By Frederick N. Rasmussen firstname.lastname@example.org
The Baltimore Sun
Thomas "Short" Howard Jr., a noted doo-wopper and co-founder of Big Cam & the
Lifters, the Baltimore band that has been entertaining Middle Atlantic audiences
for nearly 30 years, died of prostate
cancer Saturday, September 26,
2009, at Gilchrist Hospice Center.
The longtime Reisterstown resident was 70.
Mr. Howard, the son of an estate keeper and a homemaker who had established and led a gospel group, was born in Baltimore and raised at Seven Oaks in the Green Spring Valley.
Mr. Howard, who was nicknamed "Short" because of his stature, was 7 when he began performing original comic sketches in the living room of his boyhood home featuring two characters he had created, Binker John and Binker Betty.
"Lorenzo dressed up as Binker John and Binker Betty. He made up these two characters and played all of the parts and even made the costumes. He was a great entertainer and his shows kept our attention," said a sister, Elsie Howard of Westminster.
"Our mother had a gospel group, the Dorothy Ghee Gospel Singers, and Lorenzo began singing with them when he was a kid," Miss Howard said.
After graduating from Carver High School in Towson in 1956, he enlisted in the Air Force, and sang with the musicians who went on to become the Del-Vikings, which became one of America's first integrated rock groups.
Mr. Howard had to ship out to Germany for an Air Force assignment just as the Del-Vikings were about to record two of what became their signature 1950s hits, "Whispering Bells" and "Come Go With Me."
After he was discharged from the service in 1962, he returned to Baltimore and went to work as an auto mechanic and technician for Beall Ford, which later became Len Stoler Ford in Owings Mills, and he continued to sing.
"He started right here in the service department and then held a variety of other jobs over the years. He worked here more than 40 years," said Len Stoler.
"He always had a smile and was one of the most upbeat individuals you'd ever want to meet," he said. "You could take one look and see that Lorenzo was a happy man."
In 1982, Mr. Howard formed Big Cam & the Lifters to perform at a Len Stoler Christmas party, and as their repertoire, they selected the classic songs of the Drifters, the Temptations, Chuck Berry, the Marvelettes and the Righteous Brothers, among others.
"They started right here and practiced in the service department in the evenings," Mr. Stoler said.
Through the ensuing nearly 30 years, the band appeared at hundreds of events in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, performing such classic 1950s and early 1960s oldies as "Da Doo Ron Ron," "(For) Your Precious Love," which became the band's signature love ballad, and "At the Hop."
Mr. Howard, the last of the original band members, continued performing until February, when he played his last gig at the Westminster Moose Lodge. He stopped because of failing health.
"Lorenzo was a great singer, and everything he did was good," said Rich Schwarz of Manchester, one of the band's early members. "The night I met my future wife, he sang '(For) Your Precious Love,' and then came back and sang it at our wedding. He did a tremendous job."
Teresa Moore, who has been a vocalist and bass player with the band for 25 years, said that Mr. Howard connected with audiences as soon as he stepped on stage.
"He had a kind of magic and a sparkle, and everyone wanted a little of Short's sparkle put on them," said Ms. Moore, who recalled that the band's performances were often interrupted by spot audience applause.
"Because he was raised in the 1950s during doo-wop, that's what he did, and he had a perfect knack for those songs," she said.
Mr. Lorenzo had little tolerance for either onstage or backstage egos.
"He was a very generous man and not stage-struck. He was willing to share the spotlight," Ms. Moore said. "He made it clear that the band wasn't just him, it was everybody."
Bob Grover, a former Baltimore Sun copy desk chief who has played piano for the band since 1997, recalled Mr. Lorenzo's onstage generosity and urging audience members to hold their loved ones tightly when they sang "(For) Your Precious Love."
"When he was singing, he could be dramatic, emotional and tender, and he really loved the audience. And they loved him back," Mr. Grover said.
Mr. Howard was an active member of Mount Pleasant African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he sang with the male choir, senior choir and mass choir.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at his church, 235 Tollgate Road, Owings Mills.
Also surviving are his wife of 48 years, the former Carrie Gray; a daughter, Marcella Gray of Reisterstown; five brothers, Hilton Beard, Harry Howard, Rusty Ghee, Ronnie Ghee and Andre Ghee, all of Baltimore; and six other sisters, Jeanette Howard and Barbara Snell, both of Reisterstown, Carolyn Smith and Cindy Ghee, both of Owings Mills, and Myrtice Hockaday and Lorraine Harvey of Baltimore.
Copyright © 2009, The Baltimore Sun