The Royal Jesters were originally a crew of friends from Sidney Lanier High School in the heart of San Antonio’s west side, honing their harmonies around dartboards and church talent shows in a series of unsteady pick-up groups. Doo-wop, when it hit, crossed boundaries of ethnicity and class like no music had since jazz, finding its way from African-American neighborhoods in Philly to Italian kids in Jersey to Mexican-Americans in Texas. “They were the first Hispanics that actually did doo-wop,” said organist Luvine Elias Jr., who was 15 when he joined the group with a borrowed instrument. “They used to do doo-wop, vocals with no band, just like the blacks on the corner. Before that, they were doing mariachi stuff.”
Formed in ’58 by Mike Pedraza, Oscar Lawson, Henry Hernandez, and Louis Escalante—the boys were all either freshly graduated or completing their senior year at Lanier—the group’s first order of business was choosing a doo-wop-appropriate name. “Well during that time there was the Royal Days, royal this, royal that. A couple of us said, ‘Let’s call it the Royals,’” said Henry Hernandez. Others said, “‘No, let’s call it the Jesters,’ … that’s how we came up with the name.” Fully formed and perfectly compromised, the group took to playing school dances, talent shows, and hops at clubs and churches, including Blessed Sacrament, St. Francis, St. Anthony Ballroom, and the Imperial Ballroom.