Soul Serenade: The Jarmels, “A Little Bit of Soap”

Written by Ken Shane's Soul Serenade, Music

The Jarmels only had one hit, but it was a big one. “A Little Bit of Soap” climbed to the upper reaches of the Pop Chart in September, 1961.

Before I begin this week’s column proper, I want to make mention of the fact that word came this morning of the death of Don Cornelius. Whether you were a musician, a dancer, or a viewer, being aboard the Soul Train was a very cool place to be. As your host, Don Cornelius was simply the most badass man on television. So Mr. Cornelius, I wish you what you wished us at the of every show — Peace, Love, and SOUL. Rest in peace.

The Jarmels were a vocal group that came together in the late ’50s in Richmond, VA. They were classic one-hit wonders, but I like to think that when your one hit is a record as cool as “A Little Bit of Soap” you have a little bit of solace in your old age.

It was Ben E. King who found the Jarmels in Richmond and invited them to New York City. The group was originally called the Cherokees but when they signed to Laurie Records (after auditioning with King’s classic “Stand By Me”), their name was changed to the Jarmels after a street in Harlem.

Jim Gribble, who was also managing the Mystics, and the Passions, was assigned to manage the Jarmels. In 1961, they released their first Laurie single, “Little Lonely One,” which was a hit in New York, but nowhere else. “A Little Bit of Soap” was the second Jarmels single, and they scored big with it. The song was written by the legendary songwriter and producer Bert Berns (“Twist and Shout,” “Hang On Sloopy,” and “Piece of My Heart” are among his many songwriting credits) and climbed all the way up to #12 on the Billboard Pop Chart in September, 1961.

Sadly, that was the beginning and end of the road for the Jarmels as far as hits were concerned. They released four more singles for Laurie, but none of them made a dent. There were many lineup changes over the years, but as of last month the Jarmels, led by their sole surviving member Ray Smith, were still touring.

One-hit wonders? Perhaps. But more than 50 years later the Jarmels name lives on.