The Platters

  • R&B and pop vocal group formed in 1952 from Los Angeles California. There have been many lineups over the years, most of which used the Platters name illegally. The classic lineup was Tony Williams (tenor lead vocals), Herb Reed (bass vocals), David Lynch (tenor vocals), Paul Robi (baritone vocals) and Zola Taylor (alto vocals).
  • The earliest lineup was known as the Flamingoes, a group of teenagers consisting of Gaynel Hodge, Alex Hodge, Joe Jefferson, Curtis Williams and Cornell Gunter. At 15 years old, Herb Reed ran away from his abusive home in Kansas City and moved to Los Angeles. He quickly made friends with members of the Flamingoes. After a stint in the military, he reconnected with Gunter, Jefferson and the Hodge brothers, and this lineup sang on the streets of Los Angeles. Jefferson soon left and was replaced by David Lynch.
  • When lead singer Gunter left in late 1952, the group was at a crossroads. A local record producer was familiar with the Flamingoes and wanted them to record, but they needed a lead vocalist. Tony Williams had recently moved to Los Angeles and the producer heard Williams perform at a club. The producer recommended Williams to the Flamingoes, and Williams became the lead vocalist. In the summer of 1953, a Chicago-based group called the Flamingoes had a hit record, and the LA-based group decided to change their name. Reed came up with the new name, the Platters, since records were played on turntables, or “platters.”
  • Their first recording session was in September 1953. Four songs were recorded, and they went nowhere when released. Discouraged by this, Williams went to a music manager and writer to discuss a solo career. The manager recommended to Williams that he develop his singing skills in a group, and Williams told him that he had recorded as a member of the Platters. The manager listened to the recordings and felt that they the group was terrible. He decided to coach the group, and in 1954 he signed Williams, Alex Hodge, Lynch and Reed to a recording contract.
  • This lineup recorded four songs in March 1954, with no success. The manager wanted a new wrinkle to the group’s sound, and he recruited 15 year old Zola Taylor to the group. Four more songs were recording in May 1954, including a song called Only You that was deemed so bad that it was unreleasable. Soon after, the last original Flamingo, Alex Hodge, left the group and was replaced by Paul Robi.
  • They changed record labels in 1955, and their continued work on their vocals finally paid off. They re-recorded Only You and the song was released. It reached #1 on the R&B chart, remaining there for seven weeks, and it peaked at #5 on the pop chart. Over the next year, they had three more huge hits – The Great Pretender reached #1 on both the R&B and pop chart, (You’ve Got) The Magic Touch peaked at #4 on both charts, and My Prayer topped both charts. When The Great Pretender topped the Hot 100, the Platters became the first R&B group to top the Hot 100 chart.
  • Now one of the hottest groups in music, the Platters performed two songs for the first major rock and roll film, Rock Around the Clock. They later performed in the films Rock All Night and Carnaval Rock. They also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show five times between 1957 and 1959, and they had an appearance on American Bandstand in 1959.
  • Many more hits followed in the 50s. They had two more singles that topped the pop chart – Twilight Time and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. Six other singles reached the top 20 of the pop chart.
  • In 1959, the group endured a scandal when the four male members were arrested on drug and prostitution charges. Jim Crow laws at that time prohibited a black man from having a white woman in his hotel room. They were aquitted of the charges, but their reputation took a hit. That same year, Williams left the group, intent on a solo career (which was unsuccessful. He later toured as an unauthorized version of the Platters). Williams was replaced by Sonny Turner.
  • The Platters continued to record in the 60s. The earliest releases in the decade were older recordings with Williams still providing the vocals. Their first single with Turner on lead vocals was in November 1961, Song For the Lonely, which did not chart. Turner provided lead vocals for the group until 1970 – they only managed to have six songs chart on the Hot 100 during these years. Their highest charting single was With This Ring, which peaked at #14 in 1967. The lineup changed during this period – Taylor left in 1964, Robi left in 1965 and Lynch left in 1967. Reed was the last original member – he left in 1969. He is the only member to perform on every original Platters recording.
  • With the group fragmented, many versions of the Platters began to tour. Williams, Robi and Turner all toured in later years as the Platters. Numerous legal challenges to the ownership of the name were fought. As the last surviving member of the group, Reed was awarded the right to use the name in 1997, but in 2002 the rights were taken away from him. Reed died in 2012, but in 2014 his estate was awarded the rights to the name, and Herb Reed Enterprises manages the Platters trademark today.
  • The classic lineup of the Platters was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. The many lineups of the group earned them the tag “Many Voices, One Name.” Here they are performing The Great Pretender. 

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