Ink Spots, The

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Ink Spots, The

Ink Spots, The, American vocal group. The Ink Spots’ sound, characterized by a high tenor lead (usually Bill Kenny [b. 1915; d. March 23, 1978]) contrasted with a spoken bass voice (usually Orville [“Hoppy”] Jones [b. Chicago, Feb. 17, 1905; d. there, Oct. 18, 1944]) and accompanied by close harmonies (usually Ivory Deacon [“Deek”] Watson [b. Mounds, Ill.; d. November 1969] and Charlie Fuqua [b. ca. 1911; d. 1971]), gave them 17 Top Ten hits between 1939 and 1949, including the #1 million-sellers “The Gypsy” and “To Each His Own,” as well as “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” and “I’m Making Believe,” on which they were accompanied by Ella Fitzgerald. The most popular male vocal group of the 1940s, they were an important influence on doo-wop and on harmony singing in popular music in general.

Based in Indianapolis, Fuqua was in a vaudeville duo with Jerry Daniels (b. ca. 1916; d. Nov. 7, 1995); as Charlie and Jerry they sang and played string instruments. They were joined in 1931 by Watson, a former member of The Four Riffs, to form the Swingin’ Gate Brothers, later renamed King, Jack and Jester, and had a program on radio station WHK in Cleveland. After they moved to WLW in Cincinnati, Jones, another former member of The Four Riffs, joined. They moved to N.Y.C. and appeared on WJZ. The group name was changed to The Ink Spots due to a conflict with Paul Whiteman’s vocal group, the King’s Jesters.

Signed to RCA Victor, The Ink Spots first recorded on Jan. 4, 1935, cutting the single “Swingin’ on the Strings /Your Feet’s Too Big” (music and lyrics by Ada Benson and Fred Fisher). Kenny replaced Daniels in early 1936. The group moved to Decca Records and held its first recording session for the new label on May 12, 1936. But it was not until Jan. 12, 1939, that they recorded their first hit, “If I Didn’t Care” (music and lyrics by Jack Lawrence), a ballad in the spare style that became their trademark. Released in February, the song reached the hit parade in June and spent seven weeks there. In the fall the group opened shows for Glenn Miller at the prestigious Paramount Theatre in N.Y.; after Miller left they were engaged as the headline attraction.

The Ink Spots returned to the Top Ten in 1940 with “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” (music and lyrics by Leon René) in August, “Maybe” (music and lyrics by Allan Flynn and Frank Madden) and “Whispering Grass (Don’t Tell the Trees)” (music by Doris Fisher, lyrics by Fred Fisher) in October, and “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)” (music and lyrics by Nelson Cogane, Sammy Mysels, and Dick Robertson) in December, making them one of the most popular recording acts of the year. In May 1941 the group appeared in the film The Great American Broadcast. “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” (music and lyrics by Eddie Seiler, Sol Marcus, Bennie Benjamin, and Eddie Durham) was a Top Ten hit for them in October.

The Ink Spots appeared in a second film, Pardon My Sarong, August 1942. They next reached the Top Ten with “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” (music by Duke Ellington, lyrics by Bob Russell) in May 1943. The record had topped the R&B charts in March, and the group had scored a second R&B #1 with “I Can’t Stand Losing You” in April. Fuqua joined the service in mid-1943. He was replaced first by Bernard Mackey (b. 1909; d. 1980), then by Huey Long; he returned to the group in late 1945. “Cow-Cow Boogie (Cuma-Ti-Yi-Yi-Ay)” (music and lyrics by Don Raye, Gene DePaul, and Benny Carter), on which The Ink Spots were accompanied by Ella Fitzgerald, topped the R&B charts in March 1944 and reached the pop Top Ten in April; “I’ll Get By (as Long as I Have You)” (music by Fred E. Ahlert, lyrics by Roy Turk) was in the Top Ten in May; and “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” (music by Doris Fisher, lyrics by Allan Roberts) and “I’m Making Believe” (music by James V. Monaco, lyrics by Mack Gordon), both with Fitzgerald, topped the pop charts in December and sold a million copies. They were some of the last recordings to feature Jones, who died of an epileptic seizure.

Jones’s initial replacement was Cliff Givens, who was superseded by Kenny’s brother, Herb(ert Cornelius) Kenny (b. 1914; d. Columbia, Md., July 11, 1992). Also late in 1944, Watson left the Ink Spots and attempted to form his own version of the group, though he was forced to name it the Brown Dots. He was replaced by Bill Bowen (b. 1909; d. 1982).

The team of Fuqua, Bowen, and the Kenny brothers reached the Top Ten with “I’m Beginning to See the Light” (music and lyrics by Duke Ellington, Don George, and Johnny Hodges), again with Ella Fitzgerald, in May 1945. “The Gypsy” (music and lyrics by Billy Reid), which topped the charts in May 1946, sold a million copies and became the biggest hit of the year. In 1946 The Ink Spots also reached the Top Ten with “Prisoner of Love” (music by Russ Columbo and Clarence Gaskill, lyrics by Leo Robin) in June and topped the charts with the million-selling “To Each His Own” (music by Jay Livingson, lyrics by Ray Evans) in September, and their album The Ink Spots Album was one of the longest running #1 hits of the year.

The Ink Spots were less successful in the late 1940s, though they returned to the Top Ten with “You Were Only Fooling (While I Was Falling in Love)” (music by Larry Fotine, lyrics by William E. Faber and Fred Meadows) in January 1949, and “You’re Breaking My Heart” (music and lyrics by Pat Genaro and Sunny Skylar) in October 1949. They last reached the charts in March 1951. By 1952 they had broken up and launched what turned out to be many competing groups using The Ink Spots name, groups that continued to exist into the 1990s.


I. Watson (group member), The Story of the I. S. (N.Y., 1967).

—William Ruhlmann