Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers came by their name honestly – its five members were actual teens, led by 13-year-old Lyman and his powerful, buoyant soprano. Formed in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in 1944, the group became one of the biggest stars of the nascent years of Rock and Roll, beginning with the chart hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” which is regarded as an early Doo-Wop classic.
Lyman’s parents both sang in the church, and growing up he did likewise. He was working in a grocery store when he joined up with a local Doo-Wop group he’d heard at a high-school talent show – an integrated group that included African-American and Puerto Rican members. With Lymon — a dynamic performer as well as a prodigious vocal talent — on board, the group auditioned for record producer George Goldner and scored a record deal: their first single was “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” which hit No. 1 on the R&B chart. A string of hits followed, including "Baby, Baby," "Goody, Goody," and "The ABC's of Love." The band toured the U.S. and also the U.K., where “Fools” was a No. 1 hit.
Lymon left the group in 1957 to pursue a solo career, but faltered from the charts and never again retained a career footing. His quick rise to fame had taken its toll: introduced to heroin by an older woman at the age of 15, Lymon had developed a long-running habit. He died of a heroin overdose in 1968, at the age of 25.
Despite their short life, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers left a significant legacy: singers who’ve cited Lymon as an influence include Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and Ronnie Spector, and Motown founder Berry Gordy reportedly modeled the Jackson Five after Lymon and his group. A movie about Lymon’s life, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, was released in 1998.