#939 (6/28/22)



This is the story of how a composer, who wrote a wonderful song, was able to have a new record label established in his home town for the purpose of releasing the song. And how a vocal group was formed using local talent for the purpose of recording the song for the new label.

And the local disk jockeys getting overwhelmingly positive feedback from their radio audiences, resulting in heavy airplay.

Then two trade magazines, The Billboard and Cash Box, picking up on the record and extolling it in their reviews.

And the song creating such a buzz that two large record companies released it using their own top-level singers.

[Above photo provided by Brandon Roots.]
Above: Photo of Jimmy Roots Jr. For many years, he was a beloved gospel and jazz pianist in Richmond, Virginia. He was pianist and musical director for Sister Rosetta Tharpe, backing her and other gospel artists on Decca as the Jimmy Roots' Trio. Roots was also a musician for The Pilgrim Travelers.

Per his son (Brandon Roots), "James 'Jimmy' Roots (tenor) sang as himself with Vance Joyner and a couple of other guys" as The Four Jacks on the Allen label.

Joyner was a noted gospel singer who had been with Richmond's Harmonizing Four. The other members of The Four Jacks were Levi Hansley and Lonnie Smith, who were also with Richmond's Harmonizing Four.

The Four Jacks vocal group and the Allen record label were both formed for a specific purpose.

Above: 1943 photo of the "other" three Four Jacks, (L-R) Lonnie Smith (tenor), Vance Joyner (baritone), and Levi Hansley (bass), performing as members of Richmond's Harmonizing Four. WRNL call letters come from a newspaper, the Richmond News Letter.

Above: Label image of Allen 21000-A, released in June 1949. Vance Joyner is lead tenor on "I Challenge Your Kiss". The Four Jacks are backed instrumentally by King Oliver Price, piano; Charles Puigh, guitar; and Allen, (bass fiddle). Allen's full name is not known, but it would seem that he was directly connected to Allen Records.

Composer credits on the "A" side are "Paul-Gary". The flip-side of this record is "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". That label credits "Paul-Gary" with the song's arrangement.

Inscription on the above label is "To my dear friends, Spencer and Margie Hazlewood.... Stephen Paul". Paul, composer of "I Challenge Your Kiss", is listed at BMI as "Stevens Paul". The arranger of the song is Leon Gary, listed at BMI as "Lee Gary".

Stephen Paul was a pianist, composer, and leader of his own combo, which performed locally and also had a show on WLEE in Richmond, Virginia. And, yes, WLEE's call letters were derived from Robert E. Lee.

Cash Box Review (5-28-49):

THE FOUR JACKS — ALLEN 21000 — I Challenge Your Kiss/Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
New label and a new group bow into the disk business with a sensational platter that should garner a top spot on music ops machines in no time at all. The vocal harmony of The Four Jacks on this tune is superb from start to finish.

Wax, titled "I Challenge Your Kiss" is a slow, infectious, sentimental tune that makes you stop and listen. Itís smooth, soft, brilliant harmony that the Jacks offer, with the subdued echo of the group ringing true. Itís the type of disk that makes for easy listening pleasure, and is one that should wear white on the phonos.

The flip is a smart rendition of the standard "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" that should take on and hold its own.

Top deck is a hot winner—grab a boxful!

The Billboard Review (6-4-49):

I Challenge Your Kiss (84)
Despite vlbratoish warbling by the soloist, this shapes up as one of the strongest race ballads in some weeks. Easy tempo and mellow group feeling help.
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (70) Jazzed-up version of the spiritual is less effective, but has plenty of spirit.
(NOTE: Ratings had a range of 0-100 with 70-79 considered as "good" and 80-89 as "excellent".)

(NOTE: The above Cash Box and Billboard reviews are significantly more positive than the vast majority usually done by these two magazines, especially the "84" rating given by the latter magazine.)

LISTEN (Windows Media Player): [Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]
1. "I Challenge Your Kiss" - The Four Jacks - Allen 21000-A - 1949.
2. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" - The Four Jacks - Allen 21000-B - 1949.

BOTH SONGS played in sequence.

CASH BOX — May 28, 1949
NOTICE THAT the above clipping shows the record label as "On Marshall #21000", instead of "On Allen #21000". This was probably a misprint as there would be no discernable reason to release the record under two label names.

CASH BOX — June 4, 1949

CASH BOX — June 11, 1949


RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, May 1, 1949: LISTEN . . . With Rove
ANOTHER song has been born in Richmond, the local disk jockeys and their postcard clients like it and that's a good sign! Name of the tune is "I Challenge Your Kiss", a slow, warm ballad by Stephen Paul that has all the earmarks of a melody which will capture Dear Public's fancy.

Stephen wrote his tune here in our town; next, he rounded up vocal and instrumental talent in our town and recorded "I Challenge Your Kiss" in our town. Stephen credits Leon Gary with the arrangement of the tune which made its debut a few days ago on the Allen label. Now Stephen's new tune really is getting around. The disk jockeys are being very nice to it. "I Challenge Your Kiss" has invaded the colorful juke boxes in Richmond, Washington, and Baltimore. Tomorrow, Philadelphia. [Yes, you interpret the word "colorful" correctly.]

The Allen recording of "I Challenge Your Kiss" features a vocal group composed of Vance Joyner, lead tenor and Lonnie Smith, James Roots, and Levi Hansley. Instrumentalists are King Oliver Price, piano; Charles Puigh, guitar; and a citizen named Allen on the bass.

Stephen, take a bow to the local disk jockeys because they're saying nice things like:

"I personally like the song very much... I think it is beautiul, unusual, and I expect it to go a long way. About the greatest compliment a disk jockey can pay a song is to sneak a copy home for his personal collection. I now have two copies of 'I Challenge Your Kiss' ... after playing the song on In the Groove for the first time on the air, I received 67 telephone calls requesting the number be repeated before the end of the broadcast. This is an unprecedented number of calls for such an unusual request. The mail received about the record has increased steadily and it is now the most popular number on my programs. Certainly this ... response indicates 'I Challenge Your Kiss' holds great promise." - Capp. WRVA.

"The musical talent of Stephen Paul... has fashioned a melody that I personally believe will make itself known. 'I Challenge Your Kiss' has an innate something that makes you stop and listen. This has been borne out by the immediate requests that came in ... on both my morning show, Lud Sterling's Morning Request Club, and my afternoon program... All the boys at WLEE are behind the tune." - "Harvey Hudson, WLEE.

"It's a nice little tune that has made most unusual progress ... in the little more than a week that it has been out, it has won a good listener response both in the city and throughout the state ... and already is competing favorably with established hits on the WRNL Mailbag programs... if it's rising popularity continues at the present rate, the future of 'I Challenge Your Kiss' looks good." - Mike Novello, WRNL.

"It looks to me as though Stephen Paul's 'I Challenge Your Kiss' is the logical successor to Deborah Chessler's 'It's Too Soon To Know' ... In response to the many requests from our listeners, I've played the tune every afternoon...on the WXGI Musical Sports Page. The composition has made a definite hit with Richmonders, and there's no doubt they will want to hear it time and again ... I like the slow, easy, and unhurried treatment given the number by the Four Jacks... I look for the disk to ... really go places." - Harry Curran, WXGI.

NOTE: To supplement the above newspaper piece, here are some cities where "I Challenge Your Kiss" reached Number One on Cash Box's "Hot In Other Cities" lists:

Richmond, Virginia in June 1949 (multiple times)
Wheeling, West Virginia in June 1949
Roanoke, Virginia in July 1949
Tampa, Florida in July 1949

NOTE: It's curious that the bass player, "Allen", was not fully identified in the above newspaper column. It would seem likely that he's directly involved with the label that bears his name. But why would his actual full name be withheld? He's a Richmond "citizen" and a "bass" player (per the piece).

It turns out that the owner of Allen Records was Leon Gary. Yes, the same person that had provided arrangements for the songs recorded by The Four Jacks. Gary owned a record store and was a record distributor in Richmond, so he knew the record business. Why he selected "Allen" as the label name is a mystery. Perhaps the name of the bass player was a handy choice?

THE BILLBOARD, July 8, 1944:
....Leon Gary's Record Shop reports excellent results from advertising in local Negro newspapers....

CASH BOX, June 11, 1949:
....Leon Gary of Marshall Record Co., Richmond, Va., is in town [New York City]. Leon is currently working on the promotion of "I Challenge Your Kiss", which incidentally is starting to perk up throughout the nation....

THE BILLBOARD, June 18, 1949:
....Duchess Music has taken over "I Challenge Your Kiss" from Allen Records. Leon Gary came in from Richmond, Va., recently, to close the deal....


Above: RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, September 24, 1950.

NOTE: In the above picture is Stephen Paul, the composer of "I Challenge Your Kiss". He was a pianist, composer, band leader, and entrepreneur.

In the upper right side of the picture are two records that had been released with his song, "I Challenge Your Kiss". On top is Dinah Washington's version on the Mercury label. Underneath it, although not fully seen, is certainly The Four Jacks' record of the song. Although The Ravens are mentioned in the local newspapers at the time as about to record the song, this could not be verified as actually happening.

At Right: RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, April 17, 1951: Stephen Paul

RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, June 26, 1949: LISTEN . . . With Rove
A song born in Richmond is ready to make its bid for nation-wide hit parade honors, and it appears to have a better-than-average chance of success.

The tune is "I Challenge Your Kiss"; it was written by Stephen Paul whose piano technique is a talked-about thing in this town. A few weeks ago, Paul got the idea and put the tune on paper. This operation is the beginning—and often the ending—of the career of songwriter hopefuls. How to get a new tune before the public is a real problem.

Stephen Paul worked it like this:

He scored the tune for a vocal quartet arrangement with rhythm accompaniment. Next, he organized and trained a quartet of local talent—The Four Jacks—and with the rhythm accompaniment, proceeded to make a temporary recording of his "I Challenge Your Kiss."

Next, Paul talked a Richmond record distributor into pressing the tune for local consumption. Leon Gary, disk dealer here, figured into the business arrangements. Thus, a new record label was born, the Allen yellow label, and Stephen Paul's tune was ready for the fickle public.

Then, Richmond disk jockeys latched onto it. WRVA's Capp introduced it, many of the others plugged it, and Dear Public in Virginia appeared to like it. Naturally, the big New York publishers became interested at this point. Leeds Music Publishing Company closed the deal.

Now, things look good for Stephen Paul for these reasons:

(1) the publisher has guaranteed him distribution of his tune on at least four big time labels.

(2) the Orioles, one of the hottest vocal groups in the country, have waxed "I Challenge Your Kiss" on the Jubilee label.

(3) the Ravens will do it for the King label.

(4) the latest issue of the trade publication, The Billboard, places the tune in eighth position on the list of tunes played most often on the nation's juke boxes.

(5) the tune continues to get strong plugging from Richmond disk jockeys.

(6) Paul has another tune coming up titled "I Cry My Heart Out".

(7) the Stephen Paul combo made its debut in a downtown night spot last week to "play it pretty for the people".

Musical composition is not exactly new to Stephen Paul. Back in 1942, Stephen Paul was Stelios Politopoulos, working on his fourth symphony, "Southern Life and Melody", which he dedicated to the State of Virginia. That paid off in compliments and congratulations.

With "I Challenge Your Kiss", however, the payoff prospects look far more promising.

Above Left: RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, October 7, 1949. Stephen Paul And The Cosmopolitans at Richmond's Cosmopolitan Restaurant.

Above Right: RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH, October 29, 1950. Stephen Paul (No, Not Errol Flynn)


Above Left: Photo of The Orioles (L-R) Sonny Til, Johnny Reed, Tommy Gaither, George Nelson, and Alex Sharp.
This is the line-up that recorded "I Challenge Your Kiss" with Sonny Til singing the lead. It is the fifth of many releases they had on Jubilee (1948-1956). The Orioles were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1995.

Above Right: Label image of Jubilee 5008, released in June 1949.

Click HERE for an article about The Orioles by Marv Goldberg. (Will open in a separate window)

Above Left And Right: CASH BOX, July 16, 1949. Another exemplary review!

CASH BOX, August 13, 1949.
....After a late start, the Orioles' "Tell Me So" and brand new "I Challenge Your Kiss" are moving in strong on the Avenue....

LISTEN (Windows Media Player): [Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]
"I Challenge Your Kiss" - The Orioles - Jubilee 5008 - 1949.

Above Left: Photo of Dinah Washington, "Queen Of The Blues", who was a singer, pianist, and songwriter. She was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.

Above Right: Label image of Mercury 8150, released in August 1949.

Above: Photo of Dinah Washington.

HERE ARE two more reviews with exceptionally high praise for the tune, including an "83" rating from The Billboard:

Cash Box Review (8-27-49):

DINAH WASHINGTON — MERCURY 8150 — I Challenge Your Kiss
Backed by Mitch Miller's ork, Dinah Washington goes into a tune that promises to move way up in the charts, "I Challenge Your Kiss", and does one of the grandest vocalizing jobs of her career. Just listen in and get a thrill.

The Billboard Review (9-10-49):

I Challenge Your Kiss (83)
Gal gets rich backing from a large ork, including fiddles. Pretty fancy stuff.
(NOTE: Ratings had a range of 0-100 with 80-89 considered as "excellent".)

LISTEN (Windows Media Player): [Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]
"I Challenge Your Kiss" - Dinah Washington - Mercury 8150 - 1949.


Above: Label images for both sides of Allen 21001-A/B, released in August 1949.

A THEORY: If this record was rushed out due to the success of the first Four Jacks' record, perhaps there may have been only the one side, "Careless Love", available from their earlier recording session. If so, a flip-side would be needed and this one by the instrumental trio of the mysterious "Allen" was used. The title "Capp's Bop" seems to be in appreciation of Richmond disk jockey Charles Cappleman's introduction and heavy support of the first record. Cappleman's nickname was "Capp".

LISTEN (Windows Media Player): [Audio is rough, provided here for interest purposes only.]
"Capp's Bop" - The Allen Trio - Allen 21001-B - 1949.

CASH BOX — August 6, 1949
NOTICE THAT the above clipping shows the record label as "Marshall", instead of "Allen". It is the second instance of this happening (see further above on this page). In this case, the record number is also different (21004 vs. 21001).

So, is this another misprint or was there an actual Marshall label release? Also, how were the missing numbers (21002 and 21003) used, if at all? If anyone can shine some light on this, please contact me.

Cash Box Review (8-20-49):

THE FOUR JACKS/THE ALLEN TRIO — ALLEN 20001 — Careless Love/Capp's Bop
Pair of sides music ops should look into are these rendered by The Four Jacks and The Allen Trio. Top deck is a smooth rendition of "Careless Love", with the group displaying some wonderful vocal harmony on the side. Itís a mellow disking and is one that should meet with music fans approval.

On the flip with "Cappís Bop", the trio give out with some light bop music that is easy on the ears. Top deck gets the nod here easily.

LISTEN (Windows Media Player): [Audio provided by Andrew Bohan, restoration by Dave Saviet.]
"Careless Love" - The Four Jacks - Allen 21001-A - 1949.


The Four Jacks had a third (and last) record in 1950, this one on Gotham Records, located in Philadelphia. The top side is "I Cry My Heart Out", a group harmony ballad, the label giving composer credits to Stephen Paul and Leon Gary. The flip side, "Take Me", is also a ballad but with no group singing, even though the label shows "The Four Jacks".

Just ten days ago, WXGI's Harry Curran, diskmaster of Curran's Corner....introduced for the first time on the air Stephen Paul's new ballad, "I Cry My Heart Out". Paul is the Richmond pianist-composer who penned a hit in "I Challenge Your Kiss" last Spring.

The response was terrific. Curran says "The mail at the Corner indicates that the listeners are going for Paul's new tune, styled by the Four Jacks, in a big way. The melody and words are more easily hummed, whistled, or sung than "I Challenge Your Kiss", Stephen Paul's initial pop venture. This new song, in my opinion, has appeal, and the Gotham recording of same should go places."

Curran says that the incongruity of it all is that each time he spins "I Cry My Heart Out", he remembers that Stephen Paul is the author of five symphonies, a Greek rhapsody, numerous nocturnes and suites—and he is cleffting notes popwise in a most fascinating manner.

....Stephen Paul, local tunesmith, received the happy word from Mitch Miller, director of Columbia's Popular Record Department. Miller and Alan Dale are interested in waxing Paul's "I Cry My Heart Out", which is now on the Gotham label by the Four Jacks....
(NOTE: No evidence was found that this record by Alan Dale was ever released.
However, Mitch Miller's orchestra did back Dinah Washington on her Mercury record.

....Stephen Paul's latest tune, "I Cry My Heart Out", has been selected for recording by Billy Eckstine, the biggest voice on the M-G-M label. The Eckstine version of the song is due for release sometime around the first of the coming year....
(NOTE: No evidence was found that this record by Eckstine was ever released.
If anyone knows of any other "I Challenge Your Kiss" or "I Cry My Heart Out" record, please contact me.

Cash Box Review (2-11-50):

THE FOUR JACKS — GOTHAM 219 — Take Me/I Cry My Heart Out
Vocal allure by the Four Jacks turns up fine on this biscuit titled "Take Me" and "I Cry My Heart Out." Both ends of the platter show the groupís vocal work [sic] to excellent advantage, and make for excellent listening pleasure.

Itís a disk that lingers with the listener and should do exceptionally well on the phonos. Platter has to be heard in order to be fully appreciatedóthat is what we recommend.

LISTEN (Windows Media Player): [Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]
1. "I Cry My Heart Out" - The Four Jacks - Gotham G-219-A - 1950.
2. "Take Me" - The Four Jacks - Gotham G-219-B - 1950.

BOTH SONGS played in sequence.


THUS CONCLUDES the story of successfully producing a vocal group record from the ground floor up, utilizing local talent for all resourses, and gaining massive community support. Stephen Paul was the driving force and the cooperation of those involved gave it the momentum.

Listen to all of this article's audio selections using Windows Media Player:
[Audio restoration by Dave Saviet.]

          1. "I Challenge Your Kiss" - The Four Jacks - Allen 21000-A - 1949.
          2. "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" - The Four Jacks - Allen 21000-B - 1949.
          3. "I Challenge Your Kiss" - The Orioles - Jubilee 5008 - 1949.
          4. "I Challenge Your Kiss" - Dinah Washington - Mercury 8150 - 1949.
          5. "Careless Love" - The Four Jacks - Allen 21001-A - 1949.
          6. "I Cry My Heart Out" - The Four Jacks - Gotham G-219-A - 1950.
          7. "Take Me" - The Four Jacks - Gotham G-219-B - 1950.
          ALL SEVEN ABOVE SONGS played in sequence.


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Last Update: June 28, 2022

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