The story of Scepter Records is one of perseverance – the dogged mentality of founder Florence Greenberg dragged the label to prominence in the late Fifties and early Sixties when it looked like it would never get off the ground. Scepter introduced America to some of the most influential R&B artists of the century. With the addition of subsidiary Wand Records in 1961, Greenberg would create her own musical dynasty in the heart of New York City.
Scepter wasn’t Greenberg’s first record label, though her first attempt, Tiara, had a major hand in its creation. Having discovered a young female R&B quartet named the Shirelles in 1958 at her daughter’s New Jersey high school, Greenberg helped them gain local success before selling them – and Tiara – to major label Decca the same year. The $4,000 she received for her efforts was ploughed back into Scepter and, when the Shirelles didn’t produce any nationwide hits for Decca, the major returned the act to Greenberg less than a year later.
With her flagship act back and at the helm of a new company Greenberg had big dreams. But it wasn’t going to be easy. The label’s first release, ‘Why Why Why’/‘Ugly Duckling’ by rockabilly act Don Crawford & the Escorts failed to hit the charts. Despite the lack of commercial success, the single marked the beginning of the Scepter era and can be found on this collection.
Greenberg focused much of her energy on the Shirelles, convinced the four teens, Shirley Owens, Beverly Lee, Addie Harris and Doris Coley, had what it took. After a number of attempted launches saw lukewarm success the Shirelles – and Scepter – finally cracked the big time in 1960 with ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ (disc two). The track soared to the top of the US charts and reached the Top 5 in the UK.
The song, written by New York-based husband and wife Gerry Goffin and Carole King, would become an R&B and soul classic, recorded by numerous artists through the years from Roberta Flack through the Bee Gees to Amy Winehouse.
At the time of the Shirelles’ breakthrough in 1960, Scepter attempted to break another new artist, Joey Dee and his dance band, the Starlights. Dee’s album flopped, and when he and his group hit the big-time with ‘Peppermint Twist’ two years later they were on another label. You can hear two of the group’s earliest tracks, ‘Face Of An Angel’ and ‘Shimmy Shimmy’, on this collection.
The Shirelles quickly capitalised on the success of ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, re-releasing previous flop ‘Dedicated To The One I Love’ (disc one) which bettered its previous Number 89 ranking, hitting Number 3; another Top 5 hit came with ‘Mama Said’ in ’61.
The group would secure their second chart-topper the following year with ‘Soldier Boy’ (disc one). The track was penned by songwriter and Scepter A&R man Luther Dixon, who had become an essential cog in the label’s machine after a chance meeting with Greenberg in an elevator in 1959. Dixon wrote the majority of the label’s hits, producing them and discovering artists. When he left in 1963, lured by Capitol Records and the promise of his own label, Scepter was the worse for it.
It was not Dixon but legendary songwriter Burt Bacharach who discovered the girl that would become Scepter’s most famous. Bacharach came to Greenberg at the tail-end of 1962 with a demo for a new track – but the song paled into insignificance when Greenberg heard its singer, Dionne Warwick.
Warwick was immediately signed to Scepter and embarked on a career that would span six decades, five Grammy Awards and millions of records sold, thanks to hits like ‘Walk On By’ and ‘Say A Little Prayer’. She would also embark on the beginning of a fruitful relationship with Bacharach and songwriting partner Hal David; the first two tracks, ‘Don’t Make Me Over’ (disc one) and ‘I Smiled Yesterday’ (disc two), are included in this collection. She would leave Scepter for Warner Bros in the early Seventies.
With Warwick on board, Scepter moved into new offices on West 54th Street in Manhattan, later home to the infamous Studio 54, and continued to register hits from names like BJ Thomas, Ronnie Milsap through the rest of the Sixties and early Seventies. But in 1976 Greenberg sold the label to Springboard International. She decided that she had finished a career path she’d chosen way back in the Fifties as a housewife craving something to do while her kids were at school.
Though she passed away nearly 20 years later, in 1995, Florence Greenberg left an indelible mark on the US music industry. From downtown Manhattan, she made a success of her label through sheer hard work and perseverance, helping introduce some of the most famous artists of the era. With her record label as her scepter, Florence Greenberg went from pauper to Queen during the Sixties and Seventies, and this two-disc collection includes a host of her most influential moments.