Eugene Pitt, Jive Five Lead Singer, Dead at 80

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Eugene Pitt, the lead singer of R&B’s Jive Five, who scored a #3 hit in 1961 with the ballad “My True Story,” died June 29, 2018, at his home in Newbury, S.C. The cause was complications of diabetes. Pitt was 80.

In addition to the top 5 hit, the group placed three other singles in the Billboard top 100: “Never, Never” (#74, 1961), “What Time Is It?” ( #67, 1962) and the uptempo soul number “I’m a Happy Man” (#36, 1965).

Born Eugene Sampson Pitt in Brooklyn on Nov. 6, 1937, Pitt first sang in the mid-’50s with groups called the Top Notes, the Zip-Tones and the Akrons, none of which made any recordings. Pitt then joined the Genies, with whom he sang from 1958-61. He formed the Jive Five in the late ’50s with Jerome Hanna, Richard Harris, Norman Johnson and Thurmon Prophet. “My True Story,” a ballad that Pitt co-wrote—and which he said was based on personal experience—was released on the independent Beltone label and became the group’s first and biggest hit. Hanna died in 1962 and Pitt and Johnson used three new members to fill out the group.

Listen to “My True Story”

The Jive Five

Unlike many other so-called doo-wop groups of the era, the Jive Five managed to continue placing singles on the chart, even into the British Invasion era, when “I’m a Happy Man,” released on United Artists Records, found significant radio play, particularly in the New York City area. There were three further chart singles on UA and Musicor before the group’s streak ended in 1968. They also recorded, sometimes under different names, for Chess and Columbia.

Related: Ben E. King was another R&B great who had a huge hit in ’61

After Johnson’s death in 1970, they briefly changed their name to the Jyve Fyve, recording for Decca Records. As the oldies revival movement gained steam in the ’70s and ’80s, the Jive Five (who resumed their original name in 1978) continued to find work on multi-act shows. In 1982 and 84, Pitt and a new Jive Five lineup recorded two albums for the Ambient Sound label, titled Here We Are! and Way Back. Pitt found work in the ’80s and beyond singing for television commercials and IDs for HBO.

Listen to “I’m a Happy Man”

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