Who's the only person who had simultaneous careers as a recording artist and a pro baseball player? The answer: Arthur Lee Maye, who played major league baseball as Lee Maye (and Lee May) and performed and recorded with Arthur Lee Maye & the Crowns.
Maye was born in Tuscaloosa, AL in 1934; his family moved to Los Angeles when he was still a child. He started singing in Jefferson High first with the Carmels -- Eugene Taylor (lead), Maye (tenor), Delmar Wilburn (tenor), Norman Manley (baritone), and Charles Holmes (bass). Maye's association with the Carmels lasted through high school. In 1954 he joined with two ex-Debonair members -- Richard Berry (tenor and baritone) and Johnny Coleman (bass) -- and the trio rehearsed at either Maye or Berry's home. Maye knew Coleman and the Debonairs from Jefferson High, where the group members would sing in the hallways. Berry, who had recorded with the Hollywood Blue Jays in 1953, took the guys to audition for the Bihari Brothers, who owned an assortment of record labels; the group impressed the Biharis enough to be offered a shot. Maye's baseball career began this same year in Boise, ID, playing in the Pioneer's league. Their first release "The Fine One" b/w "Please Please Baby" was issued under the name the "5" Hearts. (The company put the "5" in quotes because there were only three singers on the recording.) The same label released their next record, "Sweet Thing" b/w "Rock Bottom," under the name of the Rams; both failed to make an impact and besides, Maye was busy playing ball and getting the Crowns together.
The Crowns first appeared on record, uncredited, backing Berry on "Please Tell Me." Berry, a singing fanatic, sang with the Flairs (formerly the Debonairs), the Crowns, and the Dreamers at the same time and did solo work. the Crowns were: Richard Berry (lead), Maye (tenor), Charles Colbert (tenor), Joe Moore (baritone), and Johnny Coleman (bass). After the 1954 baseball season, the Crowns recorded their first record, "Set My Heart Free," for Modern Records. Johnny Morris (tenor) was added for the Flip Records session and Randolph Jones sang bass in place of Coleman. Jones had sung with the Penguins ("Earth Angel") and several other California groups. The Crowns recorded several more sides for Modern but only received small advances from time to time -- never any royalties. They left Modern and recorded three releases on RPM Records that failed to chart, though they received airplay in Los Angeles and enhanced their reputation.
In 1955 Maye was a member of the Milwaukee Braves organization and hit .320. At the end of the 1955 season he took the Crowns to Specialty Records, where they cut "Gloria" b/w "Oh Ruby Lee," misspelled on the label as "Oh- Rooba-Lee." It became their most popular recording to date, though it mostly got played on the West Coast. In 1956, Maye was off to Evansville, IN where he hit .330, 24 homers, and batted in 99 runs, and still the Braves didn't call him up to the majors. Returning to L.A. in the fall of 1956, Maye began recording for Johnny Otis' Dig Records and touring with his band singing with the Jayos -- Mel Williams (baritone), Harold Lewis (tenor), Sonny Moore (bass), and Maye. The Jayos' Dig recordings featured the four Jayos, Berry and Jesse Belvin in various combinations, though Maye sang lead on all the re-recordings of the doo wop classics. (He's not with the Jayos on any of their later efforts.) Maye did get to record the Crowns for Dig, and by this time, Berry had given up on all groups and was replaced by Holmes (bass), and original Crown Coleman moved from bass to baritone. Only Maye's name was credited on the record label.
Maye played in Jacksonville, FL in 1957 (where he had a bad year, batting only.264) and in the fall the Crowns recorded for yet another label, Flip Records, with ("Cause You're Mine Alone" and "Hey Pretty Girl"); again the recording was credited to only Maye. He played ball for the Braves and later in the year the group recorded for Cash Records. The Crowns' Cash recordings, "Will You Be Mine" and "Honey Honey," are credited as by Lee Maye of the Milwaukee Braves. As on previous records, the Crowns were present, and on this one Maye's brother Eugene (tenor) replaced Colbert. Maye played for Louisville, KY in 1959, hitting .318 before finally making it to the Braves' major league roster, where he remained until 1965.
Maye's baseball success caused the Crowns to drift further and further apart; after all, Maye was the glue that held them together. In his absence they did background work when possible. Maye moved to Milwaukee, then Houston, and spent less time with the group. In the early '60s the Crowns recorded (without Maye) as Henry Strogin & the Crowns in what would be the last recordings for the group. Maye recorded solo sides (mostly in the mid-'60s) until 1986 for Lenox, Jamie, Tower, Pacemaker, ABC-Paramount, Unrel, Buddah, Happy Fox, and Antrell Records. His longest association was with Jamie, where he had four releases.
You can't say Maye didn't try to become a recording star, though his recording career took a back seat to his ball playing, which proved far more fruitful. Maye and the Crowns' two biggest hits were "Gloria" and "Love Me Always"; Maye's biggest solo hit was the much recorded "Have Love Will Travel." Neither the Crowns nor Maye singing solo had a nationwide hit. After the Braves, Maye played for the Houston Astros, the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Senators, and the Chicago White Sox; he played in the majors for 12 years (1959 to 1971) and spent five years before that in the minors. In 4,048 career bats Maye batted .274, banged 94 homers, produced 419 RBIs, and stole 59 bases. After baseball, Maye returned to L.A., where he does an occasional gig with the Crowns.
Colbert owned a cleaning store, Coleman worked at a veterans hospital, and Moore passed away; Morris' location is unknown. Berry still lived in his old neighborhood in south central L.A. when he underwent an operation for a heart aneurysm in December 1994; he died in his sleep on January 23, 1997. Berry's biggest claim to fame was authoring the rock classic "Louie Louie," which he originally recorded on Flip Records. Maye performed in local clubs and appeared at a Doo Wop Society of Southern California concert on February 8, 1997 with Marvin & Johnny, the Pharaohs, the Millionaires, Big Jay McNeely, the Calvanes, the Storytellers/Hitmakers, and Jewell Aikens.