Summits founders Andre Sanders and Juan Hawkins spent a lot of time on the 16th Street bus, a route that begins at the D.C.’s center and runs due north, almost perfectly bisecting the district. Discussions of starting a band began during this long commute, which was most often taken to visit a pair of uptown girlfriends. As is customary, the bus displayed the name of the last northbound stop, in this case, Summit Hill. A casual nod to their municipal chariot of preference, the Summits seemed a fitting title for an ensemble that celebrated young love in song.
While students at Francis Cardoza High, Marvin Gaye’s alma mater, the quartet sought out the acoustic sweet spots within their school’s corridors, honing their craft until a faculty member intervened. Baritone Willie “Sherman” Flannagan and alto Alvin “Lumberjack” Middleton supported tenors Sanders and Hawkins, with second tenor Sidney Smith replacing Sanders in 1971. The group soon fell under the tutelage of Joe Tate, who maintained a stable of musicians, among them national recording artists the Fuzz, the Choice Four, and the Blendells. The Summits’ “I Can’t Get Over Losing You” would appear on Tate’s Dontee label in 1970, but limited distribution and radio play didn’t give the group much momentum. Having already been fixed a plate, the Summits would not get second helpings until Tate’s other concerns had been served, and it wasn’t until Tate paired the Summits with staff songwriter Joe Phillips that things began cooking.
Phillips would write half a dozen songs for the Summits, four of which were released as singles on Stan Bethel’s D.C. International label. While the records generated a respectable local buzz, it never translated into the wealth their fellow chart-toppers achieved. They never left their day jobs and, with girlfriends begetting families, their tried-and-true tour routes became hard roads to travel. While Joe Tate’s model worked out for a few lucky groups, the Summits jumped off the bus well before it reached the end of the line.
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