In the world of doo-wop music, Little Anthony and the Imperials are almost synonymous with the genre. Having pioneered the style through his trademark falsetto voice, Jerome Anthony Gourdine, known to the world as “Little Anthony,” and the Imperials had a string of doo-wop hits throughout the 1960s.
And while his title may include the word “little,” Anthony is anything but, such as displayed in his 2014 book, “Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny.” When he was approached by author Arlene Krieger (who referred to the star as a “historian”) about the idea of doing a book surrounding his life, he didn’t want to do it as a typical biography, but rather as a collection of memoirs. “What I wanted to do was just explain who I am and [see] who I can contact through this journey,” he said of his approach to the book. “I tried to be raw.”
The seven-month process found the star reflecting on his life, successful career and even past struggles, an experience that was an emotional one for Gourdine. “In a way, I found it very therapeutic too because [I was] revisiting things that I probably didn’t think much about,” he said, adding that Krieger often had to bring a box of tissues to their meetings. As emotional as it was revisiting the past, Gourdine found solace in creating a book of memoirs about his life. “In that respect, doing a book is a good thing if you do it that way, as memoirs,” he said.
Inside its 384 pages are stories from the singer’s acclaimed career, including anecdotes about his interactions with gospel singer Sam Cooke, “Roots” star Leslie Uggams, actor Peter Lawford and countless others. In addition to meeting several legendary performers, Gourdine has also been designated with inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, among many others. But the one that means the most to him is that of the B’nai B’rith, a plaque he received from the military. Gourdine’s family has a longstanding history in serving our country, dating back to the Civil War, with each of his brothers serving in all three branches of the military. “That’s very important to me, when I do work with the military,” he said.
And with a career that’s spanned 60 years, you can bet the singer has an abundance of notable moments that come to mind. He describes the two greatest moments he’s experienced, one being the first time he and the Imperials appeared on the famed “Ed Sullivan Show,” and the second marking their performance at a black tie event with the Ray Bloch Orchestra at New York City’s Lincoln Center in 1968 for then-Mayor John Lindsay. “Those two, more than anything, [were] a highlight of my career,” he said of the iconic moments. When he’s not touring with the Imperials, Anthony can be seen doing his one-man show, where he performs songs from throughout his career accompanied by a piano and has the opportunity to narrate the history behind the songs.
His renowned success in the world of soul music may leave some surprised to learn that the doo-wop pioneer is also a passionate fan of opera and classical music. He was introduced to the genre as a young student from his music teacher, who acquainted him with composers like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mantovani. His personal favorites include Bach and German composer Richard Wagner. “I took to it. All the other kids in class didn’t,” he said of his love for opera. “It’s good for the brain, it’s very therapeutic.” It is this passion that fuels his desire to one day visit the storied La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy.
While the Imperials’ classic songs like “Tears on my Pillow,” “Goin’ Out of my Head” and “Hurt so Bad” were made into hits by the legendary doo-wop group, numerous artists have covered such songs over the years, ranging from Reba McEntire to the late Amy Winehouse and several others in between. Speaking of the latter, Gourdine told a story of visiting the bar in Kensington, England with David Gest where Winehouse used to be a bartender. When Gest told patrons who Gourdine was, the reaction was electrifying. “The buzz went through the entire club,” he said with a chuckle. Gest informed the legend that Winehouse had always loved his music before her untimely passing in 2011.
Winehouse had even covered the Imperials’ “I’m on the Outside (Looking In),” in a version Gourdine calls “intriguing.” “No one really attacked that song – and she did,” he said of Winehouse’s interpretation of their 1964 hit. But she’s not the only contemporary artist Gourdine admires. Bruno Mars is an example of a current singer bringing back the doo-wop sound in modern fashion and, like Winehouse, Mars is a passionate fan of Gourdine’s, citing him as a musical influence – and the feeling is mutual. “He’s old school; he’s a breath of fresh air for me,” Gourdine said of the “Uptown Funk” singer, who he hopes to collaborate with one day. “I’m just fascinated watching him, even as a performer.”
Though Gourdine admires many of today’s acts, he also says that music is currently in a “different era,” seeing as artists can alter their voice and sound at the touch of a button, a luxury that didn’t exist when Little Anthony and the Imperials were cranking out hits. He noted how young artists starting off on large reality signing competitions almost have a reverse experience when it comes to achieving fame by starting at the top and struggling to stay there – a problem that Anthony is not faced with. “I come from the bottom, up, and you grow like that,” he said. “Maybe that’s why I’ve been in the business for 60 years.”