A product of Newport News, Virginia's thriving postwar R&B scene, the Leaders formed in 1952. According to Marv Goldberg's profile in the April 1996 issue of Discoveries, tenors/siblings Harry and James Burton, second tenor Edward "Snipper" Alston, baritone Buster Moore, and bass Charles Simpson met while in high school and originally performed as the Pokenoes, borrowing the name from a card game. By 1953 the group billed itself as the Five Swans, a nod to local heroes the Five Keys. That same year, baritone Ronald Judge replaced Moore, and when James Burton was called for military duty, Simpson's cousin Nelson Shields assumed his tenor responsibilities. In late 1954 the Five Swans won a local talent contest, collecting a slot on an upcoming amateur showcase at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater; the group went on to take top honors for four weeks running, driving back and forth between New York and Virginia between each appearance. Finally the Apollo brass awarded the Five Swans a one-week engagement, during which time they auditioned for the Glory Records imprint. Owner Phil Rose agreed to sign the group on the condition that they change their name to avoid confusion with other acts touring under the Swans aegis. Their 1955 debut single, "Stormy Weather" -- a bluesy rendition of the pop classic with some delightfully odd new lyrics -- was thus credited to the Leaders; though a hit in the Los Angeles and Boston markets, the group's high school commitments conspired to keep them off the touring circuit.