The Platters, like their predecessors The Ink Spots, were the most popular African-American vocal group of their decade, topping both the R&B and pop charts, and often beating out covers by white artists, a feat previously unaccomplished by a black recording artist. A typical doo-wop group in Los Angeles in the early 1950s, the group’s humble beginnings were soon turned around when they were introduced to Samuel “Buck” Ram, then manager of singer Linda Hayes, sister of group member Tony Williams. As producer, manager, songwriter, and vocal coach, Ram transformed original members David Lynch, Alex Hodge, Herb Reed, and Williams into the biggest pop sensation of the 1950s. Famous for their smooth harmonies and romantic lyrics, The Platters maintained a series of hits throughout the decade, introducing into our culture such classics as “The Great Pretender,” “My Prayer,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “Twilight Time.” The group’s line-up was modified considerably after its inception, most notably when lead singer Williams left to pursue a solo career in 1961.
In 1953, under the tutelage of Ram, The Platters polished their stylized sound and entered the studio to produce their first recordings for Federal Records, an R&B subsidiary of King. Unhappy with the current line-up, Buck replaced Hodge with baritone Paul Robi and hired Zola Taylor, formerly of Shirley Gunter and The Queens. The more diverse vocal combination recorded debut release “Only You (And You Alone),” but the song was poorly produced and failed to chart. Although The Platters had released several songs in 1953 and 1954, including “Give Thanks,” and “Shake It Up Mambo,” the group failed to realize any chart success. Buck, however, focused his energies on the club circuit and consistently provided the group with well-paying gigs. The Penguins, the Los Angeles vocal group behind the smash hit “Earth Angel,” noted The Platters’ steady work and financial success and signed on with Ram. Ram approached Mercury Records with a package deal—one group a hit-maker, the other a protégé—and successfully signed both the Penguins and The Platters to the label in 1954.
While it became clear that the Penguins were a one-hit-wonder, The Platters’ re-recorded Mercury debut “Only You” reached number five on the charts in November of 1955. As a follow-up to their first hit, Ram wrote “The Great Pretender,” thus named because he had promised another hit before the song had even been written. His confidence was merited, however, when the single hit number one on the pop and R&B charts, marking the group’s crossover into pop success and securing their star status. Shortly thereafter The Platters released the million-seller “You’ve Got the Magic Touch,” which again supported their status as a crossover group, reaching number four on both the pop and R&B charts. To augment the popularity of their smooth and sexy harmonies, they released their first album The Platters in July of 1956. The same year the Platters debuted in the United Kingdom, they released a record with “Only You” and “The Great Pretender,” which debuted at number five on the charts.
In 1957 Williams tried his powerful warbling singing solo, but The Platters, at the height of their fame, shadowed him. The act had become an international sensation, touring the world in the late 1950s, dubbed by Mercury Records as “international ambassadors of goodwill.” In 1958 The Platters appeared on “Dick Clark’s Saturday Night TV Show”, earned another million-selling single with “Out of My Mind,” and recorded what was one of the first music videos ever, a promotional clip of their fourth chart-topping R&B single, “Twilight Time,” performed on “American Bandstand.” And, before the year was through, they produced “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” in Paris, France during an extended European tour.
“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” reached number three on the R&B charts and topped the pop charts, becoming another classic hit to enter into our culture’s collective repertoire. However, the fortunes turned for the group in the summer of 1959, leading to bad publicity for The Platters and hurting their popularity. Four members of the group were arrested in Cincinnati, Ohio for engaging in sexual
Members include Sandra Dawn (1962-65, born New York, NY), contralto vocals; Alex Hodge (1953-55), baritone vocals; David Lynch (born 1929, St. Louis, MO, died January 2, 1981), tenor vocals; Nate Nelson (1962-65, born April 10, 1932, New York, NY, died June 1, 1984), baritone vocals; Herbert Reed (born 1931, Kansas City, MO), bass vocals; Paul Robi (1955-62, born 1931, New Orleans, LA, died February 1, 1989), baritone vocals; Zola Taylor (1954-62, born 1934), contralto vocals; Sonny Turner (1961-65, born ca. 1939, Cleveland, OH), lead vocals; Tony Williams (1953-60, born April 15, 1928, Roselle, NJ, died August 14, 1992), lead vocals.
Formed in Los Angeles, CA and signed to Federal Records, 1953; Zola Taylor joined group, 1954; Hodge fired by manager Buck Ram and replaced with Paul Robi, 1955; group signed to Mercury Records, 1955; “Great Pretender” hit number one, band appeared in rock films The Girl Can’tHelp It and Rock Around the Clock, 1956; recorded “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” first hit single produced in a foreign country (Paris, France), 1957; male members of group arrested in Cincinnati, OH for allegedly engaging in improper sexual relations, some radio stations pulled singles; released last Top Ten hit “Harbor Lights,” 1960; Williams left band to pursue solo career, replaced by Turner, 1961; Taylor and Robi left band, replaced by Dawn and Nelson respectively, 1962; 45s previously unissued released by Mercury, 1964; brief success on Musicor label, 1966; returned to Mercury, 1974.
Awards: Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1990.
Addresses: Management —Regina Wilson, Roewill Entertainment Group, (941.575.8272); Dan Sawyer, Sawyer Productions, (702.876.2334J; Website— www.awebstation.net/platters; Emai/—[email protected]
relations with four 19-year-old women, three of whom were white. The media picked up on the scandal, and although the men were found innocent, public reaction was decidedly negative and many radio stations discontinued play on their new singles.
The Platters’ last Top Ten hit came in 1960 with single “Harbor Lights,” which reached number eight on the pop charts. Several Platters singles charted in the Top 40 the same year, including “Red Sails in the Sunset” and “To Each His Own,” and the compilation album Encore of Golden Hits was certified gold. The group’s popularity was starting towane, though, and in 1961 Williams left the group to pursue a solo career, signing with Reprise Records. But the public was not very receptive to Williams without his vocal counterparts and he achieved only moderate success, even when covering Platters originals.
The replacement of Williams with lead vocalist Sonny Turner instigated discontent from Mercury Records, who refused to release singles led by Turner and instead continued to release old Williams-led singles. Ram and The Platters filed a lawsuit to contest the decision. More personnel changes took place in 1962 when Robi and Taylor left and were replaced by Sandra Dawn and Nate Nelson, formerly of Flamingos. The group ended its relations with Mercury Records and scored its last Top 100 with the release of “It’s Magic.”
Switching to the Musicor label, The Platters experienced limited success with “I Love You 1000 Times” and “With This Ring,” both scoring in the Top 40 on the pop and R&B charts. Before disbanding in 1970. For much of the 1970s, Ram fought in court for the legal rights to the name Platters and won, but his numerous lawsuits didn’t prevent the countless vocal groups from calling themselves the Platters, each with its own combination of former Platters members. The original Platters were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, commemorating their far-reaching effect as one of the most successful African-American pop groups in music history.
The Platters, Bella Musica, 1955.
The Fabulous Platters, Mercury, 1956.
Flying Platters, Mercury, 1958.
Pick of Platter, Mercury, 1959.
Reflections, Mercury, 1960.
Song for Only the Lonely, Mercury, 1962.
Christmas with the Platter, Mercury, 1963.
The New Soul of the Platters, Mercury, 1965.
Love You 1,000 Times, Musicor, 1966.
Going Back to Detroit, Musicor, 1967.
Only You, Charly, 1968.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Instant, 1968.
The Best of the Platters, Mercury, 1973.
The Great Pretender, Trace, 1974.
Precious Moments, Philips, 1975.
Platterama, Mercury, 1982.
The Magic Touch: An Anthology, Mercury, 1991.
The Musicor Years, Kent, 1995.
You’ll Never, Never Know, PolyGram, 1998.
The Golden Sides, Pair, 1998.
Rees, Dafydd, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK Publishing, Inc., 1996.
Romanowski, Patricia, editor, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1995.
Warner, Jay, Billboard’s American Rock ‘n’ Roll in Review, Schirmer Books, 1997.
“The Platters,” All-Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 19, 1999).
“The Platters,” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, http://www.rockhall.com (January 19, 1999).
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