The Ink Spots
By STEVE SEYMOUR
I thought I knew the Ink Spots, especially after I saw them in concert during my senior year in high school.
But it turns out there have been dozens--probably hundreds-- of Ink Spots groups touring and recording over the years.
Some of these groups have been legitimate while others have been impostors.
The version of the Ink Spots I saw appeared at the William W. Oliver auditorium in Escanaba on March 14, 1969.
Had the local audience witnessed a performance by a genuine Ink Spots group or impersonators?
The real Ink Spots were formed in Indianapolis by Jerry Daniels, Charlie Fuqua, Hoppy Jones and Deek Watson. Their first big hit came in 1939 with "If I Didn't Care" which also became their theme song. Many other hits followed, but Fuqua was drafted in 1944 and hand picked his replacement in the person of Bernie Mackey (remember that name). Jones died later in 1944, which led to feuding within the group. With fast and furious personnel changes, the story of the Ink Spots becomes increasingly complicated at this point.
By 1954, Fuqua and Watson had each formed separate groups of Ink Spots. Members of these groups then formed their own aggregations called Ink Spots. What followed was an explosion of groups attempting to cash-in on the name.
Tickets for the local Ink Spots concert went on sale about a month in advance. Excitement grew on the day of the show when the student newspaper, the Escanaban, devoted half its front page to the Ink Spots and featured a photo of the five-man group in full show-business attire.
An accompanying article stated the concert was being sponsored by the Delta County Barbershoppers with the aid of the Escanaba Area Public High School music department. Proceeds were ear-marked for a speech rehabilitation center and for the choral department's spring tour fund.
Publicity prior to the show, however, failed to mention the names of the members of the group.
The fact that there were multiple Ink Spots groups didn't enter my awareness in 1969. Even though rock 'n' roll music was prevalent at the time, I knew the Ink Spots were a tremendously important group. They were the dominant black vocal harmony group of the thirties and forties, and their sound contributed heavily to the doowop movement of the fifties.
I coughed up $2.50 for a ticket and filed into the junior high auditorium with hundreds of other folks, young and old alike.
Their show was very entertaining, but I don't recall exactly which songs they performed. All the singers had good voices and delivered the songs with apparent ease, in barbershop style. Specializing in ballads, they almost certainly did "If I Didn't Care," and may have done "Shine On Harvest Moon."
A program featuring Ink Spots standards also would likely have included "My Prayer," "Java Jive," "I Don't Want to Set the Word on Fire," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "I'll Get By," "I'm Making Believe," "Into Each Life a Little Rain Must Fall," ''The Gypsy," "I'm Beginning to See the Light," "Prisoner of Love," and "To Each His Own."
The group performing here was warmly received, as I remember, although there may have been some comments about the ages of the performers. The guitarist appeared to be about 60 while the other four members of the group were considerably younger and certainly not of sufficient age to have been involved in an act with a 30-year-old hit song.
After looking at my copy of the Escanaban the other day, I emailed a likeness of the photo to an Ink Spots web site and asked them to identify those pictured. I was expecting to be told I saw a group masquerading as the Ink Spots.
I learned through the publicity photo that we had seen Bernie Mackey's Ink Spots. Mackey was considered to be an original member of the real Ink Spots, my Internet expert told me. The other performers in the picture were identified as Ray Richardson, Lorenzo Conyers and Al Williams, with one person remaining unknown. You'll recall Mackey had joined the Ink Spots during World War II. Richardson eventually formed his own version of the Ink Spots in Canada and Conyers performed as an Ink Spot until his death in 1999. Williams was a veteran of various Ink Spots groups, as well.
Band leader Mackey died on Mar. 5, 1980, eleven years after the Escanaba show. Meanwhile, the Ink Spots phenomenon continued. Even into the nineties, more than 40 groups called themselves the Ink Spots. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say.