The Essex (1962-1965)

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The Essex, a doo-wop R&B American quintet vocal ensemble, was formed in 1962. The band was named after Essex County, New Jersey. They were unique among R&B groups at the time in that all the founding members were also U.S. Marines. The founding members were guitarist LCpl Walter Vickers, born in 1942 in New Brunswick, New Jersey; percussionist/baritone Rodney Taylor, born in 1942 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They met as musicians when they were stationed at Camp Courtney, the United States Marine Corps base in Okinawa, Japan.

Upon returning to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina in 1962, The Essex invited Tenor saxophonist, flutist, harmonica player, PFC Rudolph Johnson, born April 8, 1942, in Columbus, Ohio; composer/baritone PFC Billy Hill, born in Princeton, New Jersey on June 26, 1943, and lead singer alto Anita Humes who was born on June 23, 1943, in Louisville, Kentucky.

Humes already had professional music experience having been a member of the Milton Dennis Jazz Quartet member at Camp Geiger, a neighboring Marine Corps base in Jacksonville. The five signed a contract with the Roulette label and recorded their biggest hit, “Easier Said Than Done” in 1963. The single peaked at #1 on Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold more than one million records. It also charted at #41 in the United Kingdom Singles Chart. During the same year, their single, “A Walkin’ Miracle” peaked #12, and “She’s Got Everything” rose to #56 on the Pop chart. 

Although they were in the Marine Corps in 1963, the Essex performed widely getting special permission to go on turn.  They were also seen on television on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” and were featured on a segment of “To Tell the Truth.”  Also, in 1963 they performed at Harlem’s Apollo Theater.

While the Essex were in demand as performers in 1963 and 1964, their numerous bookings conflicted with their commitments to the Marine Corps. In 1965, Johnson, Hill, and Humes were honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. The following year, Rodney Taylor was killed in 1966 in New York City during an attempted robbery. After his death they never performed again as the Essex.

Rudolph Johnson died on August 19, 2007. He was 65. Anita Humes died on May 30, 2010, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, aged 69. In 2013 at the age of 70, Billy Hill’s last performance was with the Meg Hanson Group at Salt Creek Grill Restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey.

During their brief period of musical stardom, The Essex produced four albums and 12 singles with Roulette Label and one single with Bang Records all while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.