Gary: “I was looking at this group from 1961, I guess a one-hit group. While looking at the group I also researched the song, “A Little Bit Of Soap”, which I really enjoyed.
The song was written in 1961, but then became a hit in different parts of the world by different groups, 1963, 70, 78 & 79. It’s greatest success came in 1963 in Southeast Asia where it was #1 for 25 weeks.
The Jarmels are a doo wop/rhythm and blues group officially formed in 1959 in Richmond, Virginia. They were composed of Nathaniel Ruff (1939-1990s), Paul Burnett (1942-23 March 2001), Ray Smith (born 1941), Earl Christian (1940-1960s), and Tom Eldridge (1941-19 June 2000).
They met while attending Armstrong High School and while some sang at nearby Mount Olivet Baptist Church (Richmond, VA) services. They first in 1957 named themselves The Cherokees, “because we liked the name,” said Smith—the last surviving member, through and including Jan. 8, 2011.
The start of their big break came in 1960 when, attending a local (Richmond) venue where Ben E. King was appearing, they met with the legendary R&B singer. King invited them to travel to New York and meet with various record companies, including Laurie Records. Marking the first African American group that Laurie had signed, the Cherokees impressed Laurie after auditioning with King’s signature song, Stand By Me. The group, now called The Jarmels, was renamed after a street in Harlem, NY.
Jim Gribble, who had previously worked with The Mystics and The Passions, was assigned manager of The Jarmels. In early 1961 they released the single “Little Lonely One”, which did not find much success outside New York.
However, their second single, “A Little Bit of Soap“, reached number 12 in America on the Billboard chart in June of the same year. The flip side of the 45 RPM recording was “The Way You Look Tonight” a song featured in the film Swing Time and originally performed by Fred Astaire. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1936.
“Soap” proved to be the only hit single for The Jarmels; the next four singles, including “Just The Way You Look Tonight” and a remake of the 1935 Bing Crosby hit “Red Sails in the Sunset“. did not chart at all.
The group continued throughout the 1960s, after recording a remake of “Come On, Girl” in 1963. Several personnel changes, notably the addition of Major Harris, who would later go on to join the Delfonics.
Smith, the last surviving original member, continues to tour as of January 2011 with four new members as the Jarmels. Included is his long-time Richmond, VA friend,Tyrone Thomas, who founded in 1975 the funkadelic band Tyrone Thomas and the Whole Darn Family, which in 1976 charted “7 Minutes of Funk“.
In December 2010, as part of the group’s plan to extensively tour the following year, Thomas successfully recorded, with The Jarmels, 10 original songs that he wrote and composed on a CD titled Fifty Years, commemorating the golden anniversary of “A Little Bit of Soap”. The CD’s release was to be January 16, 2011, on Smith’s 70th birthday.
A Little Bit of Soap / from The Tower of Strength Album / 1962