NEW YORK — Fred Parris, the lead singer of the 1950s harmony group the Five Satins and composer of the classic doo-wop ballad “In the Still of the Night,” has died at age 85.
Parris died Jan. 13 after a brief illness, according to his music manager, Pat Marafiote. Parris and his wife Emma lived in Hamden, Connecticut, not far from his native New Haven.
Parris was in his late teens, and on military guard duty in Philadelphia, when thoughts of his girlfriend inspired an early rock standard. Parris and his fellow Satins recorded the song in the basement of St. Bernadette Church in New Haven, the finished track featuring a dreamlike saxophone solo by Vinny Mazzetta (an altar boy at the church) and Parris' soulful baritone playing off the backing chants of ”shoo-doo-shooby-doo."
Released in 1956, “In the Still of the Night” only reached No. 24 on the Billboard pop charts but became a multimillion seller through reissues and appearances on compilation and soundtrack albums and now helps define an era of harmony groups along with such favorites as the Penguins' “Earth Angel” and the Cadillacs' “Speedoo.” The Satins' song (the last word sometimes spelled “Nite” to avoid confusion with Cole Porter's “In the Still of the Night”) was a favorite for oldies radio stations and was featured in such period films as “Dirty Dancing” and “The Irishman.” The Beach Boys, Boyz II Men and Debbie Gibson are among the performers who covered it.
Formed as the Scarlets while Parris was in high school, the Five Satins had minor hits with "To the Aisles” and “Shadows” among others and Parris continued to tour over the following decades even as the Satins' popularity faded and backing singers came and went.
The Five Satins were elected into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003. Seven years later, Rolling Stone magazine ranked “In the Still of the Night” at No. 90 on its list of the 500 greatest songs.