Frank Guida isn't as well-known as Sam Phillips or Phil and Leonard Chess. For a time, however, he and his LeGrand record label and recording studio in Norfolk, VA, turned that city into a serious R&B mecca in the upper reaches of the American Southeast. Guida was born in Palermo, Italy in 1922. He had the bad fortune to be drafted in his late teens, but the good fortune to serve most of his time in the army in Trinidad, where he discovered calypso music. He became entranced by its melodies and rhythms, and soon began writing and singing calypso music, making a minor career out of it in civilian life. By the early '50s, Guida was interested in making a career in music, not as a performer but running a record company and producing music by other artists. In 1953, Guida opened a record store of his own in Norfolk, VA, so that he could learn about what people were listening to, and see if he could figure out why some records were hits and others weren't. He got to the point where he knew as much about rhythm & blues as any man in the music business, and felt confident enough to begin distributing records out of Norfolk. In 1958, he opened LeGrand Records in Norfolk, in association with his record shop, and a year after that, he started his own recording operation, the Norfolk Recording Studio. With his business partner, Joseph Royster, he began releasing records on LeGrand, which became a potent source of talent and hits, especially after Guida began recording one Gary Anderson, aka Gary U.S. Bonds, whose first hit, "New Orleans," was a Guida song originally written for Leroy Toombs. When Toombs turned it down in favor of his own compositions, Guida gave it to Bonds, along with a new name (inspired by a poster outside his Norfolk offices), and two careers were made. Gary "U.S." Bonds' career as a fixture at the top of the charts only lasted into the early '60s, but his music is constantly revived. Guida's LeGrand label has continued to do business into the '90s, most recently releasing oldies-type material by artists such as Tommy Facenda, an ex-member of Gene Vincent's Blue Caps.
Share this page