The Ink Spots

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The Ink Spots
Origin Indianapolis, Indiana, United States
Genres Vocal
Years active 1934–1954
Labels Victor, Decca
Past members Jerry Daniels
Bill Kenny
Charlie Fuqua
Deek Watson
Hoppy Jones
Bernie Mackey
Huey Long
Billy Bowen
Cliff Givens
Herb Kenny

The Ink Spots were an American vocal group popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Their music led to the rhythm and blues and rock and roll musical genres, and the subgenre doo-wop. The group was widely accepted in both the white and black communities, largely due to the ballad style introduced to the group by lead singer Bill Kenny. The group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Since the Ink Spots disbanded in 1954, there have been well over 100 vocal groups calling themselves "the Ink Spots" without any right to the name, and without any original members of the group. These groups often have claimed to be "2nd generation" or "3rd generation" Ink Spots. Many such groups are still touring today.[1][2]

The Ink Spots songs often began with a four-bar guitar riff, using the chords I - #idim - ii7 - V7, followed by the tenor Bill Kenny, who sang the whole song through. After Kenny finished singing, the bass would either recite the first half, or the bridge of the song, or would speak the words, almost in a free form, that were not part of the song, commonly using the words "Honey Child", or "Honey Babe", expressing his love for his darling in the song. This was followed by Kenny, who finished up singing the last refrain or the last half of the song. On some songs Deek Watson would sing the lead rather than Bill Kenny. This was mostly on the uptempo "Jive" songs.

1930s[edit]

The Ink Spots formed in the early 1930s in Indianapolis. The founding members were:

Orville "Hoppy" Jones (born 17 February 1902, Chicago, Illinois – d. 18 October 1944, New York City) sang bass. He played cello in the manner of a stand up bass.[3]
Ivory "Deek" Watson (born 18 July 1909, Mounds, Illinois – d. 4 November 1969, Washington, D.C.) sang tenor and played tenor guitar.
Jerry Daniels (b. 14 December 1915 – d. 7 November 1995, Indianapolis, Indiana) sang tenor and played guitar and ukulele.
Charlie Fuqua (b. 20 October 1910 – d. 21 December 1971, New Haven, Connecticut) had a baritone voice and played guitar.

As "Jerry and Charlie", Daniels and Fuqua had formed a vocal duo performing in the Indianapolis area around 1931. About the same time, Jones and Watson were part of a quartet, "The Four Riff Brothers", who appeared regularly on radio station WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1933, that group disbanded, and Watson, Daniels and Fuqua got together to form a new vocal, instrumental and comedy group, which was initially called "King, Jack, and Jester". They continued to appear regularly on radio in Ohio, and became a foursome when Jones was added to the group the following year.

In July 1934 they accepted a booking at the Apollo Theater, New York, supporting Tiny Bradshaw. At that point they changed their name to "The 4 Ink Spots" at the request of bandleader Paul Whiteman, to avoid confusion with his vocal group "The King's Jesters". Later that year, The Ink Spots achieved international success touring the UK with Jack Hylton's Orchestra, one review in the Melody Maker stating

The sensation of the programme is the coloured quartette, the Four Ink Spots. They sing in a style something between the Mills Brothers and the Three Keys, and accompany themselves on three tenor guitars and a cello — which is not bowed, but picked and slapped like a double bass. Their natural instinct for hot rhythm is exemplified in their terrific single-string solo work and their beautifully balanced and exquisitely phrased vocalisms. They exploit all kinds of rhythmic vocalisms — straight solos, concerted, scat, and instrumental imitations. They even throw in a bit of dancing to conclude their act, and the leading guitarist simultaneously plays and juggles with his instrument.

—Melody Maker, [4]

They first recorded for Victor Records in 1935, but although the group was growing rapidly in popularity their early record releases were not commercially successful. Their first recordings included songs such as "Swingin' On The Strings", "Your Feet's Too Big", "Don't 'Low No Swingin' In Here" and "Swing, Gate, Swing".

Bill Kenny joins[edit]

In 1936 Jerry Daniels was replaced by a young singer from Baltimore named Bill Kenny. Kenny signed with The Ink Spots after winning 1st place in an amateur contest at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. Three years later Kenny would be credited for bringing the group to global success with his unusual high tenor ballad singing.[citation needed]

In 1938 after being in the group for two years, Bill Kenny started to introduce the group to a new format that he called "Top & Bottom". This format was used primarily for ballads rather than the uptempo "jive" songs the group was used to performing. This format called for the tenor (Bill Kenny or Deek Watson) to sing the lead for one chorus followed by a chorus performed by Bass singer Hoppy Jones where he would recite the lyrics rather than sing them. After a chorus of the "talking bass" the lead tenor would carry out the rest of the song until the end. The earliest example of their "Top & Bottom" format is from a radio broadcast from 1938. The song entitled "Tune In on My Heart" features Bill Kenny taking the lead and Hoppy Jones performing the talking bass.[5]

The year 1938 also saw Bill Kenny taking his first feature solo in Decca studios. His feature was on a song entitled "I Wish You the Best of Everything". Although it wasn't in the "Top & Bottom" format it was a ballad and did use the signature Ink Spots guitar intro. Even though this record did get a good response it wasn't very successful in terms of record sales and didn't reach the pop charts.[citation needed]

"If I Didn't Care"[edit]

On January 12, 1939, The Ink Spots entered Decca studios to record a ballad written by a young songwriter named Jack Lawrence. This ballad, "If I Didn't Care", was to be one of their biggest hits, selling over 19 million copies and becoming the 7th-best-selling single of all time. It was also the first recording by the group to reach the US Pop Charts. Despite its popularity, "If I Didn't Care" never reached #1 on the US Pop Charts, staying at #2 for several weeks. This is the first studio recorded example of The Ink Spots "Top & Bottom" format with Bill Kenny singing lead and Hoppy Jones performing the "talking bass". For this recording, each member was paid $37.50; however, after the record sold 200,000 Decca destroyed the original contract and the group was paid an additional $3,750. This was the recording that brought the group to global fame and also the recording that would establish the "Top & Bottom" format as The Ink Spots "trademark". From 1939 until the group's disbanding in 1954, most of their songs would employ this format although not all of their songs did.

The year 1939 also saw The Ink Spots at the top of the US Pop Charts with five other recordings that featured Bill Kenny in the "Top & Bottom" format. Their biggest hit of 1939 was the Lombardo, Marks & Hill ballad "Address Unknown". This was their first #1 hit on the US Pop Charts. Other chart toppers from 1939 included "My Prayer", "Bless You", "Memories of You", and "I'm Gettin' Sentimental Over You".[1]

The 1940s[edit]

The Ink Spots (Sheet Music 1939)

Recordings[edit]

Between the years 1940 and 1949 the Ink Spots had well over 30 hits on the US Pop Charts. Many of these records made # 1 on early versions of the US pop charts - "The Gypsy" was their biggest chart success, staying at the # 1 position for 13 weeks in 1946. In 1944 The Ink Spots teamed up with Ella Fitzgerald to record "I'm Making Believe", and "Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall". Both of these recordings featured Bill Kenny and reached #1 on the US Pop Charts. Fitzgerald teamed up with The Ink Spots again in 1945 to record "I'm Beginning to See the Light" and "That's the Way It Is".

Movies[edit]

In 1941 The Ink Spots were featured in The Great American Broadcast starring John Payne and Alice Faye. In the film The Ink Spots played Pullman porters who would sing during their break. Later in the movie The Ink Spots "make it big time" and sing live on the radio. In the movie the group can be seen singing "Alabamy Bound", "I've Got a Bone to Pick with You" and a short segment of "If I Didn't Care".

In 1942 The Ink Spots were featured in an Abbott and Costello film, Pardon My Sarong. In this film The Ink Spots play singing waiters. The group can be seen singing "Do I Worry?" and "Shout Brother Shout".[1] "If I Didn't Care" was also featured in the opening scene of the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption. "If I Didn't Care" was also featured at the end of the 2013 documentary "We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks".

Splintering[edit]

Charlie Fuqua was drafted in 1943, and was replaced by Bernie Mackey. Hoppy Jones, an important personality to the group, died in late 1944 after collapsing on stage at the Cafe Zanzibar in New York City, near the height of their popularity. Bill Kenny and Deek Watson then began feuding, leading to fragmentation in 1945, when Watson went on to form a group called the Brown Dots (which later became the 4 Tunes). He later formed a host of offshoot Ink Spots groups in the 1950s and 1960s. Watson's place was taken in the original group by Billy Bowen (born 3 January 1909 d. 27 September 1982), and Jones was replaced by Cliff Givens (who was replaced eventually by Herb Kenny, Bill's twin brother, consequently born on the same date and died 11 July 1992). Mackey left at this time and was briefly replaced by Huey Long of Houston, Texas.

Charlie Fuqua was discharged in 1945 and returned to the group later that year, replacing Huey Long. This lineup of Bill Kenny, Billy Bowen, Charlie Fuqua, and Herb Kenny recorded into the early 1950s when Herb Kenny left and was replaced by Adriel McDonald. Bowen left the next year and was replaced by Teddy Williams. Ernie Brown substituted for Williams for a short time and Fuqua left in 1952 to form his own group and was replaced first by Jimmy Cannady, then by Everett Barksdale. Fuqua would lead a separate Ink Spots group in the future. In 1954 Bill Kenny officially disbanded The Ink Spots after an appearance at the "Bolero Bar" in Wildwood, New Jersey.[1]

Charlie Fuqua's Ink Spots[edit]

In 1952, Charlie Fuqua left the original Ink Spots led by Bill Kenny to form his own Ink Spots group. It was decided by court ruling that Fuqua would have to use the name "The 'New' Ink Spots" but after a short time he dropped the 'New' and called his group "The Ink Spots". Starting sometime in 1953, Fuqua's Ink Spots was recording for King Records. This group's lineup changed for different recording sessions but the group always consisted of four members. Individual members that recorded with Fuqua's Ink Spots that recorded for King Records included Charles Fuqua, Jimmy Holmes, Harold Jackson, Leon Antoine, Isaac Royal, and Essex Scott. They recorded popular tunes of the day such as "Ebb Tide" (1953), "Changing Partners", "Stranger in Paradise" (1954) and "Melody of Love" (1954, 1955). Their 1954 version of "Melody of Love" was recorded prior to the Billy Vaughn version which was released in late-1954 and became a #1 hit in 1955 and so was re-released in 1955. Later on, Charlie Fuqua's Ink Spots recorded a couple of albums and a few singles for Verve Records. Charlie Fuqua's Ink Spots continued until the early 1970s. Although the members of Fuquas Ink Spots changed several times through its existence some notable members included Jimmy Holmes, Deek Watson, Charlie Owens, Essex Scott, Leon Antoine, Isaac Royal and Harold Jackson. Fuqua's Pianist and arranger was Herman Flintall formerly with the Golden Gate Quartet. Harold Jackson, who toured and recorded with both Deek Watson and Charlie Fuqua, touring Australia with them in the early 1950s, died at the age of 102 on December 6, 2012.[6][7]

Deek Watson's Ink Spots[edit]

Deek Watson, who had been forced out of the original Ink Spots in 1944 and briefly sang with Charlie Fuqua's Ink Spots in 1952-1953, started his own Ink Spots group in 1954. He also called his group "The Ink Spots". Deek Watson made numerous recordings with his and various other "Ink Spots" groups in the 1950s and 1960s.

Other groups called The Ink Spots[edit]

Starting in 1954 groups calling themselves "The Ink Spots" sprang up all around the United States. Some groups contained original members Charlie Fuqua or Deek Watson but most had no ties to the original group whatsoever. Many groups claimed to have the rights to the name while in truth no one did. Still, lawsuits were filed between various groups and there was great confusion as to who actually owned the rights. Some groups avoided lawsuits by naming themselves "The Fabulous Ink Spots", "The 5 Fabulous Ink Spots", "The Famous Ink Spots", "The Amazing Ink Spots" "The Original Ink Spots" and more. From 1954 to the present there have been well over 100 groups calling themselves "The Ink Spots".[8]

Legitimate members of The Ink Spots[edit]

Legitimate members of The Ink Spots included Bill Kenny, Deek Watson, Charlie Fuqua, Hoppy Jones, Bernie Mackey, Huey Long, Cliff Givens, Billy Bowen, Herb Kenny, Adriel McDonald, Jimmy Cannady, Ernie Brown, Henry Braswell, Teddy Williams and Everett Barksdale. Pianists and arrangers included Bob Benson, Asa "Ace" Harris, Bill Doggett, Ray Tunia, and Harold Francis. Some singers have tenuous ties to Deek Watson's or Charlie Fuqua's offshoot groups; many, with no credentials whatsoever, claim to be "original" members.[1]

The Ink Spots in popular culture[edit]

The Ink Spots were the subject of a 1998 book by Marv Goldberg, More Than Words Can Say: The Ink Spots and Their Music. The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. The Ink Spots were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as influences, in 1989; this induction consisted of Bill Kenny, Charlie Fuqua, Deek Watson, and Hoppy Jones.

The 1970´s sitcom Sanford and Son frequently featured the main character Fred Sanford singing excerpts of "If I Didn´t Care", or making reference to The Ink Spots in some way.

Ian Fleming mentioned the group twice in his James Bond novel The Spy Who Loved Me, where the leading female, Vivienne Michel, recalls a love affair from her past. She recalls hearing "Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat" and even falsely credits the group with "Only a Paper Doll to Call My Own" (an apparent reference to The Mills Brothers' song "Paper Doll").

In the 1980s, a commercial for Chanel No. 5 included a version of "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" sung solo by Bill Kenny, the former lead tenor of the group with an unknown studio vocal group, recorded for a 1977 CBS Records LP entitled "The Ink Spots - If I Didn't Care". The recording however was used without permission from Kenny's executrix and widow Audrey Kenny.[9] In 1982 Mrs. Kenny took legal action and according to Bill Kenny's former pianist Bev Gore-Langton, was successful. The commercial depicted the Transamerica Pyramid building in San Francisco with the shadow of a plane flying overhead.

The original 1982 theatrical trailer for the movie Blade Runner prominently featured a short clip of "If I Didn't Care."[10]

The group's 1940 recording of the song "Maybe" is heard in "The Grove", a season 4 episode of The Walking Dead.

It can be heard at the end of the segment "The Day The Earth Looked Stupid" of "The Simpsons" special "Treehouse of Horror XVII."

An excerpt of "I Don't Want To Set The World On Fire" can be heard on the intro of "Set the World Afire", song by Megadeth`s "So Far, So Good... So What!" 1988 album.

The Ink Spots in video games[edit]

Songs by the Ink Spots have been featured heavily in the popular video game franchise Fallout. "Maybe" was used as the opening theme in Fallout (1997), while also being played alongside their songs, "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" and "Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall" on the in-game radio station Galaxy News Radio in Fallout 3. "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" is also featured on the game's trailer, and opening for the game. The song "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie" (Bill Kenny's Solo, not original recording from 1941) is played on the in-game radio station Radio New Vegas in the 2010 video game Fallout: New Vegas. Mafia 2, BioShock and BioShock 2 also made use of the group's songs -- "If I Didn't Care" and "The Best Things in Life Are Free" in the former, and "We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)" and "I'm Making Believe" in the latter. Still others were included on the in-game radio stations in L.A. Noire. The inclusion of The Ink Spots' songs in Fallout and other games has sparked a renewed interest in The Ink Spots' work among newer generations in recent years.

Hit Singles[edit]

Year Single Chart positions
US[11] US
R&B
1939 "If I Didn't Care" 2
"You Bring Me Down" 14
"Address Unknown" 1
"My Prayer" 3
"Bless You" 15
1940 "Memories of You" 29
"I'm Gettin' Sentimental Over You" 26
"When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano" 4
"Whispering Grass (Don't Tell the Trees)" 10
"Maybe" 2
"Stop Pretending" 16
"You're Breaking My Heart All Over Again" 17
"We Three (My Echo, My Shadow and Me)" 1
"My Greatest Mistake" 12
"Java Jive" 15
1941 "Please Take a Letter, Miss Brown" 25
"Do I Worry?" 8
"I'm Still Without a Sweetheart ('Cause I'm Still in Love with You)" 19
"So Sorry" 24
"Until the Real Thing Comes Along" 24
"I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" 4
"Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat" 17
1942 "Ev'ry Night About This Time" 17 6
"This Is Worth Fighting For" 9
"Just as Though You Were Here" 10
1943 "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" 2 1
"If I Cared a Little Bit Less" 20 10
"I'll Never Make the Same Mistake Again" 19
"I Can't Stand Losing You" 1
1944 "Don't Believe Everything You Dream" 14 6
"Cow Cow Boogie"(with Ella Fitzgerald) 10 1
"A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" 2
"I'll Get By (As Long as I Have You)" 7 4
"Someday I'll Meet You Again" 14
"I'm Making Believe"(with Ella Fitzgerald) 1 2
"Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall"(with Ella Fitzgerald) 1 1
1945 "I'm Beginning to See the Light"(with Ella Fitzgerald) 5
1946 "The Gypsy" 1 1
"Prisoner of Love" 9 5
"To Each His Own" 1 3
1947 "You Can't See the Sun When You're Crying" 19
"Ask Anyone Who Knows" 17 5
1948 "The Best Things in Life Are Free" 10
"Say Something Sweet To Your Sweetheart" 22
"You Were Only Fooling (While I Was Falling in Love)" 8 15
1949 "You're Breaking My Heart" 9
"Who Do You Know In Heaven (That Made You the Angel You Are?)" 21
1950 "Echoes" 24
"Sometime" 26
1951 "If" 23
"It Is No Secret"(Bill Kenny solo) 18
1952 "(That's Just My Way of) Forgetting You"(Bill Kenny solo) 23

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Goldberg, Marv (1998). "More Than Words Can Say: The Ink Spots And Their Music". Scarecrow Press
  2. ^ "Howard Perspectives" Dwight Burrill, Herb Kenny, Howard University, 1992
  3. ^ "Orville "Hoppy" Jones of the Ink Spots". Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  4. ^ "Original Ink Spots Activities By Date – Vol". Inkspots.ca. 1936-11-06. Retrieved 2012-04-13. 
  5. ^ Chicago Defender July 12, 1952
  6. ^ "Vocal-Group-Hall-of-Fame", facebook.com.
  7. ^ inkspotsevolution.com
  8. ^ "Family Tree Page". Inkspotsevolution.com. Retrieved 2012-12-13. 
  9. ^ The Vancouver Sun - Dec,2 1982 P.A3
  10. ^ Sammon, Paul (July–August 1982). "The Making of Blade Runner". Cinefantastique. 
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954: The History of American Popular Music. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc. pp. 223–224. ISBN 0-89820-083-0. 

External links[edit]