What was supposed to be a one-time gig for Wilber Fletcher, producing an oldies but goodies show, has turned into a solid business promoting doo-wop music.
Fletcher, 50, grew up a few blocks from Evans Grill, a Forestville hot spot for soul, rhythm and blues and doo-wop artists in the 1950s. He remembers standing outside as a boy, listening to James Brown, the Platters and the Orioles.
His love for music continued after the Evans Grill closed. When he was a teenager, Fletcher sang in churches in Washington and Prince George's County.
Unable to figure out a way to break into the entertainment business, he opened an auto-repair shop in Forestville but kept looking for ways to tap into his affinity for music.
In the late 1980s, Fletcher reconnected with the owner of the long-closed Forestville club. Eager to share the club's history in Prince George's, he organized a concert at Show Place Arena in 1994, featuring a slate of old-school doo-wop and R&B artists, including the Orioles and the Drifters.
Fletcher said he thought the concert was a one-time thing but it was a major turning point for him.
"People kept walking up to me asking, 'When are you going to do another one?' " Fletcher said.
He called his concert promotions business WLF Productions and formed a partnership with Upper Marlboro resident Sandi Stockton, a nurse.
The two forged a business deal: Fletcher would put Stockton's daughter, a singer in the female doo-wop trio Kimmy & Klasse, in his shows, and Stockton would work for Fletcher's production company.
But the road was not smooth for the start-up promoters.
A blues concert at Prince George's Stadium in Bowie flopped. R&B concerts put them in direct competition with behemoth promoters in the Washington area. Fletcher and Stockton, who personally finance their shows, were expected to pay $25,000 for one artist. Even second-tier performers required thousands of dollars upfront.
"We weren't taking in the money we wanted to take in with the work we were doing competing with big R&B promoters," Stockton said. "When the audience doesn't recognize your name, they are very leery about buying a ticket."
To pay the bills, Fletcher kept fixing cars and Stockton continued working as a nurse.
The duo's luck began to change in 2000, the 50th anniversary of doo-wop. There were television shows and radio specials honoring doo-wop artists and documenting the music's history.
The media attention inspired Fletcher and Stockton to produce the "Sounds of Doo-Wop" concert series and develop a more focused business plan. They kept concerts cheap, with plenty of $20 seats, and scheduled at least 10 artists to give the show variety. The best-known acts were Frankie Lymon's Teenagers and Pookie Hudson & the Spaniels.
The Teenagers, who are members of the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame, were the first to sing the doo-wop classic, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," and Pookie Hudson is the singer and writer of the doo-wop classic "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight."
WLF produced four doo-wop concerts in the past two years. The "Sounds of Doo Wop IV," held in August at the 3,000-seat Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, nearly sold out.
Fletcher and Stockton, who hope to shed their day jobs and go into music promotion full time, said they hope doo wop will continue to grow in popularity.
They are promoting a "Divas of Doo-Wop" concert on Dec. 20 at Show Place Arena.
"When you think it's dead and gone . . . it's back again," Fletcher said.
-- Krissah Williams