gospel/ R&B experts Charlie and Pam Horner of ClassicUrbanHarmony.net, “Asbury Park’s Springwood Avenue Harmony: Celebrating the West Side’s Musical Legacy” explores, chronicles and highlights the era from 1910 to 1970—from (Count) Basie to (Billy) Brown—  through some 100 rare photographs, recordings, sheet music, posters, musical instruments and much more.

Opening with a reception on Sunday, February 4 from 6 to 8 p.m., the exhibit celebrates the national acts that emerged from the Springwood scene, such as Lenny Welch (whose “Since I Fell for You” was a Top 5 pop hit in 1962) and Billy Brown (whose chart-toppers with The Moments and Ray Goodman & Brown include “Love on a Two-Way Street”). Also honored are such breakout artists as Bobby Thomas, who parlayed a career with Asbury’s own Vibranaires into a long tenure fronting the legendary vocal group The Orioles—and The Broadways, who enjoyed a brief run as a nationwide act in the 1960s. Not to be overlooked are the local luminaries like The Ray Dots, The Darchaes, and the highly influential Golden Harmonaires— while the exhibit also boasts rarely seen artifacts commemorating record label owner “Gus” Tillman, and even the original marquee from Leo Karp’s Turf Club.

Many of the items donated for display were contributed by the musicians and their family members, with several of the honorees expected to be in attendance during the February 4 opening reception. The exhibit also features a number of photos from the archives of the late West Side photographer Joseph A. Carter Sr., whose daughter Madonna Carter Jackson has catalogued and collected hundreds of images from her father’s files in two volumes of her self-published “Asbury Park: A West Side Story.”

“Asbury Park’s Springwood Avenue Harmony” is a presentation of The Center for the Arts at Monmouth University and Classic Harmony LLC, in partnership with the Asbury Park Historical Society and the Light of Day Foundation.

For additional information on this and other events, please contact the Center for the Arts at Monmouth University by phone at 732-263-6889, or online at www.monmouth.edu/arts. To schedule an interview, please contact Eileen Chapman at 732-571-3512.