The Gems' career began for Leonard and Phil Chess' Chess/Checker/Cadet setup as the Lovettes (no connection to the Lovettes on Carnival Records). Marshall High School students Jessica Collins (lead), Verdine Harrison, Theresa Washburn, Dorothy Hucklebee, and Bertha Watts cut two unsuccessful singles on Checker Records: "One More Year" b/w "The Crush" (1962) and "Hands Off" b/w "A Love of Mine." Blind pianist/writer Raynard Miner was the secret Gem, and he and Billy "Roquel" Davis, either together or in other combinations, supplied nearly all their material. Roquel was Chess' A&R director, but despite his clout, the Gems never charted high or established a significant career. Miner accompanied them on piano, but not at all of their performances. These five beautiful girls couldn't help but wow the audience with their singing and looks; their most successful record was "I Can't Help Myself." Roquel renamed the Lovettes the Gems and switched them to Chess Records. "One More Time," previously released on Checker, became the B-side of "Let Your Hair Down" in 1963. "It's a Girl's Impression" surfaced the same year, but neither single did much. Minnie Ripperton replaced Vandine Harris on the next released single, "That's What They Put Erasers on Pencils For." The teenage ditty did nothing except generate some local gigs. "I Can't Help Myself" b/w "Can't You Take a Hint" (1964) got played outside of greater Chicago, and put them on the road doing promotional tours and concerts. "I Can't Help Myself" is a cool floater with modulating rhythms; Miner is astounding on piano. "Can't You Take a Hint" is a fast number with Ripperton's five-octave range ringing out. Chess followed with "Love for Christmas" in November 1964, just in time for holiday buyers. When two final singles, "He Makes Me Feel Good" (1965) and "Girls Can Do It" (1967), flopped, they disbanded. Theresa Washburn later sang with the Starlettes (also on Chess), as did Ripperton, who also sang with Rotary Connection before going solo. She cut a record as Andrea Davis before recording under her real name, and carved quite a career before succumbing to cancer in 1979. Raynard Miner wrote a slew of hit songs for others, including "Higher and Higher," "Rescue Me," "We're Gonna Make It," the Radiants' "Don't It Make You Feel Kinda Bad," and Etta James and Sugar Pie Desanto's "In the Basement." Before Chess folded, Miner signed with Motown, but had less success. At Motown, Miner wrote, among others, the Four Tops' "The Key" and the Marvelettes' "Sunshine Days." A '90s CD by Minnie Ripperton includes some Gems cuts, but not "I Can't Help Myself" because Ripperton didn't sing lead. ~ Andrew HamiltonPortions of Content Provided by Rovi Corporation.
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