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Herb Reed

Singer with Fifties' doo-wop group, The Platters, who had a string of hits

Herb Reed, who has died aged 83, was the last surviving original member of the The Platters, the Fifties doo-wop group behind such hits as Only You and The Great Pretender.

Reed, who sang bass, was the only member to appear on all the group's recordings, nearly 400 in all. He sang on The Platters' four No 1 hits, including The Great Pretender, My Prayer (1956), Twilight Time and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (both 1958), and contributed to their 40 US Billboard chart hits and sales of more than 50 million records.

Initially, however, the group had struggled, with Reed finding little success after teaming up, in 1953, with lead singer Tony Williams, second tenor David Lynch, and Alex Hodge. Only after the addition of an attractive young singer, Zola Taylor, did they hit their stride, breaking through a race barrier at a time when recording artists were still racially categorised.

The group's fusion of an R&B beat and lush orchestral sounds ensured this strong crossover appeal and earned them airplay on mainstream radio. When a white lawyer called Buck Ram became The Platters' manager, he persuaded the Mercury record label to promote the all-black group as though they were a white act.

Their biggest hits were between 1955-58, but in 1959 four group members were arrested in Cincinnati on drug and prostitution charges.

Although there were no convictions, The Platters' image was badly damaged.

After a disagreement with Reed in 1961, Tony Williams left the group. Although the popularity of the doo-wop vocal style waned in the mid-Sixties, the group had further chart successes.

Reed parted company with Buck Ram's management company in the late Sixties, forming a new group called Herb Reed of the Original Platters and his Group.

Ownership of The Platters' name became complicated over the years as members changed; spin-off groups were formed and courts ruled that some claims to the name were fraudulent. Reed struggled to block competition from as many as 80 other acts calling themselves some variation of The Platters.

Last year Reed finally won a court ruling that gave him, as the sole surviving member of the original group, rights to The Platters' name.

Herbert Reed was born on August 7, 1928, in Kansas City, Missouri, and brought up in poverty. His parents died before he reached his teens and he moved in with relatives, singing in a church choir on Sundays. When he was 15 he hitched a lift to Los Angeles, where he landed a job in a car wash after arriving virtually penniless.

To earn extra money, he and some friends sang close harmony songs in the street, and by 1953 were winning amateur singing contests in Los Angeles. It was Reed's idea to name the group The Platters because American radio DJs referred to the new vinyl records they played as "platters".

In 1955 the group had their first big hit, Only You. They worked on the song in every spare moment they had, even when they were driving around in Reed's old car.

"We tried it so many times, and it was terrible," Reed remembered. "One time we were rehearsing in the car on our way to Buck's and the car jerked. Tony went 'O-oHHHH-nly you.' We laughed at first, but when he sang that song -- that was the sign we had hit on something."

Reed was the only member of the original line-up to use his newfound fortune wisely. Mindful of his impoverished upbringing, he used his first substantial royalty cheque to buy a house.

The Platters' string of hits made Reed a wealthy man, but at the height of the group's success touring conditions were difficult, particularly in the American South, where white thugs threatened them.

The Platters were added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Herb Reed is survived by a son.

Sunday Independent