Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Lorain's Don Les and the Harmonicats

The Harmonicats
(From left to right, Al Fiore; Jerry Murad; Don Les)
Since yesterday's post was about how Lorain helped Perry Como get his start as a singer, today I'll mention Lorain's other well-known connection to the national music scene: the Harmonicats.

A Lorain Sunday News article of October 28, 1951 has the story.


Lorainite With Famous Harmonicats

A Lorain boy who went to the big city to make good – and did – is Don Les, son of Stanley Leshinski, 222 East 33rd St., a member of the famous Harmonicats who will open a week engagement at the popular Showboat located at 8th Street and Broadway in downtown Lorain.

A talented harmonica player, Les changed his name by shortening it for professional reasons.

There is an interesting and warm story about Les who almost went hungry on many occasions while waiting for his big break in the musical field.

The handsome and pleasant former Lorainite was pronounced dead when born. He was christened twice and was partially blind at one time.

Les still talks about his school days at the Columbus State School for the Blind and at Hawthorne Junior High in Central Lorain which he started attending when 12 years old, just after a successful operation here which restored his sight.

It was Les' mother who taught him how to play the strains of "Home Sweet Home." His mother died during the past year.

Les credits a one-time Hawthorne teacher, Miss Betty Louise Hall, for getting him interested in music.

"She put me on a program, not knowing I could even play a harmonica," Les said "and that's what did it. I've been playing ever since."

After winning several amateur shows, Les went to Chicago and met the other two members – the three of them to become known nationally as the Harmonicats.

The Harmonicats hit big-time in 1946 when their recording of "Peg O' My Heart" became an overnight sensation. More than 2,000,000 records were sold, and people are still buying them.

Les also plays the piano and accordion as a hobby.

And of course, here are the Harmonicats playing their big hit, "Peg O' My Heart." I think every Lorainite has an old 78 of this in their basement somewhere! (I'm pretty sure we did!)


Speaking of "Peg O' My Heart," here's an article that appeared on the front page of the Lorain Journal on June 3, 1947, just as the tune was becoming a big hit. The article includes a nice history of how Don Leshinski learned how to play the harmonica, and how he got his big break in the music industry.

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