Sixty-two years ago, a young boy from Woodhaven rocked the world. But before he was a pop sensation, with top 10 hits around the globe, he was just a Woodhaven kid who went to St. Thomas the Apostle and Franklin K. Lane and had a part-time job at a fruit store on Jamaica Avenue.
It was the late 1950s and like most kids of that era, 14-year old Brian Hyland of 87th Road had a dream of being a rock ‘n’ roll singer. He co-founded a group called The Delfis, and they shopped a demo record around to no avail.
But record producer Dave Kapp saw something special in the kid from Woodhaven and advised him to go solo. He was hired as a stacker for the record publisher while he waited for his big break.
His first single, “Rosemary” sold 20,000 copies — not bad for a debut single, but far from earth-shattering. Next up for Brian was a song titled “Don’t Dilly Dally Sally,” a fun little tune with lyrics saying, “Don’t dilly dally Sally, you know I’m stuck on you; well Susie’s not so choosy, and Ella needs a fella, and they’ve got their eyes on me!”
The producers predicted that “Dilly Dally” would be a smash hit, but they needed a B-side before they could release the single. And that’s when fate stepped in to change young Brian’s life.
Songwriters Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss had a little tune they wanted an established star to sing, but Dave Kapp asked them to give Brian Hyland a chance to sing it. The song, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini,” became a smash hit, rocketing to No. 1 in the United States, Canada, Belgium, Germany and New Zealand, and was a top 10 hit elsewhere around the world in August 1960.
The song tells the story of a young woman at the beach, embarrassed by her teenie weenie bikini, afraid to come out of the locker room, wrapping herself in a towel and finally afraid to come out of the water. It’s a fun, catchy tune that never fails to get people singing along.
But not only was it a fun song, Brian Hyland became one of the first teen idols, and girls all around the globe pinned pictures of the baby-faced looker from Woodhaven on their walls. The song was credited with a growth in sales of bikinis and ushered in a wave of beach and bikini movies.
Brian Hyland was still just 16 and still a student at Franklin K. Lane; an album followed (“The Bashful Blond”) along with a string of popular songs.
And then came “Sealed With a Kiss,” the story of two young lovers who are forced to part ways during the summer. But though they will be apart, he makes a promise to his girl: “I’ll send you all my love every day in a letter, sealed with a kiss.”
It’s a beautiful song that reached No. 3 on the U.S. and U.K. charts, a song you still hear often on the radio. In all, Brian Hyland would record 11 albums and stack up nearly 20 other top 100 hits.
But no matter how much fame Brian Hyland achieved, he always remained the boy from Woodhaven. Whenever he’s performing nearby, he tries to make it back to his old hometown, often stopping off for lunch at Neir’s, just around the corner from where he grew up.
And in September of 2021, Brian Hyland came home as the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society honored his legacy by installing a plaque on his childhood home.
Brian Hyland has given Woodhaven much to be proud of, with hit records and a long career, but mostly what we’re proud of is that he’s never forgotten his roots. And his fans here in Woodhaven have never forgotten him, and we never will.