Of all the groups calling themselves the Elgins -- there was an L.A.-based doo wop group and another group of Elgins who recorded for Congress, while Ritha Mae and the Temptations even used the name for awhile -- this Detroit-based quartet proved to be the most memorable, scoring two minor R&B hits in 1966 with their Motown debut "Darling Baby" (pop number 72/R&B number four) and "Heaven Must Have Sent You" (pop number 50/R&B number nine, also a major R&B hit for Bonnie Pointer in 1979). Both songs were written and produced by the powerful Holland-Dozier-Holland triumvirate.
The group's story begins in 1962 with a vocal trio calling themselves the Downbeats. Johnny Dawson, Cleo Miller, and Robert Fleming had occasionally accompanied Marv Johnson -- including their uncredited backing on "Once Upon a Time" -- prior to Johnson's hits for United Artists Records. The Downbeats also cut tracks for the Lupine family of labels before signing to the Tamla label. Their releases for the Motown family imprint were sporadic, however.
In 1966, lead vocalist Sandra Mallett (a.k.a. Sandra Edwards) -- one of the finest vocalists in the Motown Records stable -- joined Dawson, Miller, and Fleming. Four years earlier, in 1962, Mallett had recorded "It's Going to Be Hard Times" b/w "Camel Walk" for Tamla as Sandra Mallett and the Vandellas. Motown was all set to issue the quartet's debut for their VIP label, "Darling Baby," a Holland-Dozier-Holland production credited to the Downbeats. The song had been adapted from Lamont Dozier's solo release, "Dearest One" (Melody Records, June 1962). However, before Motown shipped the "Darling Baby" single, they slapped new labels on the 45s with the group's new name: the Elgins. Berry Gordy -- who reportedly insisted they change their name -- wanted to use the name now that the original Temptations -- Otis Williams, Paul Williams (no relation to Otis), Al Bryant, Melvin Franklin, and Eddie Kendricks -- were no longer using the name once they signed to Motown's Miracle subsidiary.
VIP failed to promote the single outside the greater Detroit area, but it still managed to score a slot on the national R&B charts (number four) and charted at number 72 on the pop charts. Eight months later, the Elgins issued "Heaven Must Have Sent You," which charted Top Ten R&B briefly at number nine and number 50 on the pop charts. They followed up with a full album, Darling Baby, and another single, "I Understand My Man," but chart success eluded them and they disbanded shortly afterwards in 1967.
In 1971, Motown re-released "Heaven Must Have Sent You" in 1971. In the late '80s, a new group of Elgins was formed by British-born mogul/producer Ian Levine, who had previously worked with the re-formed Miracles and Contours (to name two). Johnny Dawson was the only original Elgin in the lineup. Sandra Mallett -- now going by Sandra Edwards -- was replaced by Yvonne Vernee-Allen. The other members were Jimmy Charles and Norbert McLean. This newly configured lineup recorded a remake of "Heaven Must Have Sent You," which had been a major hit for Pointer when she covered it only a few years prior. Levine also recorded a solo effort by Edwards. ~ Bryan Thomas