Originally called The Renaults, The Impalas—Sandra Bears, Margie Clark, Grace Ruffin (pictured left to right), and Carrie Mingo—got their start in Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School’s glee club and performed at nursing homes, military hospitals, talent shows, and military bases.
The Impalas were introduced to Diddley through Ruffin’s brother Paul, who was also a musician. They recorded their first record, “I Need You So Much”/”For The Love Of Mike” at the rock and roll legend’s house, which was released on Checker Records. Manager/producer Bob Lee suggested The Impalas change their name to The Four Jewels and their second record, 1962’s “Loaded with Goodies”/”Dapper Dan” on Lee’s Start Records was a local hit.
That same year The Four Jewels traveled to Chicago with Lee to record “Time For Love”/”That’s What They Put Erasers On Pencils For” on Checker Records and sang backing vocals on Ruffin’s cousin Billy Stewart’s “Reap What You Sow.” In 1963 fellow Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School alumnus Martha Harvin replaced Mingo and the next year they dropped “Four” from their name and recorded “Opportunity”/”Gotta Find A Way” on Carole King’s Dimension Records, which reached #64 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Opportunity” led to better gigs and soon The Jewels performed at The Apollo Theater. James Brown, who was in attendance, was impressed by what he saw and asked the quartet if they would join him on tour. The Jewels performed on The Godfather of Soul’s traveling review across the nation at venues as large as Madison Square Garden and recorded the Brown produced “Papa Left Mama Holding The Bag”/”This is My Story” on Dynamite Records and sang background vocals on his single “Don’t Be A Drop-Out” in 1966.
“(Brown) was very demanding but he didn’t ask any more of you then what he gave,” says Bears. “He was the hardest working man in show business. He gave his all. I’ve seen him perform sick to the point when he came of the stage the ambulance was right there to take him to the hospital.”
After a little over a year The Jewels—with the exception of Martha Harvin—decided to return home. The three singers ended up in government jobs—Ruffin worked for The United States Postal Service, Clark worked at the U.S. Department of Interior, and Bears worked at the DC Department of Parks and Recreation. Harvin changed her name to Martha High and stayed on with Brown as a vocalist for more than 30 years.
In 1985 the original Four Jewels re-recorded their singles for their first LP, “Loaded With Goodies.” The Jewels received a Washington Area Music Association Wammies award in 2000 and performed with New Orleans’ The Dixie Cups at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2013.