Obit of the Day: The Last Platter
The Platters were one of the few African American R&B groups to have crossover success on white radio in the 1950s. Herb Reed, who gave the group its name, was there from the day the group was formed, through all 400 of the Platters original recordings, and numerous legal battles over the rights to the Platters name.
Mr. Reed traveled to Los Angeles from Kansas City, Missouri when he was only fifteen years old. Singing in church gospel choirs and various amateur hours, Reed patiently waited for his break. It came in 1953 when he joined with David Lynch and Tony Williams to create the core of the group. After signing with Federal Records, the group was filled out with singers Paul Robi and a fifteen-year-old talent named Zola Taylor. Two years later, in 1955, they released their first hit, “Only You (And You Alone)” which reached number five on the U.S. charts (number one on the R&B charts).
Just five months later the group had a number one hit with “The Great Pretender.” One reason for their almost immediate success was the work of their songwriter and producer, Buck Ram*, who convinced the record company not to label the Platters as “R&B,” which in radio code meant “black.”
Note: According to the Times, records would have orange or purple labels to help DJ’s recognize when a group was black so they wouldn’t accidentally play those songs, especially in the segregated South. How thoughtful.
The Platters would have three more number one hits: “My Prayer” (1956), “Twilight Time” (1958), and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (1958). Beginning in 1959 the group’s lineup began to change regularly. As of 2012, 116 different singers have listed themselves as a member of various “Platters” incarnations. Herb Reed spent years suing various groups, including the wife of Paul Robi, for the rights to the name “Platters” but was ultimately unsuccessful.
The Platters (Reed, Williams, Lynch, Robi and Taylor) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Of the original quintet, David Lynch was the first to pass away, in 1981. Paul Robi died in 1989. Tony Williams in 1992 and Zola Taylor in 2007. Herb Reed died on June 4, 2012 at the age of 83.
(The Magic Touch: An Anthology is copyright Polygram Records, Inc, 1991)
* Ram was actually born Samuel Ram and was one of the significant songwriters during rock and roll’s early period.