The Velvets were a doo-wop/pop group from Odessa, Texas that became famous during the early 1960s. They are best known for "Tonight (Could Be the Night)" (1961), an upbeat, lushly orchestrated romantic ballad in which group members can be heard repeating "doo-wop" in the background throughout.
The Velvets were formed in 1959 by lead tenor Virgil Johnson (December 29, 1935 - February 24, 2013), then an 8th grade English teacher at Blackshear Junior High School, along with four of his students: Mark Prince (bass), William Solomon (baritone), and tenors Robert Thursby and Clarence Rigsby (d. 1978). The quintet was discovered by rock & roll great and fellow Texan, Roy Orbison, who arranged to have them signed to Monument Records.
The Velvets debuted on the Pop/Rock charts in 1961 with an updated pop/rock rendition of "That Lucky Old Sun," a Beasley Smith/Haven Gillespie-penned pop standard which previously topped the charts for Frankie Laine in 1949. The group's fame took off in the summer of 1961 with the Johnson-penned "Tonight (Could Be The Night)," which became a Top 40 hit and the group's signature song. The Velvets also had minor hits with their covers of Shirley & Lee's "Let The Good Times Roll" (1962) and the Roy Orbison/Joe Melson-penned "Laugh" (1961) and "Lana" (1961). Although The Velvets' chart success was relatively short-lived, the quintet continued to record through 1966 and amassed a total output of some 30 songs, many of which were written/co-written by either Orbison or group founder Virgil Johnson.
A longtime educator, Johnson later became the principal of Dunbar-Struggs Junior High School in Lubbock, Texas where he remained until his retirement in 1993. He was inducted into the West Texas Walk of Fame in 1994 and afterwards worked as a deejay at KDAV-AM in Lubbock. Tenor Clarence Rigsby was killed in an auto accident in 1978.
- Rockabilly.nl remembers Virgil Johnson of The Velvets.
- The Texas Historical Association pays tribute to The Velvets.
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