The Fresando’s (sic) and The Five Masters were the same five singers: Robert Barksdale, Cleo “Sonny” Barksdale, Jesse Ledbetter, Aaron Little and James Holland. Bandleader Eddie Bartell gigged at the Rondevoo with The Falcons in February 1957 and backed Della Reese that April.


Although the above 1950s Star-X and Bumble Bee records don’t bear the name “Holidays”, they are the first recordings by some of the singers who would later go by that name: the triumvirate of the Barksdale brothers and James Holland.

The group got their first professional break when they sang background on Bunny Paul’s Dash 45 – “Baby Sitter Blues”. Bunny’s husband, Saul Rapapaort, knew the owner of a garage studio where the group used to hang out, which is where they recorded the Marx-X sides.

Leo Parks, who Robert Barksdale remembers as being the group’s “so-called manager at the time”, is credited as the writer of “Your Last Goodbye”, but it was chiefly penned by lead singer Aaron Little. This rare 1957 disc is a wonderful piece of seductive doo-wop, with Eddie Bartell and his Dukes of Rhythm providing minimalist accompaniment - allowing the harmony of group to shine.

“Your Last Goodbye”
“ We Are Like One” 

Our love is so beautiful
We are together
Seems like a miracle
(We Are Like One)

These two songs were recorded in a garage at 9060 Joseph Campau in Hamtramck - a district of Detroit – and Robert Barksdale recalled the group’s formative days there:

“We used to rehearse with one of The Midnighters (Sonny Woods) at the studio, which was a garage. We sang background for Bunny Paul and met Berry Gordy - who had a partner called Carlo - during the time we were going to Joseph Campau. At the time groups would come over there to rehearse and that’s where you’d meet all the people at.” A bit of pre-Motown trivia: Berry Gordy and Tyrone Carlo wrote two songs for The Five Stars that were released on the Mark-X label.

The Fresando’s record wasn’t a hit and in 1958 they changed their name to The Five Masters and hooked up with Robert West, one of the first of Detroit’s recording pioneers to taste success - most notably with The Falcons: you can see above that the group appeared at the Rondevoo in 1957. Mr. West also recorded Marv Johnson and Brian Holland in the late 50s for the Kudo label – one of his stable that included Silhouette, Flick and Contour - before they both found fame at Motown. Some more Motown trivia: The Motown group The Contours – who are mentioned later - took their name from the sign on the company’s door, although they never recorded for Mr. West’s labels.

Mr. West’s Flick/Contour Record Company was based at 65 East Forrest, but he used WJLB disk jockey Bristoe Bryant’s Music City Record Store to record. It was just four blocks away. In the 50s, Bristoe would rent his rudimentary gear housed at 93 East Alexandrine when he wasn’t using it to pre-record his gospel radio shows. He had a two-track tape recorder in his basement and singers would usually go into the bathroom to sing - the tiled surfaces added echo. Another bit of Motown trivia: Berry Gordy later bought Bristoe’s recording equipment to use in his own Hitsville USA studio on West Grand Boulevard.

Robert Barksdale remembers singing “We Are Like One” in Bristoe’s basement. The Five Masters wrote this gorgeous song, but their new manager, Clyde Clemons, took the credit.

The Fresando’s were only credited on one side of the Star-X 45, even though they sang on both. The record was also released as a 78.

After their Bumble Bee disc failed to create much of a buzz, the teenagers hit on the idea of enlisting in the army. In September 1959 their buddy plan came totally unstuck when Jimmy went off to France, Robert to Alaska and Cleo to Korea. They arrived back to Detroit in ‘62, where things had changed. It was the dawn of a new era, for music and the group.


Researched and written by Graham Finch


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