Story of rock's 'unsung heroes' salvaged from ruins left by Superstorm Sandy

ByBrittany Winderman Localish logo
Thursday, February 9, 2023
Story of rock's 'unsung heroes' salvaged from Superstorm Sandy ruins
Hurricane Sandy destroyed Kenny Vance's house, but his documentary's footage survived.Kenny Vance spent the last 10 years putting "Heart and Soul" together and is so proud of it. It premiered at the Dances with Films Festival.

New York -- As a born and bred New Yorker, Kenny Vance grew up listening to local doo-wop groups starting to emerge in 1950s Brooklyn.

These groups would later inspire him to come together with a couple of other kids in the neighborhood to form the Harbor-lites when Vance was just 14 years old. Shortly after the Harborlittes recorded a hit, Kenny met Jay Traynor and the other members that would come to form Jay and the Americans. They recorded "She Cried," which was the start of their career. However, back then, your career was over if you didn't have a hit, so they disbanded for six months, and when they got back together, Jay Traynor had already moved on to other things. So, they wound up with Jay Black and Jay and the Americans continued for the next 12 years.

With Jay Black, Jay and the Americans had hit after hit, including: "Only in America," "Come a Little Bit Closer," "Let's Lock the Door," "Cara Mia," "This Magic Moment," and "Walking in the Rain" to name a few.

After a while, Jay and the Americans ran its course, and they all went their separate ways. Kenny continued to record music on his own and found his way into the TV and film business. He worked on several films as a music director and even spent some time as SNL's music director. One thing led to another, and a film he was working on needed an extra band to perform for the score and be in the movie. Kenny volunteered since he had experience being in a group and could sing, and that's how he got to form the Planotones.

Throughout Kenny's career, he would film moments while on tour but never really had a plan for the footage he had captured of his icons on the doo-wop circuit.

Then in 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit, and the storm destroyed his house and everything inside. He had lived in that house on the beach in the Rockaways for nearly 40 years. When he made it to the wreckage that was once his home, only the kitchen and the floor above it were still standing. It was his office.

"I got a ladder, and I went up there. And there I am, in my office on the walls, no ceiling, and I found DVDs, and I found cassettes, I found this guitar," Vance recalls.

After coming to terms with his loss, it became clear that the footage that survived the storm could turn into his future as a filmmaker. He was still touring with the Planotones and realized that many of the same people were still on the doo-wop circuit, so he continued to film and interview them. From Cleveland Still from the Dubs, to Rene Minus White from the Chantels, to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the film Heart and Soul started to come to life.

"I realized that I was the protector of this stuff, and I didn't want it to be washed away with all the other things that I lost. I wanted this to be something that I carry all the way to the screen so that the rest of the world could see this film," says Vance.

Kenny spent the last decade putting "Heart and Soul" together and is so proud of it. It premiered at the Dances with Films Festival and received high praise.

"It took off like a rocket ship. They laughed, they applauded after musical numbers, there were scenes where they cried. And there was just the most amazing reaction to the film - it was a hit," Vance said.

Still and Minus attended the screening, and people were overwhelmed just knowing they were in the audience.

"To see Cleveland beaming and so proud, knowing that his legacy is intact because of this movie, is the most satisfying and gratifying feeling you could have. And so proud also to give these people the due, the recognition that they so well deserve that they never got - the unsung heroes of rock 'n' roll," Vance said.