Clarence Collins formed the doo-wop group The Chesters in New York City in 1957. A few members came and went over the next year, with the most important change being the addition of Little Anthony Gourdine as the lead singer. Ernest Wright, Glouster “Nate” Rogers, and Tracey Lord rounded out the group when they began recording.
The group struggled to follow-up their success; it took another six singles before they reached the top forty on the Hot 100 again in 1960. Little Anthony left the group in 1961 and Sammy Strain replaced Nate and Tracey in the group and the Imperials seemed to be finished.
Little Anthony returned to the group in 1963 and the quartet began recording again. They signed a recording contract with the Don Costa Productions label. Some of the group had known record producer Teddy Randazzo since childhood and he produced their version of a song he had written. In 1964, their recording of I’m On The Outside (Looking In) started their comeback by charting up to #15 on the Hot 100 and #8 on the R&B chart. Four more top forty singles followed before their charting days all but ended.
The group reportedly recorded the original version of the theme song for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, but their version was discarded and the movie company attempted to get Frank Sinatra to record the theme song. Frank declined the opportunity and passed that honor along to his daughter, and Nancy Sinatra’s version appears on the soundtrack. Promotional copies of the version by Little Anthony and the Imperials survived.
After additional disappointing releases in the late sixties and early seventies, Ernest left to join the Platters in 1971 and Sammy left in 1972 and eventually joined the O’Jays. Little Anthony went solo again, mostly performing in Oldies shows.
The group reunited in 1992 and has continued to perform with some combination of original and replacement singers ever since.
Little Anthony and the Imperials were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame In 2009.