On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Stan Fisher (July 26, 1935 – ), Phil Levitt (July 9, 1935 – ), The Diamonds

The Diamonds
The Diamonds (Phil Levitt, Front Row Right). Photo credit: Barry Worrell

Sept. 4, 2020

By DAVID EISENSTADT

Friends Phil and Sheila Katz Levine (an accomplished pianist), my wife Rhoda, and I were recently playing rock’n’roll guessing games. Sheila said, “The Diamonds are Canadian. There is one Jewish founder named Stan Fisher.”

This piqued my interest as a possible “On the Record” column. Turns out there were two Toronto Jewish founders of The Diamonds: Stan Fisher and Phil Levitt.

So I connected with long-time fan Barry Worrell, who for years has monitored the group, to get the scoop.

The “Original Diamonds” quartet was launched in 1953 at the University of Toronto. Fisher sang lead and Levitt baritone, joining with tenor Ted Kowalski and bassist Bill Read. Kowalski and Read have both passed.

At a CBC audition for Pick The Stars, they met Dave Somerville, who tutored the amateur foursome until Fisher left to pursue his university studies. Somerville took over as lead vocalist. Contrary to popular belief (according to Snopes), Tom Hanks’ father never sang with The Diamonds.

So why did Fisher leave in 1953? Worrell explained: “Sometimes, an individual can be a founding member of a singing group without ever making one recording, giving any concerts, or driving one mile on a tour bus with that group. In many biographies, Fisher is mentioned as singing lead, which he was, but in others, he’s left out as if he was never there.”

Somerville, Fisher’s replacement, “had the distinctive voice that made the group. The guys made the right decision, even though it hurt like hell (for me) at the time,” said Fisher.

Born in Toronto, the son of Jewish Polish parents, Fisher is recognized as one of Canada’s top tier commercial arbitrators and mediators. Now 85, he graduated from Forest Hill Collegiate, then law school in 1956. Over the years, he has represented The Diamonds in legal matters, and remains friends with Levitt.

From the get-go, The Diamonds were able to interpret and introduce rhythm and blues to a wider pop audience. They tied for first place on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show, which resulted in a recording contract with Coral Records, which released four songs, including Black Denim Trousers & Motorcycle Boots, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, according to The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

They moved on to Mercury Records, where their first hit, Why Do Fools Fall In Love? reached number 12 on the Billboard chart (the song was first performed by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers). They followed that up with The Church Bells May Ring, originally by the Willows, which rose to number 13.

The Diamonds recorded three albums, 65 singles and several compilation albums from 1955 to 1961.

Their biggest hits went gold. In 1957, Little Darlin’ (originally by the Gladiolas) reached number two on Billboard’s Hot 100 and in 1958, The Stroll, which generated “a dance craze of the same name,” according to Worrell. The weekly music news magazine Cashbox listed those two tunes as the sixth and 30th most popular singles in 1957 and 1958 respectively. Over the years, numerous TV appearances including on American Bandstand, nightclub gigs, and film work kept the quartet busy.

In the late ‘50s, Levitt, Reed, and Kowalski were replaced by Mike Douglas, Evan Fisher and John Felten. Somerville departed in 1961 and there were no more hit records after that.

Also now 85 and also the son of Jewish Polish-born parents, Levitt was Fisher’s teenage pal. He graduated from Leaside High School, then enrolled in electrical engineering at the University of Toronto when Fisher went into law. Worrell reported Levitt saying, “the most marvelous thing about being part of the group was in the amateur days when, alone, we put together an arrangement for a new song. There were no microphones and no instruments, just our voices, and the blend was smooth and the sound was beautiful, to my ears anyway, and I remember wishing the song and the evening could just go on forever.”

Even though The Diamonds’ lineup changed, they continued to perform in nightclubs across North America. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame in 2006.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner tcgpr.com and is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.