The Constellation Record label was formed in August 1963 in Chicago, Illinois by Ewart Abner, after
he was fired from the Presidency of the Vee Jay label. Constellation was located at 1421 South
Michigan Avenue and issued rhythm and blues and gospel music. The label was a subsidiary of the
Dart Record Sales Corporation that Abner had started in 1962. There were three owners of the
company. Besides Abner, who was President, William E. "Bunky" Sheppard was Vice President and Art
Sheridan was Secretary. Art Sheridan was owner of the legendary Chance label in the early 1950's,
and the recordings made by the Flamingos, Moonglows, and others on the Chance label were reissued
on albums on the Constellation Label.
Gene Chandler was the most important artist on the Constellation Label. Bunky Sheppard had Gene Chandler under a personal contract and was releasing his recordings through Vee Jay, when Abner left Vee Jay, Sheppard also left and brought Chandler to Constellation. Sheppard also brought Dee Clark from Vee Jay to Constellation, but Clark had no sizable national hits on Constellation. Constellation also became distributor of the Ace Record label of Jackson Mississippi, but Ace had no significant hits during this period (although Constellation did issue earlier Ace hits on a compilation album).
When the first two Gene Chandler releases on Constellation, produced by Sheppard, were flops, Sheppard brought in Carl Davis to produce him. His third release was the Curtis Mayfield written gem "Think Nothing About It," which went to Number 28 on the Cashbox R&B survey. In June, 1964, another Mayfield tune, "Just Be True," went to Number 4 and stayed on the charts for 16 weeks. In 1965, Chandler had hits with "You Can't Hurt Me No More," "Nothing Can Stop Me," "(Gonna Be) Good Times," "Rainbow 65," and "Here Comes the Tears".
Although few of the singles issued by Constellation charted nationally, many were played on the big Chicago Top-40 stations of the time, notably WLS. Such tunes as "Uncle Willie Time" by Bobby Miller [Constellation 111], "Sugar Over You" by Carol Vega [Constellation 121], and "Island of Love" by the Sheppards [Constellation 123] all made the WLS charts. Also making the WLS charts in 1964 was a snappy little British-sounding single called "Beatle Time" by the Livers [Constellation 118]. The Livers were a group known as the Chicagoans, featuring Jimmy Holvay and Gary Beisber, well-known songwriters and performers in the mid-60s Chicago teen scene. Holvay and Beisber later wrote many hits for the Buckinghams ("Kind of a Drag," "Susan," "Don't You Care," "Hey, Baby, They're Playing Our Song," etc.), and were the force behind the show band called The Mob, who had several national chart records in the 1970s. Also of note was the Nolan Chance single "If He Makes You (He Can Take You)" [Constellation 144], which raised more than a few eyebrows at radio stations wondering whether to play it.
Because of the small number of artists on Constellation, it was vulnerable to collapse if the company could not continuously churn out hits. When Chandler hit a dry spell in 1966, Constellation went out of business. The chief asset of the label was Gene Chandler's contract, which was sold to Chess Records, although Chandler languished at Chess/Checker. It wasn't until Chandler went to Mercury in 1970 that he started having hits again [e.g., "Groovy Situation"]. Dee Clark never did have any more chart hits. Abner landed on his feet, moving into the Presidency of Motown, while Sheppard moved to the west coast and produced records for 20th Century Fox and others.
The Constellation label is dark blue with silver printing, "CONSTELLATION RECORDS" set in a field of star-like white dots above the center hole. All albums issued on Constellation are thought to have been issued in mono only. The label used their street address, 1421, as the first number in their popular music series, which had but a few albums issued. More to collectors' liking at the time were the reissues on the "Collectors Showcase" series, which featured reissues of the Chance masters and some of Bunky Sheppard's masters, in addition to Johnny Vincent's Ace (US) material and Bobby Robinson's material from his Fire and Fury labels.
We would appreciate any additions or corrections to this discography. Just send them to us via e-mail. Both Sides Now Publications is an information web page. We are not a catalog, nor can we provide the records listed below. We have no association with Constellation Records, which is currently inactive. Should you be interested in acquiring albums listed in this discography (which are all out of print), we suggest you see our Frequently Asked Questions page and follow the instructions found there. This story and discography are copyright 1999 by Mike Callahan.