The Platters Biography
The Platters were the most successful vocal group of the early rock and roll era. Their distinctive sound was a bridge between the pre-rock Tin Pan Alley tradition, and the burgeoning new genre. The act went through many personnel changes, but the most popular and successful incarnation included lead tenor Tony Williams, David Lynch, Paul Robi, Herb Reed, and Zola Taylor.
In 1953, songwriter/arranger/manager Buck Ram was intrigued with the rich tenor singing of Tony Williams, who was connected with the original configuration of the Platters. After orchestrating some personnel changes, the act signed with Federal Records. Under Ram's guidance, the Platters recorded seven singles for Federal in the R&B/gospel style, scoring a few minor successes on the West Coast. One song recorded during their Federal tenure, Only You (And You Alone), was deemed unreleasable by the label.
Despite their lack of chart success, the Platters were a profitable touring group--successful enough that The Penguins, coming off their #2 Earth Angel single, 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. In order to sign the Penguins, Ram insisted, Mercury also had to take the Platters. Ironically, the Penguins would never have a hit for the label.
Convinced his self-penned "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 topping the R&B charts for seven weeks. The followup, The Great Pretender, exceeded their debut, becoming the Platters' first national #1 hit. The Great Pretender also became the act's biggest R&B hit, with an eleven-week run atop that chart.
The Platters' unique vocal style had touched a nerve in the music-buying public, and a string of hit singles followed, including three further Hot 100 number one hits. 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 Platters were also the first rock and roll group to have a Top Ten album in America.
The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in its inaugural year of 1998. The Platters were the only act to have three songs included on the "American Graffiti" soundtrack: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes", "The Great Pretender" and "Only You (and You Alone)".
The Platters were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.
The group's lineup has changed many times. The original lineup in 1953 was lead Cornell Gunter, bass 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' voice and his ability to bring life to Ram's songs. Within a year, Hodge, Jefferson, and Gunter were out, and Paul Robi, Zola Taylor, and new lead Tony Williams were in. This lineup lasted until 1960. At 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 elapsed.
As the group's lineup splintered, 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 fewest actual members (zero) but the strongest contractual claim to the name. Despite the confusion, a thoroughly revamped Platters enjoyed a chart renaissance in 1966-67, with the minor comeback hit I Love You 1000 Times and the hit single With This Ring.
Herb Reed, the final Platter, left in 1969. he would eventually lead an "official" Platters group under license from The Five Platters, Inc., with former Platter Nate Nelson, who had filled Robi's vacancy in 1967. Sonny Turner left in 1970 and was replaced by Monroe Powell. (Turner led his own Platters group starting in 2001). Powell remained the most constant member from 1970 to 1995. That year, a dispute between Powell and owner/manager Jean Bennett (who bought 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 continued touring as The Platters, with Bennett hiring a new "Buck Ram Platters" with lead Tyrone Sweet.
A number of legal challenges have flown between the many groups of Platters. Monroe Powell was sued by Jean Bennett, and his group must now include his name in billing (e.g. The Platters feat. Monroe Powell). Those looking to hear the classic lineup of songs had their pick of approved, disputed, and ersatz Platters, such as 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 Platters, Monroe Powell's group, and several groups with no current ties to the original group (many once contained former members who are now deceased).
In 1997, a court decision awarded Herb Reed the exclusive right to tour as "The Platters." Reed is the only member of the 1954-60 lineup whose group still tours.
The Platters are currently performing during the "Lost In The 50's" show at the Starlight Theatre in Branson, Missouri.