How did the vocal group The Platters contribute to music?

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Karyth Cara | College Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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The Platters contributed to music by their harmonious sound, their achievements, and their international renown. Formed in 1953, the original members of The Platters were:

ORIGINALS MEMBERS - Formed 1953

Tony Williams lead vocalist

David Lynch - tenor

Alex Hodge - baritone

Herb Reed - bass

1953 Samuel "Buck" Ram - Manager

1954 Zola Taylor - contralto vocalist

1955 Paul Robi - baritone, hired by Buck Ram to replace Alex Hodge

The Platters took off to a slow start in 1953 with "Only You" that couldn't get onto the R&B charts (R&B: rhythm and blues music), which means that not enough radio stations gave it "air time" by playing it and that not enough people bought the 45 RPM single record for the song to be counted on the "what's hot" charts of the music industry. Music historians blame a poorly produced record for the failure "to chart." They released other songs in 1953 and 1954 that also failed to chart, like "Give Thanks" and "Shake It Up Mambo." While some like these two are not still popularly known, "Only You" had a rebirth later and is still a big hit with the 1950s-60s Oldies song fans. Despite the lack of success on the charts, Manager Buck Ram kept The Platters booked at good nightclubs on the club circuit with well-paying "gigs," or nightclub performing jobs. In 1954, Buck picked up The Penguins, whose one-time hit was "Earth Angel," as clients and was able to arrange a "package" deal with Mercury Records to record both The Penguins and The Platters. 

Under Mercury's label, The Platters re-recorded "Only You" in 1955, and it went to number five on the R&B chart. Buck Ram then wrote "The Great Pretender" for their follow-up hit, which hit number one on both the R&B and the pop (popular) music charts. These were great achievements:

  • "Only You" number five R&B
  • "The Great Pretender" number one R&B and Pop
  • Genre crossover success in the number one slot for each genre

Being crossover hits, The Platters were propelled to success and were secure as R&B and pop stars. They followed this with "You've Got The Magic Touch," which confirmed their crossover stardom by hitting the number four spot on both the pop and R&B charts. In 1956 they released their first album, The Platters, and had their first international tour taking them to debut in the United Kingdom. While in the U.K., they released a 45 single with "Only You" and "The Great Pretender" on flip sides, which placed at number five on the U.K. crossover charts. In 1958 and in response to fan requests for an up-tempo song as a change from their usual style of smooth, mildly rhythmic harmonies, they released "Out of My Mind," introducing on "Dick Clarke's Saturday Night TV Show." The reception among audience members (who were there to dance, too) was enthusiastic, and "Out of My Mind" became a million copy selling single. [The YouTube video for The Platters' performance of "Twilight Time" on "Dick Clarke's Saturday Night TV Show," the then live interview with The Platters introduces the first-time introductory performance of "Out of My Mind" though the video cuts off before they sing.]

Dick Clarke, along with introducing "Out of My Mind," announced The Platters' first European tour to Paris, France, and Moscow, Russia. "Twilight Time" [recording with lyrics to follow], a cover of Buck Ram's 1945 composition--previously performed by Doris Day and Les Brown's Band of Renown--was a great hit and an enduring favorite that was their fourth song to reach number one on the both the R&B and pop charts in the U.S. and number three in the U.K. 

In Paris in 1958, they produced and released a cover of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," a 1933 Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach song--danced to by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the musical film Roberta (1933)--which was number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, number three on the U.S. R&B chart and number one on the U.K. pop and R&B charts. The Platters later performed "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" live on the "Ed Sullivan Show" where, due to the time pressures of a live show, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," The Platters second song for the evening, was cancelled then reinstated much to Sullivan's relief, as you can see in the YouTube clip of the event. 

Sorrow struck for The Platters in June of 1959 when the four men--Williams, Lynch, Reed, Robi--were charged with sexual impropriety with teenaged girls, three of whom were white and one of whom was black. Interracial relations were still illegal in many U.S. states in 1959, as Loving v. Virginia indicates, so the case and scandal were even more deeply troubling than adult-teen relations cases are today. While radio stations refused to play their music, pulling their current hit, "Where," from the airwaves, the four were found to be innocent by the end of 1959 (December). The scandal leading up to the declaration of their innocence hurt the reputation and popularity of The Platters. When their next song, the beautiful 1960 "Harbor Lights," rose only to number eight on the U.S. pop chart, number fifteen on the U.S. R&B chart, and number eleven in the U.K. Though exonerated, this was their last song that would reach a top-ten ranking. Despite the apparent disfavor, in 1960 "Red Sails in the Sunset"--a 1935 song earlier covered by Nat King Cole (1951)--and "To Each His Own" made it the Top 40 lists while their compilation album Encore of Golden Hits became a Gold Record.

The tumultuous and disappointing years of 1959 and 1960 culminated in the departure from The Platters of lead vocalist Tony Williams, who had taken up a solo contract with the Reprise Records label. Sonny Turner replaced Williams, but Mercury Records rejected Turner and refused to release any new songs with him as lead singer, choosing to release remakes of earlier hits featuring Williams instead.

Mercury's actions led to a lawsuit filed by Buck Ram and The Platters. This further tumult led to baritone Paul Robi and contralto Zola Taylor leaving The Platters in 1962. They were replaced by Sandra Dawn, contralto, and Nate Nelson, baritone. Newly reformed (with Dawn and Nelson), The Platters' 1962 release, "It's Magic," only ranked on the Top-100 charts. After switching to the Musicor label in 1966, the new line-up of The Platters had two further Top-40 hits with "I Love You 1000 Times" and "With This Ring." The Platters finally disbanded in 1970 and spent  much of the decade in legal battles over rights to the name "The Platters," legal control of which ultimately went to Buck Ram. In 1990, the original line-up of the R&B-pop crossover group The Platters was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a honor that capped off a career of contributions to music that grew from their much loved sound, their international success and their musical achievements:

  • 1990 Hall of Fame.
  • One of the most successful clack R&B groups of all time.
  • Four number one hits on the R&B and the pop charts: "The Great Pretender," "My Prayer," "Twilight Time," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."
  • Million-selling records: "You've Got the Magic Touch," "The Great Pretender"
  • Songs on the Top 10: "Only You," "You've Got the Magic Touch," "Harbor Lights."
  • Songs on the Top 40: "Red Sails in the Sunset," "To Each His Own."
  • Forty single release on Billboard Top 100.
  • Hit single produced in Europe: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

Music Labels

Federal Records, 1953
Mercury Records, 1955
Musicor label, 1966
Mercury, 1974

Selected Discography

The Platters, Bella Musica, 1955.
The Fabulous Platters, Mercury, 1956.
Flying Platters, Mercury, 1958.
Pick of Platter, Mercury, 1959.
Reflections, Mercury, 1960.
Song for Only the Lonely, Mercury, 1962.
Christmas with the Platter, Mercury, 1963.
The New Soul of the Platters, Mercury, 1965.
I Love You 1,000 Times, Musicor, 1966.
Going Back to Detroit, Musicor, 1967.
Only You, Charly, 1968.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Instant, 1968.
The Best of the Platters, Mercury, 1973.
The Great Pretender, Trace, 1974.
Precious Moments, Philips, 1975.
Platterama, Mercury, 1982.
The Magic Touch: An Anthology, Mercury, 1991.
The Musicor Years, Kent, 1995.
You'll Never, Never Know, PolyGram, 1998.
The Golden Sides, Pair, 1998.

Sources:

Jay Warner. American Singing Groups: A History from 1940s to Today.

Karen Gordon. "The Platters." Contemporary Musicians. Vol. 25. Gale Cengage, 2006.

Loving v. Virginia. Cornell University Law School.

Sources:
laurto's profile pic

laurto | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The Platters contributed greatly to the early rock and roll era. They had a very unique sound. This was an enormous contribution to music because their sound was a combination of pre-rock tradition and the new genre being born in the 1950s. 

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