Herman "Junior" Denby

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The soulful vocals of Herman "Junior" Denby were one key to the success of early-'50s R&B vocal group the Swallows. The composer of such tunes as "Will You Be Mine," "Dearest," "Wishing for…
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The soulful vocals of Herman "Junior" Denby were one key to the success of early-'50s R&B vocal group the Swallows. The composer of such tunes as "Will You Be Mine," "Dearest," "Wishing for You," "You Left Me," "Roll, Roll, Pretty Baby," "Tell Me Why," "Beside You," and "You Walked In," Denby sang lead on more than a dozen of the group's recordings, including their biggest hit, "Beside You."

A product of Baltimore, MD's inner city, Denby was only 13 when he began harmonizing with other teenagers. Inspired by such R&B vocalists as the Ink Spots, the Mill Brothers, and Sonny Til, who lived across the street from one member, the group, which initially called itself "the Oakleers," practiced nightly on the city's street corners and began appearing in local amateur contests. Changing their name to the Swallows after the Ink Spots' tune "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano," Denby and the group continued to attract attention with their heartfelt harmonies. With the help of a local disc jockey, Jack Gale, they secured a manager and the interest of the King record label. Signing with the Cincinnati-based label, they recorded four songs featuring Eddie Rich's lead vocals in April 1951.

Denby's pen provided the Swallows with their greatest success. Their first single, "Will You Be Mine," reached number nine on the R&B charts in 1951, while "Beside You" was even more successful, reaching the eighth slot a year later. Denby and the Swallows progressed at a feverish pace. Before 1952 had ended, they had participated in five more recording sessions, spent two months touring the south with a package show, and participated in two groundbreaking concerts produced by influential rock disc jockey Alan Freed and broadcast over WJW in Cleveland, OH. Sidetracked when he and the group were involved in an automobile accident in Lancaster, PA, Denby re-evaluated his goals. When the band's contract with King expired, he elected to embark on a solo career.

Although Denby recorded four tunes -- "With This Ring," "I'm Still Lonesome," "The Fool Has Learned," and "If You Only Have Faith in Me" -- in May 1954, the momentum of their release was dampened when he received notification that he had been drafted into the United States Army. Although he later occasionally rejoined the Swallows for special shows, he was unable to recapture his past glory. He continued to perform as lead vocalist of Harold Winley's Ink Spots. Together with the Swallows, Denby was inducted into the U.G.H.A. (United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame) in 1994.