Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs were an American doo-wop/R&B vocal group, active during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Originally The (Royal) Charms, the band changed its name to The Gladiolas in 1957 and The Excellos in 1958, before finally settling on "The Zodiacs" in 1959.
Maurice Williams (born 26 April 1938, Lancaster, South Carolina) had his first experience with music in the church, where his mother and sister both performed. By the time he was six, Williams was performing regularly there. With his childhood friend Earl Gainey, Williams formed the gospel group 'The Junior Harmonizers', but as rock and roll and doo-wop became their primary interest, the Junior Harmonizers changed their name to 'The Royal Charms'.
The Royal Charms and The Gladiolas
In addition to Williams and Gainey, The Royal Charms were made up of Willie Jones (baritone), William Massey (tenor, baritone, trumpet), and Norman Wade (bass). In the winter of 1956, while still in high school, Williams and his band traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to record for the Excello record label. At the time they were going by the name 'The Royal Charms,' but the founder of Excello Records, Ernie Young, convinced them to change their name to 'The Gladiolas.' At the time, there were at least two other bands using the same name.
The song "Little Darlin'" was a #11 hit on the R&B chart in 1957, but did not break the Billboard Hot 100's Top 40. However, when the song was covered by the Canadian group The Diamonds, it moved up to #2.
Williams finished high school and while on the road with the band (after their station wagon broke down in Bluefield, West Virginia), the band came across a small car known as "The Zodiac" and the band changed their name. Shortly thereafter, Henry Gatson replaced Earl Gainey.
In the spring of 1959, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs performed at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. Around that time, the group split and reformed. The members were Williams, Gatson, Wiley Bennett, and Charles Thomas. Later, Little Willie Morrow and Albert Hill were added. One month later, in the early summer of 1959, the band recorded in a Quonset Hut on Shakespeare Road in Columbia. The recording engineer, Homer Fesperman, recorded several tracks that the band had hoped would fetch them a hit. One of the last tracks that they recorded that day was "Stay," a song that Williams had written a couple of weeks before.
After taking the demo of "Stay" to Al Silver at Herald Records in New York City, the song was pressed and released in early 1960. "Stay" is the shortest recording ever to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States (1:39, though the label read 1:50). Later versions of "Stay" by The Four Seasons (1964) and Jackson Browne (1978) also reached the Top 20, each selling over one million copies in the United States alone. The inclusion of "Stay" on the soundtrack to the film Dirty Dancing in 1987 led to the song selling more records than it had during its original release. At the end of 1963, British band the Hollies covered "Stay", which gave the group their debut Top Ten hit single in the UK, peaking at #8.
A 1961 recording by the group, "May I", also released by Herald Records became, over the years, another million selling record.
Williams continued recording, touring, and releasing music through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. He is still active on the music industry, residing in Charlotte, North Carolina.