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From Rotary District 6600
2003 District Conference

Rotary District 6600
P.O. Box 1050
Elyria, Ohio 44036

Saturday Night

The Drifters | The Platters | The Marvelettes | The Coasters


The DriftersThe Drifters served to link Fifties rhythm & blues with Sixties soul music. They epitomized the vocal group sound of New York City. Theirs was the sweet but streetwise sound of R&B suffused with gospel influences. The material the Drifters recorded came from a variety of sources, including the songwriting teams of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and Gerry Goffin and Carole King. All were New York-based songwriters who wrote evocatively of romance and everyday life in the big city, and the Drifters made an ideal vehicle for the convincing delivery of such scenarios. The records they cut with Leiber and Stoller (who doubled as producers) introduced the sound of strings and Latin-tinged rhythms into the vocabulary of popular music.

The name "Drifters" was chosen by Clyde McPhatter, the honey-voiced singer who was the first in a long line of lead voices. He could not have chosen a better name, since members drifted in and out of the band from the very beginning. The Hall of Fame inductees span the group's history: McPhatter, Ben E. King, Rudy Lewis, Johnny Moore, Bill Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher and Charlie Thomas. All the same, a consistent high standard was maintained throughout the Drifters' recording career on Atlantic Records, which lasted from late 1953 to early 1966. During that time, they cut numerous records that stand as milestones of sweet soul music.

So important were the Drifters to Atlantic Records that label cofounder Ahmet Ertegun proclaimed them "the all-time greatest Atlantic group." They had Number One singles with three different singers - McPhatter, Moore and King - which must stand as some kind of record. The era of Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, which lasted only from 1953-4, yielded "Money Honey" (a Number One R&B hit), "Honey Love" and "White Christmas." Their groundbreaking doo-wop version of the latter song remains second only to Bing Crosby's in popularity. Thereafter, McPhatter served a hitch in the army and then embarked on a solo career on Atlantic. With Ben E. King as lead vocalist, the Drifters began working with Leiber and Stoller in 1959. The first fruit of their union was "There Goes My Baby," a pop-R&B classic with a swirling string arrangement and a "baion" rhythm borrowed from Latin sources. Other hits of the King era include "Save the Last Dance for Me," the Drifters' only single to top both the pop and R&B charts, and "This Magic Moment." King, too, departed for a solo career, recording "Spanish Harlem" and "Stand By Me," both of them soulful classics that have stood the test of time.

King was replaced by Rudy Lewis, who fronted the group for its third million seller, "Up On the Roof," in 1962. It was followed by "On Broadway," another New York-based slice-of-life sung with great feeling by Lewis and set to a daringly theatrical arrangement. Just as the Drifters were finally beginning to enjoy sustained musical success, Lewis died of a drug overdose in 1964, and once again the group lost a magical voice. Johnny Moore, who had sung with an earlier version of the Drifters, stepped in and the group immediately cut the classic best seller "Under the Boardwalk." Such resilience was typical of the Drifters, verifying the great store of soul and conviction within them that was evident from their recordings.  (photo: Bill Pinkney's Drifters; Claus Röhnisch note)

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The PlattersThe Platters were one of the top vocal groups of the Fifties, delivering smooth, stylized renditions of pop standards. Like the Ink Spots a decade earlier, they were the most popular black group of their time, achieving success in a crooning, middle-of-the-road style that put a soulful coat of uptown polish on pop-oriented, harmony-rich material. Their lengthy string of hits began in 1955 with "Only You" and continued till the end of the decade, including four singles that reached #1: "The Great Pretender," "My Prayer," "Twilight Time" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." The secret of the Platters' success had to do with their choice of material: adult ballads and standards that predated the rock and roll era, which were delivered with crisp, impeccable harmonies framed by string-laden arrangements. Much of the credit is due to Buck Ram, the group's producer, manager and guiding light, who had worked with acts like the Ink Spots in the Forties.

The group got its start in Los Angeles in 1952 and made its first recordings a year later for the Federal label before moving to Mercury, where they remained until the mid-Sixties. An initially shifting lineup stabilized around five members: Tony Williams, David Lynch, Herb Reed, Paul Robi and Zola Taylor. During the latter half of the Fifties, the Platters were a global sensation, touring the world as "international ambassadors of musical goodwill" (per their record label) and appearing in a number of rock and roll-themed movies, including Rock Around the Clock and The Girl Can't Help It. Though the Platters thereafter experienced several personnel changes, beginning with the 1960 departure of lead vocalist Williams for a solo career, they continued to enjoy sporadic chart success in the Sixties with such songs as "With This Ring." Even after their high profile waned on the national scene, the Platters remained popular along the Southeast coast, where they rank among the foremost exemplars of the "beach music" sound. Elsewhere, they're fondly remembered as a throwback to a golden era when pop, rhythm & blues and rock and roll flowed together in perfect harmony. (photo: not the true Platters-prb. the Larry Marshak group; Claus Röhnisch note)

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The Marvelettes occupy an esteemed place in the history of American popular music as the group that caused Motown, and most notably Berry Gordy, to change the label's focus from single bluesy soul artists (previously Barret Strong's "Money" had been the label's biggest seller) to a smooth orchestrated harmonic sound that transcended the prior racial limits of rhythm and blues. With their first record, "Please Mister Postman", hitting the top spot on the charts and selling 3 million records, Motown was concentrating on the Marvelettes, Supremes, Temptations, Four Tops and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas to created a new group pop soul sound that was to totally dominate the music charts until the advent of the Beatles 4 years later.

During their reign at the top of the charts, the girls were to turn out over a dozen hits, eight of which went Top Ten. Although the group at times had more that three members, the originators were Wanda Rogers, Gladys Horton and Katherine Shaffner. In the early years of the group, family ties forced all three to leave the act at various times (Although Wanda and Gladys continued to make frequent "guest appearances") but carefully chosen and highly talented replacements kept the act at the top of the charts even with the changed personnel. This is a patented mark of Motown's success story - the ability to change personnel in acts like the Supremes, Temptations and Marvelettes and still keep the act at the top of the charts and in demand for personal appearances.

In fact it is in person where the current lineup really excels. Offering an act that features their big hits, interspersed with their versions of great standards, the girls are still, in the smooth Motown vein, a highly choreographed, polished, very good looking and humorous night club act as well as a major draw.

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The Coasters cut a string of rhythm & blues hits that were liberally salted with humor and sung in an infectious, uptempo doo-wop style. The group struck it big with songs written for them by the duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, including such classics as "Charlie Brown," Yakety Yak," "Along Came Jones," and "Poison Ivy." During their late Fifties heyday, the Coasters' recordings - written with street smarts and R&B punch by Leiber and Stoller, sung with sly humor and verve by the Coasters, and accompanied by hot, honking sax solos from King Curtis - helped define rock and roll by appealing to and reflecting the lot of the American teenager.

The roots of the Coasters date back to 1947, when a black vocal group called the Robins formed in Los Angeles. The Robins signed to Leiber and Stoller's label, Spark Records, in the early Fifties and cut some notable R&B sides, including "Riot in Cell Block #9" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe." In 1955, Atlantic Records offered Leiber and Stoller and the Robins a deal with Atco, a subsidiary label, which precipitated a move east and divided the group. Several members remained in Los Angeles and carried on as the Robins, while bass singer Bobby Nunn and tenor Carl Gardner headed to New York City, where they recruited tenor Leon Hughes and baritone Billy Guy. The new group called themselves "the Coasters," alluding to their coast-to-coast relocation. The classic Coasters lineup solidified with the addition of tenor Cornell Gunter and bass Will "Dub" Jones, who replaced Hughes and Nunn.

In 1957, the Coasters reached Number One on the R&B charts and the pop Top Ten with their double-sided single "Searchin'" and "Young Blood." Over the next two years, the Coasters had a series of hit singles, all filled with instantly adaptable slang and timeless rock and roll humor. By the end of the decade, they ranked among the most popular musical groups in America, having carved out a legacy for themselves as purveyors of riotously funny and socially incisive rock and roll records. (note, photo: the true Coasters, feataring Carl Gardner).
The Coasters

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