The Vocal Groups

The Mills Brothers
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Members:
    John Mills
    Herbert Mills
    Harry Mills
    Donald Mills

The Mills Brothers were a popular middle of the road vocal group in the 1930s. Billed as "Four Boys and a Guitar," they were experts at imitating instruments including trumpet, trombone, tuba and string bass. With the backing of just a guitar, they simulated a full band and amazed listeners. The Mills Brothers (Herbert, Harry, Donald and John Jr.) started out singing in vaudeville and tent shows, were featured on a radio show for ten months in Cincinnati, arrived in New York and by the end of 1931 were an instant hit. They recorded frequently throughout the decade, made appearances in many films (including 1932's Big Broadcast) and recorded with Bing Crosby, the Boswell Sisters and Duke Ellington. John Jr.'s death in 1935 was a tragic loss although John Sr. effectively took his place. However by 1942 with their hit "Paper Doll," the old sound gave way to a more conventional pop setting.

The Ink Spots
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Though the Ink Spots enjoyed the greatest popularity year before rock and roll came into being, their vocal style eas the precursor to the doo wop groups of the 50s

The original group was formed in Indianapolis, Indiana in the late twenties when Jerry Daniels, Orville Jones, Charles Fuqua and and Ivory Matson met in Indianapolis. After moving to New York in the early thirties they changed their name from from, King, Jack and the Jesters to The Ink Spots. Soon after signing with Decca Records in 1935 Billy Kenny replaced the groups lead singer who had left.  Kenny's   quavering high tenor presaged street corner leads that were to come and  was backed by flawless sweet harmonies. In 1939 the group released "If I Didn't Care" their first million selling record. Other hits were "My Prayer," "We Three," "Maybe," "Whispering Grass," "To Each His Own," and speaker.gif (332 bytes)"I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire." The last Ink Spots   hit was  1948s "To Each His Own".

The Ink Spots were one of the most successful black acts of the 1940sand inspired younger groups that took their sound into a R&B direction.The Ink Spots were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 in the early influences category

The Ravens
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The popularity of the Ravens spanned more than two decades
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Members:
    Maithe Marshall - lead
    Len Puzey - second tenor
    Warren Scuttles - baritone
    Jimmy Ricks - replaced by Tommy Evans

The Ravens formed in New York in 1945 were an early R&B vocal group that sang a wide range of material.There were one of the first groups to feature a bass voice as a lead, probably the first to feature a lead falsetto and the first to choreograph their act. With a smooth harmony like the Mills Brothers recorded  for Hub Records "My Sugar Is So Refined" in 1946. Shortly thereafter, Maithe Marshall, whose lead falsetto became the group's trademark joined The Ravens. Their first big hits "write Me A letter and "Write Me A Letter" were recorded in 1947. "White Christmas" was a major hit in 1948. The groups next hit was "I Don't Have To Ride No More" in 1950. "Count Every Star" of the same year,with full range vocal backing highlighted by wordless vocal bass lines and high falsetto constitute the virtual definition of doo wop. 1952 to saw their last hit "Rock Me All Night".

TheFive Keys
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Top: Rudy West
Center left to right: Ripley Ingram, Dickie Smith, M
aryland Pierce, Bernie West
Bottom: Joe Jones

Artist Biography by Jim Dunn

The Five Keys are generally regarded by aficionados of 1950s R&B vocal group harmony as one of the finest groups to ever record in thisgenre. They are best known for their Capitol recordings of "Wisdom ofa Fool," "Close Your Eyes," "Ling Ting Tong," and "Out of Sight, Outof Mind." But in collectors' circles their earlier recordings forAladdin such as "My Saddest Hour," "Glory of Love," and "Red Sails inthe Sunset" are even more highly revered and sought after. The group
originally consisted of two sets of brothers; Rudy and Bernie West andRaphael and Ripley Ingram all hailing from Newport News, VA, part ofthe "Hampton Roads" area. This region had a rich history of high-caliber vocal music and had previously spawned great vocal ensembles like the Golden Gate Quartet and Norfolk Jazz Quartet. The West and Ingram brothers initially took on the name the Sentimental Four and soon decided to show off their talents by entering a local amateur program at the Jefferson Theater. After winning three consecutive weeks of amateur contests at the Jefferson, they were invited to perform at the prestigious Apollo Theater in New York City, where they also won.

This led to subsequent engagements at the Royal and Howard Theaters. As the group established their reputation along the Eastern Seaboard, they were noticed by Eddie Mesner, owner of the California-based Aladdin Records, who signed them to a recording contract. About this time, Raphael went into the army and was replaced by Maryland Pierce (formerly of the Avalons). Also added was another singer, Dickie Smith, and a sixth man, piano player Joe Jones. Reflecting the
personnel changes, their name was changed from the Sentimental Four to the Five Keys. The Keys toured both the East and West Coasts and their Aladdin songs were recorded in New York and Los Angeles. Some of their approximately 17 Aladdin releases in the early '50s consisted of "Glory of Love," "How Long," "Someday Sweetheart," "Red Sails in the Sunset," and "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" with Rudy West and Dickie Smith on leads; and "My Saddest Hour" and "Serve Another Round" with Maryland Pierce on lead.

In 1953, both Rudy and Dickie entered the army and were replaced by Ramon Loper and Ulysses Hicks. By mid-1954, the Keys' contract with Aladdin was expiring and their last Aladdin release, "Deep in My Heart," was reviewed in June of that year. In July of 1954, the Five Keys found themselves in the RCA studios, where they recorded four tracks. Two remained unreleased, and "Lawdy Miss Mary" backed with "I'll Follow You" were issued in August 1954 on RCA's subsidiary Groove label. The Keys' manager, Saul Richfield, must have been working very hard for his group at this time, for on August 29, 1954, Capitol announced that they had signed the Five Keys. RCA immediately stopped production of the Groove release and it is now the rarest of the Five Keys recordings. Now recording for Capitol, the Five Keys released "Ling Ting Tong," with Pierce on lead. The record was successful enough to eventually land them a spot of the Ed Sullivan TV show. When Hicks died suddenly in 1954, and before Rudy returned home from  Artist Biography by Jim Dunn  The Five Keys are generally regarded by aficionados of 1950s R&B vocal group harmony as one of the finest groups to ever record in this genre. They are best known for their Capitol recordings of "Wisdom of a Fool," "Close Your Eyes," "Ling Ting Tong," and "Out of Sight, Out of Mind." But in collectors' circles their earlier recordings for
Aladdin such as "My Saddest Hour," "Glory of Love," and "Red Sails in the Sunset" are even more highly revered and sought after. The group originally consisted of two sets of brothers; Rudy and Bernie West and Raphael and Ripley Ingram all hailing from Newport News, VA, part of the "Hampton Roads" area. This region had a rich history of high-caliber vocal music and had previously spawned great vocal ensembles like the Golden Gate Quartet and Norfolk Jazz Quartet. The
West and Ingram brothers initially took on the name the Sentimental Four and soon decided to show off their talents by entering a local amateur program at the Jefferson Theater. After winning three consecutive weeks of amateur contests at the Jefferson, they were invited to perform at the prestigious Apollo Theater in New York City, where they also won.

This led to subsequent engagements at the Royal and Howard Theaters. As the group established their reputation along the Eastern Seaboard, they were noticed by Eddie Mesner, owner of the California-based Aladdin Records, who signed them to a recording contract. About this time, Raphael went into the army and was replaced by Maryland Pierce (formerly of the Avalons). Also added was another singer, Dickie Smith, and a sixth man, piano player Joe Jones. Reflecting the
personnel changes, their name was changed from the Sentimental Four to the Five Keys. The Keys toured both the East and West Coasts and their Aladdin songs were recorded in New York and Los Angeles. Some of their approximately 17 Aladdin releases in the early '50s consisted of "Glory of Love," "How Long," "Someday Sweetheart," "Red Sails in the Sunset," and "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" with Rudy West and Dickie Smith on leads; and "My Saddest Hour" and "Serve Another Round" with Maryland Pierce on lead.

In 1953, both Rudy and Dickie entered the army and were replaced by Ramon Loper and Ulysses Hicks. By mid-1954, the Keys' contract with Aladdin was expiring and their last Aladdin release, "Deep in My Heart," was reviewed in June of that year. In July of 1954, the Five Keys found themselves in the RCA studios, where they recorded four tracks. Two remained unreleased, and "Lawdy Miss Mary" backed with "I'll Follow You" were issued in August 1954 on RCA's subsidiary Groove label. The Keys' manager, Saul Richfield, must have been working very hard for his group at this time, for on August 29, 1954, Capitol announced that they had signed the Five Keys. RCA immediately stopped production of the Groove release and it is now the rarest of the Five Keys recordings. Now recording for Capitol, the Five Keys released "Ling Ting Tong," with Pierce on lead. The record was successful enough to eventually land them a spot of the Ed Sullivan TV show. When Hicks died suddenly in 1954, and before Rudy returned home from induction ceremony. This was their first time together in 40-plus
years and would be the last time they would all take to the stage as a group. Rudy West passed away on May 14, 1998. His last performance was
on April 18,1998, at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, NY. Even at that point in time, his voice was still magnificent, and his phrasing impeccable. The audience was justifiably thrilled at what would be the final performance of this legendary R&B artist. Ripley Ingram had previously passed away. The surviving original members are Bernie West, Dickie Smith, and Maryland Pierce. Fortunately, most of the Five Keys extensive recorded output is now available on various CDs.

The "5" Royales
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Top: Lowman Pauling
From left to right: Obediah Carter, Johnny Tanner, Clarence Pauling, Johnny Moore

Artist Biography by Richie Unterberger

The "5" Royales were a relatively unheralded, but significant, link between early R&B and early soul in their combination of doo wop, jump blues, and gospel styles. Their commercial success was relatively modest -- they had seven Top Ten R&B hits in the 1950s, most recorded in the span of little over a year between late 1952 and late 1953. A few of their singles would prove extremely popular in cover versions by other artists, though -- James Brown and Aretha Franklin tore it up
with "Think," Ray Charles covered "Tell the Truth," and the Shirelles (and later the Mamas & the Papas) had pop success with "Dedicated to the One I Love." Almost all of their material was written by guitarist Lowman Pauling, who influenced Steve Cropper with his biting and bluesy guitar lines, which at their most ferocious almost sound like a precursor to blues-rock.

Pauling's guitar is pretty muted on their early sides, though, which sometimes walk the line between gospel and R&B. The gospel elements aren't surprising, given that the Royales were originally known as the Royal Sons Quintet when they formed in Winston-Salem, N.C. In fact, they were still known as the Royal Sons Quintet when they began recording for Apollo in the early '50s, although they had six members. They would change their name to the "5" Royales in 1952, although they would, confusingly, remain a six-man outfit for a while; the quotes around the 5 in their billing were designed to alleviate some of the confusion. The Apollo singles "Baby Don't Do It" and "Help Me Somebody" made number one on the R&B charts in 1953, and they had a few other hits for Apollo before being lured away to King Records in 1954. Although the group would remain on King for the rest of the 1950s, they would only enter the R&B Top Ten two more times, with "Think" and "Tears of Joy" (both in 1957). Their later sides, however, are their best, as Pauling became much more assertive on the guitar, dashing off some piercing and fluid solos. Some of these solos are among the heaviest and wildest in '50s rock, on both relatively well-known cuts like "Think," and virtually unknown numbers like "The Slummer the Slum." Greil Marcus once wrote something to the effect that a young Eric Clapton would have once paid to hold Pauling's coat. They remained primarily a harmony vocal group, though, and if their late-'50s sides are considerably more modernized than their early Apollo hits, they're still a lot closer to doo wop than soul. Even when their records weren't selling, the "5" Royales were a popular touring band. Their constant activity at King Records, in all
likelihood, had some influence on the young James Brown, then starting his career on the same label; one of Brown's first big R&B hits was a frenetic cover of "Think." They couldn't sustain themselves without more hits, though. After leaving King and recording some more sides in the early '60s, they finally broke up by 1965.

The Orioles
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(top l-r Alexander Sharp, George Nelson and Sonny Til)
(bottom l-r Tommy Gaither and Johnny Reed)

Emerging out of the Washington D.C. area the Clovers were the must sucessful R&B group of the 50s.
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Members:
    Sonny Til - lead - real name Earlington Tilghman
    George Nelson - second tenor
    Alexander Sharp - tenor
    Johnny Reed - bass
    Tommy Gaither - guitar

The Orioles formed in Baltimore Maryland in 1946 are cited by many as the first R&B vocal group and the precursor of the doo wop sound. As teens they were known as the Vibranaires and were manage by Deborah Chessler a local songwriter who would write many of their hits.. Chessler got them a spot on Arthur Godfrey's talent scouts. Though they didn't win they became regulars on the show.

In 1948 they joined It's A Natural Records and changed their name to The Orioles after recording "It's Too Soon To Know" which went to #1 R&B chart and #13  Pop chart. It was the first black sounding  record to place that high on the Pop chart. Other hits included  "Lonely Christmas' and "Tell Me SO" in 1949.   "Tell Me So" was important because it  use a wordless falsetto doing a kind of obbligato to the lead vocal.. This would become a staple of the doo wop style. Other hits were "A Kiss And A Rose", "Forgive And Forget", and "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve."

In 1953 the group recorded "Crying In The Chapel" feature a unmistakably back sound, with emotional singing, wordless falsetto and other vocal backings that reflected a trend toward  a gospel style that other groups were using.  It was one of the first R&B songs to crossover to the Pop market. 1954's "In The Mission Of St. Augustine" was the groups last hit.

The Orioles were inducted in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

The  Dominoes

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Clockwise from to right
Bill Brown,Charlie White,Clyde McPhatter, Joe Lamont, Billy Ward

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Top middle: Billy Ward
Top right: Jacckie Wilson

Billy Ward and His Dominoes were the first black male vocal group to master the smooth style of older groups such as the Ravens and the hard rocking rhythm and blues.
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Members:
    Clyde McPhatter - lead - replaced by Jackie Wilson in 1953 replaced by Eugene Mumford
    Charlie Wilson - second tenor - replaced by James Van Loan in 1951 replaced by Joe Van Loan 1956
    Joe Lamont - baritone
    Bill Brown - bass - replaced by David McNeil in 1951 replaced by Cliff Givens 1953
    Billy Ward - piano

Members 1960:
    Maurice Powell - first tenor
    Robbie Robinson - second tenor
    Milton Merle - baritone
    Cliff Givens - bass

The Group was founded in New York in 1950. Clyde McPhatter joined as lead tenor in 1950. In 1951 the group had three top ten R&B singles: "Do Something For Me", "I Am With You", and "Sixty Minute Man". Sixty-Minute Man   with it's sexual innuendoes was  both a R&B and pop hit. It was on of the first, if not the first, record by a black group to make the pop charts. They had several hits such as "The Bells", "I'd Be Satisfied",  and "These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You" before McPhatter left to form The Drifters. Jackie Wilson replaced McPhatter and sang lead on "Rags To Riches". A switch to Decca Records brought the group its biggest hit "St. Therese of the Roses".

The Clovers
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L to R: Harold Lucas, Matthew McQuarter, John Bailey, Harold Winley, Bill Harris

Members:
    John "Buddy" Bailey - dual lead tenor
    Billy Mitchell - dual lead tenor
    Matthew McQuater - second tenor
    Harold Winley - bass
   Bill Harris - guitarist

Considered one of the first rhythm and blues groups to cross over into rock and roll, the Clovers were certainly central in forming both styles of music. Their easily identifiable was sound was based on a combination of blues and gospel. The Clovers did not follow the "pop" singing style of the Mills Brothers or the Ink Spots and sounded distinctly different from the Orioles and the Larks, rhythm and blue's first role models.

The Clovers started as a trio of Armstrong High School students in 1946 all from the same neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The leader of the group Harold "Hal" Lucas, sang baritone. From 1946 through 1949 the group went through many personal changes as they performed in several of the area's small nightclubs. In 1950, they were heard by Lou Kreftz, a local music dealer, while performing at the Rose Club. He got them a recording contract with Rainbow Records, a small New York label, but only one record was released in 1950. In February 1951 they signed with Atlantic Records, where they stayed for seven years. Their first Atlantic release was "Don't You Know That I Love You So," which sold a quarter million copies.The follow up, "Fool, Fool, Fool" did even better selling a half million copies and "One Mint Julip" almost went gold. Of their first nine records at Atlantic, three were number one rhythm and blues hits, three reached number two and two went to number three.

In 1952 the group consisted of John "Buddy" Bailey (first tenor), Mathew McQuarter (2nd tenor), Harold Jerome Winley (bass), and Bill Harris (guitar). In September 1952 Bailey was drafted, and was replaced first by John Phillip and then Charlie White, who had been an original member of the Dominoes and the Checkers. In 1953 Billy Mitchell, who had been a solo artist at Atlantic, became the lead tenor. When Bailey returned from Korea in May, 1954  he alternated with Mitchell and the group expanded to six members.

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Front: Clovers' manager Lou Krefetz
Back  L to R: Jerry Leiber, Lester Sill, Mike Stoller

Their peak year was 1952 with five songs in the national rhythm and blues top ten, but had hits for Atlantic until 1957. Their last hit was "Love Potion #9" for United Artist in 1959. By the early 1960s the group had disbanded with two new groups of Clovers, one led by Bailey and one led by Lucas, touring the country. The Lucas group continued to perform in clubs into the 1970s.

The Clover's sound was heavy on the bottom. Both the vocal group and and the instrumental backing employed an accentuated bass line. No distinctive lead tenor carried the group; rather, it was a blending of all the voices over a varied mixture of drums, saxophone, and piano that gave the recordings by the group the warm feel of warmth even on the up-tempo numbers.

Few rhythm and blues groups in this period  could claim the popularity and longevity of the Clovers. While the Dominoes and the Orioles opted for the "better" clubs and hotels, the Clovers stayed within the Black community, becoming "their" vocal group more than any other at this time.

The Swallows
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The Swallows are a favorite among collectors of early rhythm and blues records
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Members:
    Eddie Rich - lead
    Herman Denby - baritone/lead
    Earl Hurley - second tenor
    Fred Johnson - baritone
    Norris Mack - bass

The Swallows were an American R&B group. They are best known for their1951 recording of "Will You Be Mine", which appeared in the USBillboard R&B chart.

Founded in Baltimore, Maryland, United States, in 1946 as "TheOakaleers", the original members were Lawrence Coxson (lead tenor),Irving Turner (tenor and baritone), Earl Hurley (first and secondtenor and bongos) and Norris "Bunky" Mack (bass, piano, guitar, anddrums). The 'Oakaleers' practised on street corners until around 1948,when they joined with Eddie Rich (first tenor) and Frederick “Money Guitar” Johnson (baritone and guitar). Second tenor and baritoneHerman "Junior" Denby was hired later. Irving Turner stopped singing with the group, but was kept on as valet (and occasional fill-in).

The Swallows' recording of "Will You Be Mine" was released in 1951, and was one of the first doo-wop hits. "Will You Be Mine" reached a peak position of Number 9 on the US Billboard R&B chart. In 1952, the Swallows released "Beside You", which became their second national hit, peaking at Number 10 on the Billboard R&B chart. More single releases failed to reach these successes, however "It Ain't the Meat (It's the Motion)," the raunchy B-side of their third single, was a big seller in Georgia and the Carolinas. Eddie Rich noted of the song, "[Although] everybody liked it everywhere… you couldn’t play it. The[y] blackballed us on that."

Herman "Junior" Denby died on July 14, 2013, in West Chester Township, Butler County, Ohio, from pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease. He was aged 82

Vocal Group Harmony Web Site

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