Herb Reed, the founder and last surviving member of 1950s doo-wop group The Platters, passed away on Monday, June 4 in Boston after a period of declining health. According to his manager Fred Balboni, the 83-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had lung disease.
For Reed who lost his parents when he was barely a teen, it was a long journey to success. "I was poor, and I'm not ashamed to share those stories now, particularly with young people," he once said. "I was so hungry I couldn't think. I would skip school because I was so hungry."
He lived in Kansas City until the age of 15 before moving to Los Angeles and worked at a car wash. "Those days were learning days before the recordings," he recalled. "I learned how nice people could be and learned responsibility. I learned that it is better to be honest than dishonest."
He made new friends and tried his hands at music with three other men, Joe Jefferson, Cornell Gunther and Alex Hodge. He named their group The Platters, inspired by disc jockeys who called records "platters." They started out their career on the streets and sang popular songs.
They finally signed a recording contract with Mercury Records in 1955, and started accumulating hit singles. Throughout their career, they scored at least four No. 1 singles; 1955's "The Great Pretender", 1956's "My Prayer", 1958's "Twilight Time" and 1958's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes".
Though other original members left the group over the years, Reed continued to manage, perform and tour as the Platters or Herb Reed and The Platters. In the meantime, there were many "copy cat" groups that used the original group name but included no original members.
After a long and arduous legal battle, Reed finally regained rights to the name of the group in 2011. "You know a lot of people tell me to just hang it up, but I just cannot do that. It's not right to have someone steal your name," he said. "We were cheated back then, but that's how things were done then. It's doubly wrong to face it again today. It's theft, and I have to fight so that no other artist faces this."