After a 50-year hiatus, doo wop legends The Safaris are making a comeback as a new a capella quintet
By Michael Aushenker
The Safaris’ debut single “Image of a Girl” took the country by storm in 1960, peaking at No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Even a Mark Wynter cover scored big that year, charting No. 11 in the United Kingdom.
But by 1963, the doo-wop era was over, crushed by the Beatles-led British Invasion. The Safaris went on a long hiatus before reforming nine months ago with a new lineup built around original member and “Image of a Girl” author Marv Rosenberg.
“Marv wrote a classic,” said new member Harris Levey, a Venice resident.
When Marv Rosenberg’s Safaris perform Saturday at Boulevard Music in Culver City, they take the stage in front of a very different America.
Traveling with acts like The Drifters, The Penguins and The Platters, the members of The Safaris were fully enveloped in the racism of the time.
“We were considered the only white doo-wop group on the West Coast,” said Rosenberg, who was advised to change his name to “Marv Rose” because of anti-Semitism in the South.
He recalled encountering trouble when trying to stay at San Francisco’s Grover Washington Hotel.
“They wouldn’t let me in,” he said. That is, until a fellow musician of African-American descent vouched for Rosenberg by grabbing the hotel manager by the collar.
“That was very, very difficult,” Rosenberg said of performing in segregated America.
The Fairfax High alumnus, who quit Safaris after playing the Hollywood Bowl (“My dream had been fulfilled,” Rosenberg said) to pursue psychology, never wrote anything after “Image.”
“I’m a one-hit wonder myself,” he said, chuckling.
And about the band’s name — that was a producer’s unfortunate call in 1959.
“We didn’t like it very much,” Rosenberg said. “In the summer, we had to wear the [pith] helmets and the jackets.”
Yet the Reseda resident is happy reviving his act as an a capella group, rotating leads with Ladd Vance, Nick Krall, Joe Wise and Levey on doo-wop chestnuts “Diamonds and Pearls,” “Runaround Sue,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and, of course, The Safaris’ “Image of a Girl.”
“We’re fortunate to have four voices who can all sing lead, and Marv is a wonderful bass,” Levey said. “He has the history. He brings an authenticity to it.”
Marv Rosenberg’s Safaris perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at Boulevard Music, 4316 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. $20. Call (310) 398-2583 or visit boulevardmusic.com.