Buddy Owens, singer with the Velons, dies at 70


The Velons pose for a portrait: (L - R) Robert Horn, Robert "Snobby" Brown Jr., James Falwell, James "Buddy" Owens. (Courtesy of the Velons)
February 7, 2013

Buddy Owens, the baritone singer with the Velons, a Washington-based vocal group whose smooth balladry won wide admiration among doo-wop music fans, died Jan. 10 at MedStar Washington Hospital Center after a heart attack. He was 70.

A sister, Blanche Owens Trueheart, confirmed the death. Mr. Owens lived in Landover.

The Velons first recorded in 1968, during the heyday of soul music, but the group had its roots in the sound of the late 1950s. They are best known for their interpretations of the repertoire of earlier groups such as the Flamingos, the Moonglows and the Clovers.

In performance, Mr. Owens sang lead on two show-stopping numbers: the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “Everybody’s Got a Home But Me,” popularized by ballad singer Roy Hamilton, and “Your Promise to Be Mine,” first recorded by the Drifters.

With the 1979 album “Remember When,” the Velons became a mainstay of oldies shows and cabarets in the mid-Atlantic region. They recorded several self-produced CDs and limited-edition 45s aimed at the record-collector market and, in more recent years, focused on recording their own compositions.

“The Velons may not have set out to illustrate the enduring strength and charm of this music, but with this collection of original tunes they’ve done just that,” critic Mike Joyce wrote in a Washington Post review of the Velons’ 1999 album, “It’s All Good, It’s All Right.”

James Aubrey Owens was born Jan. 23, 1942, in Washington and grew up in Arlington, where he graduated in 1959 from Hoffman-Boston High School. (The school building now houses an elementary school with the same name.)

Mr. Owens first sang in high school with a Washington-area group, the Versatiles. Under his own name, he recorded the ballad “Bon Voyage” for a local label, TEC, in the early 1960s.

The Velons formed in 1958, and Mr. Owens joined four years later as baritone and bass. The other members were John King, the lead tenor, and James Falwell and Gilbert Farrall, both of whom doubled as second tenor and baritone.

In 1968, the Velons recorded a local radio hit, a pleading Vietnam-inspired ballad, “Why Don’t You Write?” Bobby Horn replaced King in the 1970s, and later lineups included two female singers, Carrie Mingo and Jean Quander.

Mr. Owens’s first wife, Mary Rosita Hunter, died in 1980. His later marriages to Bonita Colvin and Mingo ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 23 years, Cynthia Haggins Owens of Landover; a son from his first marriage, Rick Owens of Largo; two sons from his second marriage, Sekou Owens of Aldie, Va., and Tony Owens of Norfolk; a son from his third marriage, Keith Owens of Silver Spring; and a stepdaughter, Dana Sykes of Glen Burnie; a sister, Blanche Owens Trueheart of Landover; two stepsisters, Marion Murphy of Annandale and Camille Wigglesworth of Temple Hills; and eight grandchildren.

While with the Velons, Mr. Owens was employed by Metro, first as a bus driver and later as a Metrorail station manager. After his retirement, he worked as a barber.

“It was just plain fun, almost like a sports competition,” he told The Post in 2004, reminiscing on his singing career. “You would get bragging rights or women.”

“During that day, you took what you could,” he added. “It was very trying at times. But at the time it didn’t seem like any hardship, because you knew what you had to do to make a living. Like everything else during that era, you had to deal with it. You had a way of making do with what you had.”