Prior to the 1950s, bands were not as prevalent, but rather individuals with ensembles or musicians that were not as recognized. This musical climate changed dramatically when the doo-wop genre entered and quickly settled as popular music of the era. Eventually many groups, composed of three to five, predominately men, were common in early 1950s music. The doo-wop genre developed in African-American urban environments. Despite racial limitations of the time, it became mainstream and many African-American doo-wop groups were the norm. One of the most recognized and successful of these is The Platters.
During World War II, many African- American vocal groups alike paved the way for the early to mid-fifties groups, like The Platters, to come forth. The Platters formed in Los Angeles in 1952. The group consisted of Cornell Gunter, David Lynch, Joe Jefferson, Gaynel Hodge, Alex Hodge and Herb Reed. Through the fifties, the group had several new members and replacements of the original Platters. They were signed under Federal Records, a record label founded just two years prior to the bands formation. Despite their vocal talents, The Platters were not successful off the bat and were striving for a hit record. In hopes of success and reaching top charts, they asked the help of songwriter, Buck Ram. Ram eventually brought in a female vocalist, Zola Taylor, and proceeded to record several singles with the bands newfound arrangement.
Although The Platters had a tremendously rocky start to success, they were profitable through touring. Their success touring, under the management of Ram, even influenced another doo-wop band, The Penguins, to seek management from Ram. This new partnership ultimately leveraged The Platters for success due to Ram’s ability to sell them as a two for one deal in booking shows and signing the groups on with Mercury Records.
Earlier in their Federal Record days, The Penguins recorded the song, “Only You (And You Alone).” For an unspecified reason, Federal Records would not release the song in 1954, when it was originally recorded. Upon their move to Mercury Records, The Platters released the tune in 1955 and saw great success. The once unreleased song climbed to the number-one spot on the R&B charts, held the position for seven weeks and was top five on Billboard Hot 100 charts. This marked the turning point for the once unsuccessful group. At this point, The Platters were recording and releasing singles constantly. As they released their most well known hit, “The Great Pretender,” “Only You” was simultaneously featured in the film “Rock Around The Clock.” In addition to these hits, The Platters grabbed widespread attention throughout the fifties from their other songs including, “Twilight Time” and “I’m Sorry.”
The market of doo-wop groups was extremely saturated at this point, ranging from “one hit wonder groups” to equally as established vocalist groups with several hits. Despite the up and coming competition, The Platters were unique due to Ram’s decision to incorporate the group in 1956. While this differentiated them amongst fellow musical groups, Ram and business partner, Jean Beannett, would buy the stock upon several band members’ departures, giving them greater ownership over the group. This was eventually ruled entirely illegal in court, as Ram and Beannett were stealing ownership of the name and the group. Various legal battles regarding The Platters’ assets and trademark continued into the 2000s.
Although The Platters encountered difficulty on the road to success and legal battles with their management, they continued to record throughout the sixties and seventies. In 1990, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
While the group’s sound and style may be perceived as typical for that of the time period, their clean vocal techniques embody all the classic feels of the 1950s. Even in their later work, the foundation of the group remains the same. For this, The Platters are timeless and capture the essence of popular doo-wop music above other bands alike.