Blow out the candles for J.T. Carter

Longtime Bushkill resident and Doo Wop singer honored for creating interracial group

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  • J.T. Carter and Pennsylvania State Representative Rosemary Brown at the State Capitol in Harrisburg on Nov. 12, 2013. Carter was recognized for starting one of the first interracial music groups. The Crests were honored before. In 2000, they were inducted into the United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame, and, in 2004, into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame. (Photo provided by Official GOP State Capitol Photographer Aloysius W. Lieb, IV-2013)

  • The Crests back in tThe Crests four-member group after Patricia Vandross left in 1958 (clockwise from top): J.T. Carter, Talmoudge Gough, Johnny Maestro, and Harold Torres. (Photo Courtesy Ea Kroll Productions Archives)

  • The original five members of The Crests (from left): Patricia Vandross, Johnny Maestro (formerly known as Johnny Mastrangelo), Talmoudge Gough, Harold Torres and J.T. Carter (Photo Courtesy Ea Kroll Productions Archives)

  • J.T. Carter today (Photo Courtesy Ea Kroll Productions Archives)

“Route 209 — keep traveling from Route 80 to the Catskills — that’s where all the venues were A lot of people got to be prominent. That’s where the gigs were. If you lived in the Poconos, you worked a lot and saw your friends a lot.”
J.T. Carter

By Ginny Privitar

— J.T. Carter of Bushkill, founder of the Doo Wop group The Crests, known for “16 Candles” and other hits during the late '50s and early '60s, was recently honored on the Pennsylvania State House Floor for creating one of the first interracial vocal groups in America.

Carter founded the group in his teens with friends from junior high and high school. They hung out together and sung together. As they got better, they performed for church benefits and in the subway.

What was unusual for the time was the group's interracial mix: three African-Americans, a Puerto Rican, and an Italian-American. The other members besides Carter included Talmoudge Gough; Harold Torres; Patricia Vandross, the older sister of Luther Vandross and Carter’s first girlfriend; and lead vocalist Johnny Mastrangelo, later known as Johnny Maestro.

The group rose to international fame.

“I've lived in New Zealand, Australia, and London, Japan and Hawaii as well, because I wanted to see the world," Carter said.

A long way from Plains, Georgia

Carter was born June 5, 1941, in Plains, Georgia, also birthplace to former President Jimmy Carter.

J.T. had lots of family relations. His father was married three times.

“My father lived to 110," Carter said. "He was one of these ‘out there’ guys. We’re said to be related to Gladys Knight. We found out we’re related to Hirshel Walker."

Before leaving the South, Carter’s family worked the Carter family land, which they owned in part.

“There are a lot of Carter people who came from there,” he said. "We got our names from the people who owned the land. We grew pecans and peanuts on our land and we’d bring it back up North.

“I met Jimmy Carter one time and my father said, ‘You see that man? He’s probably going to be president one day.'”

Carter was three when he left Georgia. Carter said his father moved North during the Great Migration of 1910-1930, when 6 million African-Americans left the rural South for cities in the North and West.

"People of color had more opportunity in the North and they weren’t segregated," Carter said. "North of the Mason-Dixon they were mentally free. Down South we grew up with that prejudice.”

Later, the family moved to New Jersey, and then, when Carter was seven, to Delancy Street, a predominately Jewish neighborhood on New York's lower East Side. Carter made friends there.

“I have a very strong Jewish consciousness," he said. "Those people — they nurtured me. I heard the cantor singing before I ever heard rock and roll.”

The Poconos rock

Carter, who has lived in Bushkill for more than 25 years, credits Pennsylvania with starting the whole music revolution.

“I remember what it used to be," he said. "You might have had a hit record, but you still had no place to work. You did other things, but you still needed the hotels and bungalow colonies.”

Carter said the corridor from the Poconos to the Catskills was the place to find steady work.

“Route 209 — keep traveling from Route 80 to the Catskills — that’s where all the venues were," he said. "Hotels are the mainstay of the music business. That whole route was the mainstay. A lot of people got to be prominent. That’s where the gigs were. If you lived in the Poconos, you worked a lot and saw your friends a lot.”

Carter and his friends often traveled to New York City. Carter frequented Sugar Ray Robinson’s Golden Gloves Barber Shop at 124th Street and 7th Avenue, home to Sugar Ray’s personal barber Rogers Simon.

“That’s where you could stand outside and Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, James Brown, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke" would come by, Carter recalled.

Nat King Cole was one of his biggest influences. Carter remembers holding Cole’s daughter, Natalie, on his lap while Nat got a haircut.

“That was like the church," Carter said. "Where you find most black people — besides the church — was the barbershop. This was every Saturday — looking at Count Basie getting a haircut with Nat King Cole and Sugar Ray Robinson was very inspiring, and Muhammed Ali too.” The latter was known as Cassius Clay then.

Carter met Elvis with Sugar Ray Robinson years ago in Vegas.

“We’d go and hang out with Elvis,” Carter said.

Carter has been married 43 years to Leona Dinkowitz Carter, who sang with the Five Satins and The Drifters, and later the Crests. She was musical director for many acts over the years.

“She’s the one who took care of the music and made the music right and kept the band in tune," Carter said. He said she performed a piano solo in Carnegie Hall as a child prodigy at age eight.

Carter raised Leona’s son, Keith Goldberg, who sells Jaguars and lives in California. He’s proud of his son and five grandkids.

“Eventually I might move to California,” Carter said. "The grandkids want to be near me.

"I sing and dance with them, and all the parts work, except the brain,” he joked.

Still going strong

Carter was interviewed on Dec. 17 in New York City by broadcasting legend Joe Franklin. The show will air sometime this month on Bloomberg Radio and Sirius. For details email his publicist at or call 313-220-4757.

Carter would like to do a cable TV show with his musical friends, to talk about the heyday of R&B and Doo Wop, performing for Dick Clark as teens, and life on the road.

“I like to have fun," Carter said, "and I still do.”

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