Jay & the Americans

  • Vocal doo wop group formed in 1960 from Queens, New York, New York. The founding members were John “Jay” Traynor (lead vocals), Kenny Vance (born Kenny Rosenberg, vocals), Sandy Deanne (born Sandy Yuguda, vocals) and Howie Kane (born Howard Kirschenbaum, vocals). Their greatest success in the 60s was after Traynor was replaced by Jay Black (born David Blatt) in 1962. Also in 1962, they added a fifth member, vocalist and guitarist Marty Sanders.
  • In 1959, high school friends Vance, Deanne and a female classmate formed a vocal group called the Harborlites. A local record label owner heard them and agreed to release a single recorded by the trio. It became popular New York City, but Vance and Deane felt that they would have more success as an all-male vocal group. They spoke to their manager, who also was managing a doo wop group called The Mystics. The Mystics had recently added Jay Traynor to the group, but Traynor wasn’t happy, so with their manager’s recommendation, Traynor joined Vance and Deanne in 1960. Deanne’s friend Kane soon joined, and they had a quartet. They auditioned for songwriters and producers Leiber and Stoller, who liked the vocal group and gave them the name Jay & the Americans.
  • Leiber and Stoller helped the newly formed group land a recording contract, and in 1961, they released their debut single, a cover of Tonight from the Broadway musical West Side Story. It didn’t get much attention, and their follow-up single Dawning floundered, until a west coast DJ began to play the B-Side, a song called She Cried. She Cried became a hit in 1962, peaking at #5 on the Hot 100. They quickly cut an album (titled She Cried), but three singles failed to chart, and Traynor decided to leave, unwilling to keep up with the demands of touring.
  • Sanders was recruited to join the group as vocalist and guitarist. Sanders had been a member of the Empires. He suggested his former bandmate Black as a potential replacement for Traynor. Black auditioned, singing Cara Mia, and the group asked him to join after Black agreed to change his name to Jay Black. Back in the studio, they recorded the Leiber and Stoller song Only In America. The single peaked at #25 on the Hot 100. They recorded an album titled Come a Little Bit Closer, and the title track became their biggest hit, peaking at #3 in 1964.
  • Now a successful group, Jay & the Americans opened for the Beatles on the Beatles’ first American tour, and later that year they shared the bill with the Rolling Stones at Carnegie Hall. Late in 1964, they released Let’s Lock the Door (And Throw Away the Key), which reached #11 on the Hot 100. Their Blockbusters album was released in 1965, which included Black’s audition song Cara Mia – the single reached #4. Two more top 20 singles were released that year – their cover of Some Enchanted Evening (from the Broadway musical South Pacific) reached #13 while Sunday and Me (one of Neil Diamond’s earliest songwriting credits) peaked at #18.
  • As the British Invasion began to dominate rock music, Jay & the Americans began to lose their appeal. They chose to remain true to their doo wop legacy despite the evolving tastes of musical styles. They managed to reach the top 40 in 1966 with a cover of Roy Orbison’s Crying (peaking at #25), in 1968 with a cover of the Drifter’s This Magic Moment (peaking at #6), and in 1969 with a cover of the Ronettes’ Walkin’ in the Rain (peaking at #19). In 1971, they released their last single, a cover of There Goes My Baby, and they continued to tour until 1974, when they split.
  • Black continued to perform as Jay & the Americans, while the other members moved on to other things. In 2006, Black was deep into debt due to gambling and he filed for bankruptcy. He was forced to sell the rights to the name of the group as part of the bankruptcy settlement. The winning bid was by former bandmate Deanne, who wanted to keep the name from falling into the hands of imposters. There was one other bid for the name – a man in Chicago named Jay Reincke who pulled out of the auction due to an Illinois law that prohibited anyone from performing under a musical name without having at least one original member in the band. Deanne contacted Reincke after the legal proceeding were complete. Reincke said that he had been singing Jay & the Americans songs in his local band for years and that he could properly maintain the classic sound. Deanne and Kane flew to Chicago to watch Reincke perform (including Cara Mia), and soon after, Reincke became the third Jay.
  • Deanne, Kane, Reincke and Sanders continue to perform today as Jay & the Americans. The original Jay, Jay Traynor, died in 2014. The second Jay, Jay Black, died in 2021. Here is the group performing Cara Mia on Shindig in 1965.

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