They still exist, having been together, on and off, in some form or another, with a few personnel changes, since the mid/late 1950s
. Anthony Gourdine had already done some professional singing
on his own, but decided to form a
doo-wop group in the Brooklyn projects
where he lived - doo-wop
was a not-uncommon pastime in the cities
of the North; some gangs
fought, others sang. This group was The Duponts, and they had a hitlet with "Prove it Tonight" in 1957.
Gourdine then left to join The Chesters, who were renamed The Imperials when they got signed by local indie label End Records. The Imperials' recorded debut was in 1958, with the 45 "Tears on My Pillow"/"Two People in the World"
- Alan Freed came up with the "Little Anthony" part, befitting Gourdine's urchin appearance and voice, and the name stuck.
They had many pop hits over the years, as they transitioned into the mainstream, doing many TV shows and playing Vegas and Vegas-like venues; extra mileage was gained when the Rock and Roll Revival hit, making "Tears
on My Pillow" hip retro stuff, and an old novelty number called "Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop" gave them entrée into the realms of bubblegum pop ten years after it was recorded, with Gourdine's permanent-adolescent voice a perfect fit with the "Yummy Yummy Yummy" bubblegum hits of the day.
Their version of "Goin' Out of My Head" may well be the definitive one (though
Sergio Mendes might disagree), and "Hurt So Bad" as well - Gourdine excelled at sad songs from day one, wrenching a grownup version of the elegant teen angst of "Tears on My Pillow" well into adulthood.
Sammy Strain, a member of the 60s/70s version of the group, left to join The O'Jays; the Imperials disbanded a few years later, and Gourdine did some Christian recordings for a few years, before forming another version of the group in the early 90s.
Somewhere on the nostalgia circuit tonight, people will close their eyes, and hear a 60-year-old man sounding remarkably like a teenager, and, in turn, those people will feel like one again.