If you are a reader of this column, and you are a subscriber to satellite radio, you will probably be interested in a new, limited-time channel on SiriusXM called Carolina Shag (channel 13). The station features what’s known as “beach music,” that is the music that’s played, and danced to along the beaches of the Carolinas. The music is a wonderful blend of obscure and well-known soul and R&B records that are popular along the “Grand Strand,” and wherever people do the Shag. I’m not sure how long this channel will last, but it was great listening while traveling during Memorial Day weekend.
I don’t think of “Oh How Happy” as a typical beach music record, but it was heard on Carolina Shag this weekend, and it was kind of a forgotten favorite for me until I heard it again. What do we know about Shades of Blue, the vocal group that brought us “Oh How Happy”? Not much as it turns out. They came from Livonia, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. It was while the original members were in high school that they formed a group called the Domingos. The original lineup of the group included Nick Marinelli, Ernie Dernai, Linda Allen, and Bob Kerr.
In 1965, the Domingos signed a record deal with a label called Golden World, which was based in Detroit. A name change was suggested and the Domingos became Shades of Blue. It was while the group was recording at Golden World that they met Edwin Starr. He liked what he heard that day, and he had an unfinished song that he thought would be good for the group. Starr worked with the group to finish the song. Marinelli said that group members contributed to the music and lyrics, but Edwin Starr was the only writer ever credited for “Oh How Happy.”
In the autumn of 1965, Shades of Blue recorded “Oh How Happy” and took it to Impact Records. The label signed the group to a new contract on the strength of their record and released it in March 1966. The single, produced by John Rhys (the engineer who had suggested the group’s name change), was a #1 hit locally. It rose up the Pop chart to #12, and the R&B chart to #7. Starr himself recorded the song as a duet with Blinky a couple of years later, and it managed to crawl into the Billboard Hot 100. Other versions were recorded by Percy Sledge, and the Jackson Five.
Shades of Blue didn’t quit there, but follow-up records like “Lonely Summer” (also written by Starr), and “Happiness” didn’t do as well, reaching #72 and #78 on the Hot 100 respectively. Other singles failed to chart at all, and Shades of Blue called it a day in 1970. Marinelli revived the name when he joined a Motown group called the Valadiers in 2003. Together with one of the Valadiers, Stuart Avig, and new members Andy Alonzo and Donald Revels, Marinelli began touring with the group under the Shades of Blue name.
Marinelli, the last original member of Shades of Blue, finally left the group in 2009. There is still a group with that name out there touring, however.