The Arnells (1963-1964)

Five singer posing making a curved hand gesture
The Arnells
Courtesy Roulette Records under public domain

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The Arnells, a female doo-wop ensemble that also performed as The Teenettes Variations, were all from all-girls Joseph Battin High School in Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey. The short-lived but talented group, established in 1963, met in the high school corridors. They rehearsed after school fifteen minutes away in Avenel, New Jersey, at the home of Madam Betty James.  Their manager and Musical Director/pianist was Robert “Mister Bobby” Banks, who also managed the Shockley Singers who were at the time billed as “The World’s Youngest Gospel Singers.” They also rehearsed in a studio in Harlem where they had to ride the train every Saturday to get there and then another bus to their home in Avenel. Once in a while, they would take turns rehearing at each other’s home.

Judi Roberts, a mezzo-soprano, was a principal vocalist. The other members were contralto Marsha Roberts, mezzo-soprano Karen Davis, contralto Diane Awkard, and Janice Berry, a contralto with mezzo-soprano qualities. All graduated from high school in the same year, 1963. They all took turns boarding at each other’s home. Berry was also the lead singer on the Teenettes recording on the Sandy Label. However, there was not any information available as to who produced their first recordings.

In 1964, The Arnells were the opening act at Harlem’s Apollo Theater for the “word doubling” singer, pianist, and composer Billy Stewart, whose records made the Billboard Hot 100 and the Top 30 in the R&B charts. The Arnells mostly sang in the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut).

The ensemble recorded “Heart Repair Shop,” an A-side composed by Betty Jackson and Ray Jones, and “Take A Look,” a B-side written by Betty Jackson and released by Roulette Records, Inc. in 1963. None of The Arnells’ records ever charted even though their music was famous regionally and played on local radio stations in Newark, Jersey City, and Brooklyn, New York, then two of the largest radio markets on the East Coast.

Financial promises were made. However, the Arnells were never paid for their singing engagements. When the group disbanded in 1964, they were never paid royalties for public performances or their recordings on the Sandy or Roulette labels. The members apparently did not know as teenagers that they should be paid royalties for their music. Afterward, Marsha Roberts, Karen Davis, and Diane Awkard remained in Elizabeth, New Jersey, while Janice Berry Alexander relocated to Chesapeake, Virginia, and married. She is now a motorcyclist and licensed realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Homes Services of Chesapeake.

In 2001, the Arnells reunited in a restaurant in East Orange, New Jersey. Original member Judi Roberts, however, did not attend. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.