The Platters started out as a Los Angeles-based doo wop group with little identity of their own to make them stand out from the pack. They made their first records for Federal, a subsidiary of Cincinnati's King Records. These early sides don't sound anything like the better-known sides that would eventually emerge from this group, instead merely aping the current R&B trends and styles of the day. What changed their fortunes can be reduced down to one very important name: their mentor, manager, producer, songwriter, and vocal coach, Buck Ram. Ram took what many would say were a run-of-the-mill R&B doo wop vocal group and turned them into stars and one of the most enduring and lucrative groups of all time. By 1954, Ram was already running a talent agency in Los Angeles, writing and arranging for publisher Mills Music, managing the Three Suns -- a pop group with some success -- and working with his protégés, the Penguins. The Platters seemed like a good addition to his stable.
After getting them out of their Federal contract, Ram placed them with the burgeoning national independent label Mercury Records (at the same time he brought over the Penguins following their success with "Earth Angel"), automatically getting them into pop markets through the label's distribution contacts alone. Then Ram started honing in on the group's strengths and weaknesses. The first thing he did was put the lead vocal status squarely on the shoulders of lead tenor Tony Williams. Williams' emoting power was turned up full blast with the group (now augmented with Zola Taylor from Shirley Gunter & the Queens) working as very well-structured vocal support framing his every note. With Ram's pop songwriting classics as their musical palette, the group quickly became a pop and R&B success, eventually earning the distinction of being the first black act of the era to top the pop charts. Considered the most romantic of all the doo wop groups (that is, the ultimate in "make out music"), hit after hit came tumbling forth in a seemingly effortless manner: "Only You," "The Great Pretender," "My Prayer," "Twilight Time," "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Harbor Lights," all of them establishing The Platters as the classiest of all.
Wiliams struck out on his own in 1961 and, by the decade's end, the group had disbanded with various members starting up their own version of The Platters. This bit of franchising now extends into the present day, with an estimated 125 sanctioned versions of "the original Platters" out on the oldies show circuit.
Sources: artistdirect.com; Karen Gordon
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