The Platters Band were pioneers of doo-wop music, transforming American sounds and popularizing them internationally. They achieved global recognition through such hits as Only You and Twilight Time as well as pop/smash R&B hits as Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Harbor Lights.
Credit for their success must go to Buck Ram, their manager, songwriter and vocal coach who kept the band together through numerous lineup changes.
The Platters Band was widely considered one of the first successful black vocal groups of early rock & roll. With their distinct sound, their distinctive sound bridged between Tin Pan Alley tradition (such as Ink Spots and Mills Brothers) and teenage music explosion (Teenage Music Explosion in mid 1950s). Breaking musical color barriers with hit singles such as Only You, The Great Pretender, My Prayer Twilight Time Smoke Gets In Your Eyes). Their popularity reached audiences that most Americans had never even dreamed existed.
In Los Angeles in 1953, this group first formed with initial members Alex Hodge, Cornell Gunter, David Lynch, Herb Reed and Joe Jefferson. By 1954 they met Buck Ram, an arranger who had written big band material during the 1930s and 40s who was to become their manager at Federal Records; he replaced Alex Hodge with Paul Robi from Shirley Gunter’s band as well as adding female vocalist Zola Taylor from Shirley Gunter’s Shirley Gunter Band before recording unsuccessfully for them until Mercury Records signed them up.
In 1955 they scored their biggest hit, Only You. This romantic ballad fit right in with Tin Pan Alley tradition but made an indelible mark on rock & roll as we know it today; indeed it became a landmark record which opened doors for other black groups to follow suit.
Their next hit was The Great Pretender which peaked at number three on the R&B chart and then two timeless classics My Prayer and Twilight Time which are still performed today on radio and TV stations worldwide. Additionally they appeared in 1956’s groundbreaking film Rock Around the Clock (aka rock and roll movie).
Over the years there have been various groups using The Platters name; most do not share a connection to original members and attempt to capitalize on its fame and legacy. Herb Reed owns all rights for The Platters name and only original members may perform under that banner.
The Platters Band began as an amateur group in Los Angeles in 1953 under Ralph Bass at Federal Records. Comprised of Alex Hodge (tenor), Cornell Gunter, David Lynch, Joe Jefferson and Gaynel Hodge (bass), Ralph Bass was unsuccessful with managing them; ultimately music entrepreneur Buck Ram was brought in as their new manager.
Ram recognized Tony Williams’ talents and asked him to join as a tenor singer in The Platters. Williams’ rich voice enhanced their sound significantly and helped the group have its first hit single with “Only You,” followed by two number one R&B/Pop singles (The Great Pretender and Twilight Time in 1957 and 1959 respectively) before 11 more two sided hits were created by them over time – one even making its debut on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Saturday night television show where film footage featuring them may have been used as promotional tools – potentially creating the first music video ever!
Rock Around the Clock was their breakthrough film role in 1956; performing both “Only You” and “The Great Pretender”. Paul Robi was then replaced with Sandra Dawn from Flamingos; she stayed until 1960 before leaving to pursue solo endeavors. Additionally, several other bands would use The Platters name but none would ever achieve as much fame.
Although they were one of the top groups during doo-wop’s golden era, The Platters did not remain together for long. All but Herb Reed of their original membership died between 1980 and 1991 – Buck Ram passed away first and Tony Williams, the last survivor died two years later in 1992.
Unbelievably, it was hard to comprehend that a group that pioneered colorblind music could collapse only six years after reaching their zenith due to personal and professional issues that seemed out of proportion to their true talents.
The Platters quickly rose to fame as one of America’s premier pop groups through songs like Only You and The Great Pretender, featuring light yet captivating music with effortless vocals that matched their sound perfectly. Their songs remain beloved today, their harmonious harmonies recalling simpler times; and their music can still be found today in films and television shows even after many original members have passed on. It’s impressive that such iconic music remains relevant today even without its creators alive to perform it!
Buck Ram signed The Platters to his talent agency and began managing them, soon recognizing they were an instantaneous hit and moved them from amateur status into professional status. Touring rock ‘n’ roll shows and supper clubs alike, scoring various minor regional hits for Federal Records including “Only You,” which eventually reached US Top 10.
Once The Platters switched to Mercury Records, their success skyrocketed. Their second release – The Great Pretender – reached both pop and R&B charts simultaneously and spent five weeks at #1 before becoming The Rhythm of the Rain’s biggest success, staying on both pop and R&B charts for three consecutive weeks before setting a new standard among singing groups.
After their initial success with The Rhythm of the Rain, The Platters released another classic single entitled Harbor Lights, although this record did not reach as high on the charts as their prior two singles had done. Unfortunately, during this period members began leaving: Zola Taylor left in 1962 for personal reasons and was replaced by Sandra Dawn; Herb Reed and Paul Robi eventually decided to form their own group with Nate Nelson from Teenagers; Herb Reed eventually followed suit by joining that new group as well.
The Platters brought class to rock and roll music. Although they did not pioneer its formation, they nevertheless contributed some of the earliest R&B hits to pop charts (if one disregards morality concerns). Their lush harmonies were highlighted by string-laden arrangements which proved popular in both black and white markets alike, leading the way for groups such as The Beatles.
Initial members of The Platters began life as Los Angeles teenagers known as The Flamingos. Their most stable lineup consisted of Cornell Gunter, Herb Reed and Alex Hodge singing lead, with bass Paul Robi providing bass support as Paul Lynch sang tenor and contralto Zola Taylor sang contralto vocals. Ralph Bass signed them to Federal Records but soon tired of them so released them; nevertheless the label insisted they record one final song written by manager Buck Ram.
In 1955, Mercury Records signed Ram and they released a remake of Only You with Zola joining their lineup – breaking with traditional male vocal groups that typically featured all-male singers – to become The Platters. Their next hit would become a Top Five US hit The Great Pretender!
After their initial success, The Platters continued together until lead singer Williams left to pursue solo work; his place was then taken by Sonny Turner (tenor). Mercury refused to issue further recordings without Williams on lead vocals which caused a lawsuit between Ram and Mercury Records.
Herb Reed filed suit against several impostor groups who used The Platters name during the late 1960s for trademark violations, eventually reaching the Supreme Court and winning his case. Subsequently, several compilations featuring The Platters songs do not represent original recordings and so it is best to obtain either two-disc anthology from Mercury or single disc from Rhino as sources for original recordings by The Platters. Although some touring acts still refer to themselves as The Platters today without having any connection to original members, most have no linkage to original members or original recordings by Mercury or Rhino.