Article by: Gary Wilson - Columbia Missourian
This article written in the early 1980's.
On the license plate of Mark Dinning's aging Chevy van, parked at his Jefferson City home, are the letters T-ANGEL. Short for "Teen Angel," the record played a big role in his music career. "Teen Angel" sold over 2.5 million records and made Dinning a recording star.
Dinning is still singing, still trying to make a comeback. He says he is just as enthusiastic about his music as he was years ago.
Mark Dinning is buried in the
New Bloomfield area.
During the popularity of the song, several "copy cat" records tried to cash in on Dinning's success. Columbia collector Roger Killan, who has more than 7,000 records in his collection, remembered the song, when it first came out.
"Teen Angel" is a good illustration of the teen-age obsession with love and death songs, Killan said. Several groups sang copy cat songs such as "Tell Laura I Love Her," "Ebony Eyes" and "Patches," Killan said. "However, I still like to listen to "Teen Angel," Killan said.
Prominently displayed over the couch in Dinning's home are his albums and his gold record of "Teen Angel."
"I like that one best," Dinning said, pointing to his gold record. With a grin, Dinning showed publicity photographs from the early 1960s. "Of course I was a little thinner back then," he said.
After finding some pillows to lie on, Dinning lit his cigar, popped open a beer and with an unmistakeable country voice, told his story,
He was born in a small frame house outside Oklahoma City in 1933. His family soon moved to Orlinda, Tenn., where he spent most of his childhood.
Dinning grew up in a tightly knit musical family. His three sisters, known in the 1940s as the "Dinning Sisters," were the first of his family to break into show business. His sister, Delores, is with the television show "Hee Haw."
A small Sears Roebuck guitar bought by his father, was Dinning's introduction to performing for an audience. He used it to perform in front of his classmates. After serving two terms in the Army, Dinning moved to Nashville in 1956. He was signed by Acuff-Rose Publishing Co. Soon after he was signed to MGM Records. He soon found out that getting signed to a recording contract does not assure success. Dinning said that he struggled with another unknown singer. His name was Johnny Mathis.
Dinning's big break came in 1959 at a family gathering on his Parent's farm. His sister Delores. told him about a song that another sister, Jean, had written. Delores told him that her friend's daughter sang the song to some girls at school and it "made them all cry."
"Teen Angel"was recorded by Dinning along with another sister, Marvis, on a small Ampex tape recorder.
"I really wasn't too crazy about the song," Dinning said.
"Teen Angel" was released in October 1959. Dinning said the song was not an instant success. Radio stations across the country started banning the song. The stations considered it too sad. ""Teen Angel" was banned completely in England," Dinnig said.
But teen-agers across the country ignored the ban and in February 1960 "Teen Angel" soared to No. 1 on the charts of Billboard, Cash Box, Music Vendor and County Music Vendor magazines. It also was named song of the year.
Soon after the song's success, Dinning appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" TV show. He said there also was talk by movie producers about starring him in an "Elvis Presley"-type movie. Dinning said he had all the trappings of success. Some of them he didn't care for.
"People start to change when you're successful," Dinning said. "You begin to learn which people are sincere and which ones are phony."
Dinning's nationwide popularity soon faded, as did his friends in the record industry. He recorded other songs, but none could match the popularity of "Teen Angel."
Nine years after the music spotlight began to dim he was out of the recording business. But Dinning continues performing. He traveled to England and Austrailia, where he was given warm receptions.
Although he did well overseas, Dinning did not find the same crowd in the United States. He said the clubs got smaller and so did the pay
Dinning finally found himself playing a small nightclub in Jefferson City. That's where his luck changed, he said. During several performances he noticed a woman in the audience. He got the bartender to introduce them and after a courtship he claims stretched for six or seven years, he and Polly were married in 1983.
"Jefferson City is like New York compared to the town that I come from", he said. Polly, who is a Jefferson City native, said she loves to listen to her husband sing. "He has a beautiful voice," she said.
Asked about life with a performer she said: "How many people do you know who have a husband that sang a song that went to No. 1?" That No. 1 song is still paying off for Dinning. His recording was included in the movie "American Graffiti" and the TV show "Happy Days." But even better than the renewed exposure was the $25,000 royalty check he received. Dinning recalled that the company that sent him the check had difficulty finding him and thought he might have died.
Dinning, who says he is working on a couple of albums he hopes to see released soon, hasn't let his new-found fortune interfere with his personal appearances. He performs six nights a week at a club called "King's Inn" in Kansas Citv. Mo.
"I still get at least five or six requests for "Teen Angel" an evening", he said.
Mark Dinning's Tombstone in the New Bloomfield Area