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The Platters were a successful vocal group of the early rock and roll era. Their distinctive sound was a bridge between the pre-rock Tin Pan Alleymarker tradition, and the burgeoning new genre. The original group members were Alex Hodge, Cornell Gunther, David Lynch, Joe Jefferson, Gaynel Hodge and Herb Reed.

After signing with Buck Ram, the act went through several personnel changes before hitting the charts, with the most successful incarnation comprising lead tenor Tony Williams, David Lynch, Paul Robi, Herb Reed, and Zola Taylor.

Band formation and early years

The Platters formed in Los Angeles in 1953 and were initially managed by Ralph Bass. The group had a contract with Federal Records but had found little success before meeting music entrepreneur and songwriter Buck Ram. The band recorded a series of singles backing Linda Hayes before Ram made some changes to the lineup, most notably the addition of lead vocalist Tony Williams (Linda Hayes' brother) and female vocalist Zola Taylor. Under Ram's guidance, the Platters recorded seven singles for Federal in the R&B/gospel style, scoring a few minor regional hits on the West Coast. One song recorded during their Federal tenure, "Only You ", originally written by Ram for the Ink Spots was deemed unreleasable by the label.[25072]

Despite their lack of chart success, the Platters were a profitable touring group—successful enough that The Penguins, coming off their #2 single "Earth Angel", asked Ram to manage them as well. With the Penguins in hand, Ram was able to parlay Mercury Records' interest into a 2-for-1 deal. To sign the Penguins, Ram insisted, Mercury also had to take the Platters. Ironically, the Penguins would never have a hit for the label.

What set The Platters apart from most other groups of the era was that Ram had the group incorporate. Each member received equal shares of stock, full royalties and their Social Security was paid. As group members left, Ram and his business partner, Jean Bennett, bought their stock which gave them ownership of the "Platters" name, which would become significant later.

Charting hits

Convinced by Jean Bennett and Tony Williams that "Only You" had potential, Ram had the Platters re-record the song during their first session for Mercury. Released in the summer of 1955, it became the group's first Top Ten hit on the pop charts, and topped the R&B charts for seven weeks. The follow-up, The Great Pretender, with lyrics written in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas by Buck Ram, exceeded the success of their debut. It became the Platters' first national #1 hit. The Great Pretender was also the act's biggest R&B hit, with an 11-week run atop that chart. In 1956, The Platters appeared in the first major motion picture based around rock and roll, Rock Around the Clock, and performed both "Only You" and "The Great Pretender".

The Platters' unique vocal style had touched a nerve in the music-buying public, and a string of hit singles followed, including two more Top 100 number one hits, one Hot 100 number one hit, and more modest hits such as "I'm Sorry" (#11) and "He's Mine" (#23) in 1957, "Enchanted" (#12) in 1959, and "The Magic Touch" (#4) in 1956. The Platters soon hit upon the successful formula of updating older standards, such as "My Prayer", "Twilight Time", "Harbor Lights", "To Each His Own", "If I Didn't Care" and Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". This latter release caused a small controversy after Kern's widow expressed concern that her late husband's composition would be turned into a "rock and roll" record. It topped both the American and British charts in a tasteful Platters-style arrangement.

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker in 1990 and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in its inaugural year of 1998. The Platters were the first rock and roll group to have a Top Ten album in America. They were also the only act to have three songs included on the American Graffiti soundtrack that sparked an oldies revival in the early to mid-1970s: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "The Great Pretender" and "Only You ".

Changing lineup

The group's lineup has changed many times. The original lineup in 1953 included lead vocalist Cornell Gunther, Herb Reed, Alex Hodge, Joe Jefferson, and David Lynch. This lineup changed when the group signed with Ram, who built the group around Tony Williams' distinctive and versatile voice and his ability to bring life to Ram's songs. Within a year, Hodge, Jefferson, and Gunther were out, and Paul Robi, Zola Taylor, and new lead Tony Williams were in. This lineup - the one remembered for the group's biggest and most successful hits - lasted until 1960.

As a group, the Platters began to have some difficulties with their public after 1959 when four members were arrested in Cincinnati on drug and prostitution charges. Reed said he lost contact with Taylor shortly after this time. Although none were convicted, their professional reputation was seriously damaged and US radio stations started removing their records from playlists forcing the group to return to Europe for bookings.

During that time Williams left for a solo career, and was replaced by Sonny Turner. Mercury refused to issue further Platters releases without Williams on lead vocals, provoking a lawsuit between the label and manager Ram. The label spent two years releasing old Williams-era material until the group's contract lapsed.

As the group's lineup splintered further, endless wrangling over the lucrative "Platters" name began, with injunctions, non-compete clauses and multiple versions of the act touring at the same time. Williams would lead his own Platters group, as would Zola Taylor (who left in 1964) and Paul Robi (who departed in 1965). The Buck Ram Platters had the strongest claim to the name. Since Ram had built the group to showcase his songs, he added his name to that of The Platters to distinguish his vision from that of the pretenders. Despite the confusion, Ram's Platters lineup, with lead vocalist Sonny Turner, Herb Reed, David Lynch, Nate Nelson (former lead voice of The Flamingos and replacement for Robi), and Sandra Dawn, signed to Musicor Records and enjoyed a short chart renaissance in 1966-67, with the comeback singles "I Love You 1000 Times", "With This Ring", and the Motown-influenced "Washed Ashore".

Herb Reed, the final member of the original Platters, left in 1969. He would eventually lead an "official" Platters group under license from The Five Platters, Inc. Nelson had left in 1967, and later worked with Herb Reed's group until suffering a fatal heart attack in 1984. Dawn left in 1969.

Sonny Turner left in 1970 and was replaced by Monroe Powell,(Turner led his own Platters group starting in 1970.) Powell remained a constant member from 1970 to 1994, amid many other lineup changes. That year, a dispute between Powell and owner/manager Jean Bennett (who had purchased Personality Productions, the booking/management arm of The Platters business, from Ram in 1966) led to the two parting ways. At the time, the group's lineup was in limbo, leaving one person, Kenn Johnson, as the only other group member. Powell and Johnson continue touring as "The Platters", with Bennett hiring five new singers to be the "Buck Ram Platters," with lead Tyrone Sweet (now no longer in the group).

Legal battles

A profusion of legal challenges has ensued among the many groups of Platters. Those looking to hear the classic lineup of songs had their pick of approved, disputed, and ersatz Platters, including Sonny Turner's, Zola Taylor's, Ritchie Jones' (member 1984-85), Milton Bullock's (member 1967-70), the late Paul Robi's (managed by his wife), Jean Bennett's "Buck Ram Platters," Monroe Powell's, Herb Reed's, and several other groups with no current ties to the original group (many had once contained former members, who were retired or deceased).

Monroe Powell, who had been touring under the Platters name, was sued by Jean Bennett for breach of contract. Powell lost the suit, and Bennett was awarded almost a million dollars in damages. However, Bennett never received any of the money. Powell was sued again in 1994 for misuse of the agreed use of the name. After employing Powell for 28 years and in her 80s, Bennett and Powell eventually agreed not to disagree. It was determined by the court in 1994 that Powell's group must include his name in the billing (e.g. The Platters feat. Monroe Powell). His name must be prominently displayed.

Shortly before Paul Robi succumbed to pancreatic cancer on February 1, 1989, he won a long court battle against Ram's estate and was awarded compensation and the right to use The Platters' name. Those rights were stripped from Robi's widow in 1997, and the exclusive right to tour as "The Platters" was awarded to Herb Reed. In 2002, Herb Reed's exclusive trademark rights were legally rescinded and the common law trademark was returned to The Five Platters, Inc. and Jean Bennett. In January 2006, Bennett agreed to sell her corporate Platters-related assets and intellectual property rights to the Las Vegas-based company G.E.M. Group, Inc. There was an immediate disagreement between G.E.M. and Bennett over the fact that the contract included no compensation to Bennett. G.E.M. then sued for Bennett's personal property and the assets of "the 50's singing group The Platters."

In June 2006, G.E.M. Group entered into an agreement with Sonny Turner, lead singer of The Platters from 1960 to 1970. Turner, who had not been able to bill himself as "The Platters" since 1972 due to a legal injunction, became licensed as the "official" Platters group. However, Turner later sued G.E.M., and the company countersued; Turner no longer performs under G.E.M.'s management wing but maintains the legal right to perform as "Sonny Turner former lead singer of The Platters."

Herb Reed continues to tour with his group, "Herb Reed's Platters" which is Federally trademarked, and his permanent license since 1987. In 2007, he discussed the abundance of touring Platters groups: "I have to laugh because when you ask me how I feel about it, I'm irate, I'm infuriated... I've lost 25 weeks of work a year."

Hit singles

Release date Title Chart Positions
US Charts US R&B chart UK Charts Australia
7/55 "Only You" 5 1 5
11/55 "The Great Pretender" 1 1 5
2/56 "The Magic Touch" 4 4
6/56 "My Prayer" 1 1 4
6/56 "Heaven on Earth" 39 13
8/56 "You'll Never Never Know" 11 9 23
8/56 "It Isn't Right" 13 10 23
11/56 "On My Word of Honor" 20 7
11/56 "One in a Million" 31 11
2/57 "I'm Sorry" 11 15 18
2/57 "He's Mine" 23 5
4/57 "My Dream/I Wanna" 24 7
8/57 "Only Because" 65
12/57 "Helpless" 56
4/58 "Twilight Time" 1 1 3 1
6/58 "You're Making a Mistake" 51
9/58 "I Wish" 42
9/58 "It's Raining Outside" 93
10/58 "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" 1 3 1 1
2/59 "Enchanted" 12 9
5/59 "Remember When" 41 25
9/59 "Where" 44
9/59 "Wish It Were Me" 61
1/60 "Harbor Lights" 8 15 11
1/60 "Sleepy Lagoon" 65
5/60 "Ebb Tide" 56
8/60 "Red Sails in the Sunset" 36
10/60 "To Each His Own" 21
1/61 "If I Didn't Care" 30
1961 "Trees" 62
7/61 "I'll Never Smile Again" 25 17
1/62 "It's Magic" 91
4/66 "I Love You 1000 Times" 31 6
11/66 "I'll Be Home" 97
2/67 "With This Ring" 14 12
6/67 "Washed Ashore" 56 29
10/67 "Sweet, Sweet Lovin'" 70 32

Music Videos


  2. DVD release, 2007
  3. Zola Taylor, USA Today
  4. Zola Taylor, Obituary

External links

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