They first got together in New York City in the 1950s. The group’s original lineup also included Clarence Collins, who founded the group, Ernest Wright, Nate Rogers and Tracey Lord. Collins had a group called the Chesters that included Rogers. It was that group that Gourdine, who had been in the DuPonts, joined. At the time Ronald Ross was in the group, but he was replaced by Ernest Wright.
End Records signed the Chesters in 1958 and changed their name to the Imperials. Their first single for the label was a smash. “Tears on My Pillow” sold over a million copies and reached #4 on the Pop chart and #2 on the R&B chart. A follow-up single, “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko-Bop” did very well too, reaching #24 in 1960. But when further success proved elusive for the group, Gourdine decided to go it on his own.
Imperials came and went over the next few years and Gourdine eventually returned in 1963. At that point, the classic lineup of the group, Collins, Gourdine, Wright, and Sammy Strain, who had joined when Gourdine was pursuing his solo career, was in place. The quartet hooked up with an old friend, producer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo, signed with Don Costa Productions (DCP), and the hits began to come. The run began with “I’m on the Outside (Looking In)” which reached #15 on the Pop chart in 1964.
Their biggest hit, “Goin’ Out of My Head” followed that same year, and reached #6. Then came “Hurt So Bad,” #10 in 1965, and “Take Me Back,” #16, also in 1965. Little Anthony & the Imperials were on top of the music world. While they never again achieved the level of chart success that had marked their four hit streak, singles like “Hurt,” “Better Use Your Head,” and “Out of Sight Out of Mind” did respectable business. During this time Little Anthony & the Imperials were fixtures on television, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig!, Hullabaloo, American Bandstand, Midnight Special, and the Tonight Show among other programs.
Eventually, the Imperials signed with United Artists Records and singles like “World of Darkness,” It’s Not The Same,” “If I Remember To Forget,” and “Yesterday Has Gone” appeared on the label’s Veep imprint. While most of the records made it to the charts, none had the kind of success that the group had enjoyed earlier. During this time they recorded the original version of “You Only Live Twice” for the James Bond film of the same name but the Nancy Sinatra version was the one included in the film, apparently due to the influence of her father.
In the 1970s, Little Anthony & the Imperials recorded for Janus Records (“Father, Father”), Avco Records (“La La La,” “I’m Falling in Love with You”) but had little chart success. Group members came and went. Gourdine tried the solo route again, this time with more success. Collins carried on with his own group of Imperials until he left in 1988.
The classic lineup of Collins, Wright, Strain, and Gourdine got together again for a Madison Square Garden concert in 1992. The reunion was successful enough to lead to a tour and an appearance on the 40th anniversary special for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. There were more TV appearances in the ’90s and two new albums, one of which was their first live album. It was the first time that the lineup had recorded in 30 years.
They continued on into the new century until Strain retired in 2004. Collins finally called it a day in 2012 but he still retains the Imperials name. Gourdine continues to tour and published his autobiography, Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny, in 2014. As recently as 2015 Little Anthony & the Imperials were still touring with a lineup that includes Gourdine and Wright.
In 2009, Little Anthony & the Imperials were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other honors include induction into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Official Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2015.