The Platters were one of the most successful vocal groups 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 several personnel changes, with the most successful incarnation comprising lead tenor Tony Williams, David Lynch, Paul Robi, Herb Reed, and Zola Taylor. The group had 40 charting singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart between 1955 and 1967, including four no. 1 hits.
- 2 Charting hits
- 3 Changing lineup
- 4 Legal battles
- 5 Personnel
- 6 Hit singles
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The Platters formed in Los Angeles in 1953 and were initially managed by Ralph Bass. The original group (Alex Hodge, Cornell Gunter, David Lynch, Joe Jefferson,Gaynel Hodge and Herb Reed) landed a contract with Federal Records, but found little success. Reed is credited with creating the group's name. In June 1953, Gunter was replaced by lead vocalist Tony Williams. The band then released two singles with Federal Records, under the management of Bass, but found little success. The band then met music entrepreneur and songwriter Buck Ram. Ram made some changes to the lineup, most notably the addition of female vocalist Zola Taylor; later, Hodge was replaced by Paul Robi. Under Ram's guidance, the Platters recorded eight songs for Federal in the R&B/gospel style, scoring a few minor regional hits on the West Coast, and backed Williams' sister, Linda Hayes. One song recorded during their Federal tenure, "Only You (And You Alone)," originally written by Ram for the Ink Spots, was deemed unreleasable by the label, though copies of this early version do exist.
Despite their lack of chart success, the Platters were a profitable touring group, successful enough that The Penguins, coming off their #8 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. The Penguins would never have a hit for the label.
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 firstTop 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 and 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 three more national #1 hits and more modest chart successes 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 Platters-style arrangement.
The Platters also differed from most other groups of the era because Ram had the group incorporated in 1955. Each member of the group received a 20% share in the stock, full royalties, and their Social Security was paid. As group members left one by one, Ram and his business partner, Jean Bennett, bought their stock which gave them ownership of the "Platters" name, which would later become significant.
The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and 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 fueled an oldies revival already underway in the early to mid-1970s: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "The Great Pretender," and "Only You (and You Alone)."Paul Robi's Platters circa 1970
The group's lineup has changed many times. The lineup in 1953 included lead vocalist Cornell Gunter, Herb Reed, Alex Hodge, Joe Jefferson, and David Lynch. This lineup changed when the group signed with Ram, who built the group around tenor Tony Williams' distinctive and versatile voice and his ability to bring life to Ram's songs. Within a year, Hodge, Jefferson and Gunter were out and Paul Robi, new lead Williams, and a female, Zola Taylor, were in. The details of baritone Hodge's departure are muddy; author Peter A. Grendysa says Hodge was fired by Ram in October 1954 after having been accused of possession of marijuana, Bookers and the record company were told that Hodge was let go for bouncing a fifteen-dollar check. The resulting lineup - the one remembered for the group's biggest and most lasting hits - lasted until 1960.
As a group, the Platters began to have difficulties with the public after 1959, when the four male members were arrested in Cincinnati on drug and prostitution charges. Reed said he lost contact with Taylor shortly after this time. Although none was convicted, their professional reputation was seriously damaged and US radio stations started removing their records from playlists, forcing the group to rely more heavily on European bookings.
In 1960, lead vocalist Williams left for a solo career, and was replaced by tenor 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. Singer Jack Hammer, who co-wrote several songs including "Great Balls of Fire," also performed with the group.
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 Taylor (who left in 1964 to be replaced by Beverly Hansen Harris and later by Barbara Randolph), and Paul Robi (who departed in 1965). The Buck Ram Platters had the strongest legal 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 group from that of the off-shoots started by the original members. For a short while, original members Lynch, Taylor, and Robi billed themselves as "The Original Platters" with Williams-clone Johnny Barnes as their lead singer. 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 (who replaced Barbara Randolph in 1965), 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." Sonny Turner sang the lead on these three records.
Reed, the final member of the original Platters, resigned 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 Reed's group until suffering a fatal heart attack in 1984. Dawn left in 1969 and was replaced by Regina Koco, who stayed with the group until 1983.
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 1995, amid many other lineup changes. In 1995 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 Myles Savage.
A profusion of legal challenges 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), Paul Robi's (managed by his widow), 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 now retired or deceased.
Powell, who had been touring under the Platters name, was sued by Bennett for breach of contract. It was eventually determined that Powell would be able to tour, but only as "The Platters featuring Monroe Powell". Powell continues to tour worldwide. In 1994, Jean Bennett licensed the name to a tribute group for a show at the Sahara casino in Las Vegas; that show ran for 15 years.
Shortly before 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 Reed. A series of rulings in 1999, 2002, and 2004 gave Bennett the common law right to the name. The 2002 case legally rescinded Reed's exclusive trademark rights, and the trademark was returned to The Five Platters, Inc. and Bennett.
In January 2006, Bennett sold her corporate Platters-related assets and intellectual property rights to the Las Vegas-based company G.E.M. Group, Inc. But there was an immediate disagreement between Bennett and G.E.M., which filed a lawsuit to attain certain corporate assets, Bennett's personal property and the assets of the 1950s Platters. In June 2006, G.E.M. entered into an agreement with Sonny Turner, who'd been the lead singer of The Platters from 1960 to 1970. Turner had not been able to bill himself as "The Platters" since 1972 due to a legal injunction. However, Turner later sued G.E.M.
Currently, there are four acts using variations of the name: The Buck Ram Platters, Herb Reed and His Platters, Monroe Powell and The Platters, and Sonny Turner (former lead singer of The Platters). In 2007, Reed 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."
Currently, there is only one member of The Platters still alive and still performing. That is Sonny Turner who replaced Tony Williams in late 1959. Sonny brought The Platters back to the charts in 1966 with the hits, "I Love You 1000 Times", "With This Ring", and "Washed Ashore". Last founding member Reed died in June 2012 at 83. Reed was the only group member to appear on every original Platters recording.
In June of 2014, the estate of Herb Reed (and its related corporate entities) obtained a judgment against former singer Monroe Powell for trademark infringement. The Nevada district court granted Mr. Reed summary judgment, awarding him over $59,000 in damages (from US and international tour performances) and permanent injunctive relief, preventing Mr. Powell from using “The Platters” name without using the words “tribute” or “revue.” 
Various line-ups of the band have been touring concurrently since the 1970s. The following bands are still active versions of The Platters.
The Platters Original Members
Paul Robi's Platters
- Kathleen Lewis (1972-1974)
- Kristy Love Brooks (1994-2011)
- Willie Nash McCall (2008-2012)
- Herb McQuay (1995-2005, died 6/29/05)
- Paris Red (2004-2006)
A detailed chronology of lineups can be seen here.
|Release date||Title||Chart Positions|
|US Charts||US R&B chart||UK Charts||Australia|
|July 1955||"Only You (And You Alone)"||5||1||5||19|
|November 1955||"The Great Pretender"||1||1||5||1|
|February 1956||"(You've Got) The Magic Touch"||4||4||19|
|June 1956||"My Prayer"||1||1||4||4|
|June 1956||"Heaven on Earth"||39||13||41|
|August 1956||"You'll Never Never Know"||11||9||23||18|
|August 1956||"It Isn't Right"||13||10||23|
|November 1956||"On My Word of Honor"||20||7|
|November 1956||"One in a Million"||31||11||32|
|February 1957||"I'm Sorry"||11||15||18|
|February 1957||"He's Mine"||16||5|
|February 1957||"My Dream"||24||7|
|August 1957||"Only Because"||65|
|April 1958||"Twilight Time"||1||1||3||1|
|June 1958||"You're Making a Mistake"||51|
|September 1958||"I Wish"||42|
|September 1958||"It's Raining Outside"||93|
|October 1958||"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"||1||3||1||1|
|May 1959||"Remember When"||41||25||62|
|September 1959||"Wish It Were Me"||61|
|January 1960||"Harbor Lights"||8||15||11||33|
|January 1960||"Sleepy Lagoon"||65|
|5/60||"(I'll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Time"||102|
|8/60||"Red Sails in the Sunset"||36||72|
|10/60||"To Each His Own"||21||57|
|1/61||"If I Didn't Care"||30||95|
|7/61||"I'll Never Smile Again"||25||17|
|12/61||"You'll Never Know"||109|
|11/61||"Song For the Lonely"||115|
|4/66||"I Love You 1000 Times"||31||6|
|11/66||"I'll Be Home"||97|
|2/67||"With This Ring"||14||12||100|
|10/67||"Sweet, Sweet Lovin'"||70||32|
|August 1968||"Hard To Get a Thing Called Love"||125|