All that "Crying in the Chapel" might concern the tragic fact that the beautiful voice of George Nelson was silenced forever by asthma in 1959. Further tears have been shed over Nelson's having fled the flock of the Orioles less than a year before the doo wop group recorded what would become its most famous song -- despite Nelson having become, according to band histories, so "unreliable" that guitarist Ralph Williams had begun substituting on some vocal parts.
A horrible car accident at the close of 1950 is without a doubt the event that changed the course of Nelson's career; as one of two lead vocalists for the group, Nelson's baritone pipes have deservedly been acclaimed as one of the most influential vocal sounds in R&B. The group's guitarist, Tommy Gaither, was killed and several other members of the Orioles were also injured in the calamity that occurred only four years after the group had been started in Baltimore by Sonny Til. The vocal group began as the Vibranaires, performing on street corners.
The person who could be said to have had the greatest influence on Nelson and his associates was Deborah Chessler, a sales clerk who wrote songs in her spare time and subsequently invented a role for herself as a combo manager. She got the group to perform on Arthur Godfrey's talent show in New York City, where it lost out to the blind piano genius George Shearing but still snared a record contract. Both the name of the group and the name of the label would soon change, the former to the Orioles and the latter to Jubilee. Chessler's unassuming "It's Too Soon to Know" was the first song to be recorded and became a hit, Nelson also singing superbly on "Forgive and Forget," "A Kiss and a Rose," "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," and the group's truly wonderful cover of "I Cover the Waterfront." Nelson quit in 1953, replaced by Gregory Carrol of the Four Buddies.