Harlem’s Jimmy Castor, Dies at 71 (video)

January 17, 2012

Jimmy Castor, a singer, instrumentalist and songwriter whose mastery of genres from doo-wop to Latin soul to funk, and instruments including saxophone and bongos earned him the title Everything Man, died on Monday in Henderson, Nev. He was 71.

The cause was heart failure, his son Jimmy Jr. said.

Mr. Castor grew up in Harlem with the legendary rock ’n’ roll singer Frankie Lymon. Possessing a pure, high voice like Mr. Lymon’s, Mr. Castor often filled in for him when Mr. Lymon couldn’t make a performance with his group, the Teenagers.

Mr. Castor soon started his own group, Jimmy and the Juniors, and wrote the first song it recorded, “I Promise to Remember.” Mr. Lymon and the Teenagers made it a Top 10 rhythm-and-blues hit for themselves in the summer of 1956.

By the 1960s, Mr. Castor, an African-American, had gained recognition for his version of the Latin soul sound that emerged as Puerto Ricans joined blacks in Harlem, NY. In 1966 he had a hit on Smash Records, “Hey Leroy, Your Mama’s Callin’ You.” The melody was calypso-inflected, the groove was Latin and the liner notes were bilingual.

With another band, the Jimmy Castor Bunch, he moved on to funk, combining a big beat with spirited storytelling on records like “Troglodyte (Cave Man)” on RCA, which hit No. 6 on the pop charts in 1972 and sold a million copies. Another hit was “The Bertha Butt Boogie” in late 1974.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlRXQEA0yj0]

Mr. Castor’s greatest influence may have come with the advent of hip-hop music and culture, when disc jockeys began using snippets of his earlier funk hits. In the 1983 movie “Flashdance” a sample of “It’s Just Begun,” the title track of his first album, was used in the break-dance “battle” scene. His work has been sampled numerous times by hip-hop artists like Kanye West, Ice Cube and Mos Def.

Richard Colon, who is professionally known as Crazy Legs and who is president of the Rock Steady Crew, a premier break-dance group that used Mr. Castor’s songs, said of Mr. Castor in an interview on Tuesday, “People have been impacted by him and don’t even know it.”

James Walter Castor was born on Jan. 23, 1940, in Harlem. (His son said that for years he had let others assume he was far younger than he was, by as much as seven years.) After his song “I Promise to Remember” became a hit for Mr. Lymon, Mr. Castor used his windfall to move his family to a better apartment. He graduated from the High School of Music and Art, attended the City College of New York for two years majoring in accounting and minoring in music, and started another band.

While melding Latin and African-American forms in songs like “Southern Fried Frijoles,” he played bar mitzvahs for Harlem’s still-large Jewish population.

Mr. Castor made 16 albums, some for major labels like RCA and Atlantic and some for smaller labels, including several of his own. But he began having trouble finding work in the 1980s. He lived in New Jersey before moving to Nevada in 1996.

In addition to his son Jimmy Jr., Mr. Castor is survived by his wife, Sandi; another son, Jason; two daughters, April Vargas and Sheli Castor; and eight grandchildren.


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