A Love Letter Set to Music- page 3 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

A Love Letter Set to Music

The night a teenager met the girl of his dreams 50 years ago, the stars were bright above

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Alas, that Connecticut weekend would be the couple's last together. That winter, Marla yielded to her mother's pleas to join her in California. The couple saw each other only one more time.

Over the years, Parris would marry twice, rebound from flirtations with drugs and alcohol, survive a decade-long legal challenge by an ex-Satin to the rights to the name of his group and see "In the Still of the Night" recorded by artists ranging from Ronny Milsap, BoyzIIMen and the Beach Boys. There have been many "Five Satins" groups. Their last hit, "Memories of Days Gone By," was recorded in 1982. The group, with Parris singing lead tenor, still performs at golden oldie convocations.

"The song was like a love letter set to music," Parris says today. "It squeezed every bit of romance out of me."

"It's an accident that happened perfectly," Walt DeVenne, a Boston-area disc jockey for almost four decades, says of the song’s enduring quality. "It was our music—the kids' music. Blacks, whites. The music was good. You didn't care if it was white or black. It didn't matter."

Film and TV composer Ron Jones agrees. "There's a tangible chemistry that the song evokes," he says. "The black farmer in Mississippi can listen to it differently than a steelworker in Canada, but they both relate to the romance of the time and the mind." It makes you feel, he adds, "like being on Sputnik looking down rather than being in a car looking up. It's this broad landscape, with lyrics so broad you could be in Russia. It's operatic, with a high tenor above the accompaniment like 'Ave Maria,' and its chord progressions are hymn-like, like knights in shining armor. That's why it has the power. It is universal."

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