Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ink Spots show raises questions

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The Ink Spots


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.


Anonymous said...

I believe I am your internet expert -
Nice article here.

Anonymous said...

the group you saw was Lorenzo conyers, deceased Bernie Mackey, deceased, Al Williams, deceased, Cardinal Nesfield, deceased, he is the unnamed member. Ray Richardson is the only remaining member and he is replying to you.
We are still working and I have the Canadian Trademark.
Thank you Ray Richardson

Anonymous said...

I ran across a 45 record the other day and it has many of the groups autographs on it, like cardinal, and Lorenzo, ray richardson and some others. Im curious about the other names on the record, but they are had to make out, anybody with information would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I have an LP with the following signatures: Ray Richardson, Lorenzo Conyers, Bill Duncan, Al Williams, cardinal Nesfield Jr, Roland Simmons, and Warren Peace. They also all signed their instrument or voice part except Roland Simmons. The LP is "Ray Richardson's Fabulous Inkspots."

Anonymous said...

I, too, stumbled across an LP called "The Ink Spots - The Pop Greats" which signed by Bernie Mackey, Ray Richardson, George Smith, and Cardinal Nedfield, Jr. There is one more signature that I can't quite make out - Bob or Bud Morell,Maxwell, Marvell or something like that. If anyone has any idea who that last signature might be, I would appreciate their help.

Anonymous said...

Im shareen conyers, daughter of the deceased lorenzo conyers. I am respectfully requesting anyone who has any old memorabelia regarding my deceased father's recordings or photos to contact my at i am anxiously awaiting aand anticipating a positive response please thank you for your time and patience.

Anonymous said...

I'm a younger person and live in a small town in Canada. I heard that the Ink Spots were coming to my town. I was amazed! "They're still alive?" I thought. I didn't ask any more questions, I was too excited. On performance day, they were great. They sounded like the Ink Spots, but their proportions were wrong. The lead singer was taller than the rest, and I'm sure that that wasn't the case in the original. After they signed my stuff (they were sweat hearts), I went home and did some research. I was sure that I had just been ripped off $40 by some impostors. Then I happened upon your article. The name, Ray Richardson, sounded familiar. I checked my CD from the night. Low and behold, it was Ray Richardson's Ink Spots. I was so happy that they had at least something to do with the original Ink Spots. Yes, they are still alive in 2013! Thanks for the article!