Charlie Fuqua’s Ink Spots


THE ORIGINAL INK SPOTS SPLIT

After the death of original Ink Spots bass-man Hoppy Jones in 1944, the leadership and focus of the original Ink Spots group was placed more on Bill Kenny than ever before. The Ink Spots were now often being billed as “The Ink Spots featuring Billy Kenny” and many records labeled “Ink Spots” were now featuring ONLY the voice of Bill Kenny. In addition, press photos now held the caption “The Ink Spots featuring Billy Kenny”. In a 1992 interview, Bill’s twin brother (and original Ink Spot) Herb Kenny states that Bill always wanted to be a single and never had any interest in singing in a group. By 1950, The Ink Spots were still appearing on TV, radio and in live performances but now most records labeled “Ink Spots” were really just Bill Kenny alone backed by studio vocal groups and choruses. This new focus on himself must have pleased Bill, but for the most part the other Ink Spots were unhappy… especially founding Ink Spot baritone vocalist and Guitarist Charles Gladward Fuqua aka Charlie Fuqua.

The first signs of The Ink Spots splitting into two groups came in 1945 when according to Bill Kenny, the bitter Gale Agency (The Ink Spots booking and management agency whom Kenny had recently taken to court) told Fuqua (who was then was in the army until he could return to the group), that Kenny was planning a take over of the group and wanted to force Fuqua out. Kenny claimed that instead of even contacting him about the rumor, Fuqua fell for the rumor and sided with Gale. As far as I can tell this is the first sign of friction between Kenny & Fuqua. (Business relationships are alot like personal ones… if you don’t trust someone and you don’t have good communication, things just won’t work out!)

In 1952, Fuqua finally decided to leave Bill Kenny and form his own Ink Spots group with the idea of having more group involvment (i.e more harmony singing). Although Kenny was unhappy about the split, there was little he could do as 50% of the Ink Spots name belonged to himself and the other 50% to Fuqua. The Ink Spots manager Moe Gale however, claimed that Fuqua’s split and creation of  another Ink Spots group was illegal. The Gale Agency claimed that in June of 1951, a contract between The Ink Spots and Gale was signed. The agency stated that since Kenny at the time had authority to sign for all the members of the group, the contract signed at the time was still in effect. Therefore, Gale claimed that Universal Attractions (Fuqua’s Ink Spots booking agency) and Fuqua’s Ink Spots were acting illegally. Kenny also took Universal Attractions to court for using Kenny’s own picture in promotion for Fuqua’s Ink Spots. 

Kenny and Fuqua both took their arguments to the newspapers and during 1952-1953 many articles and columns dealing with The Ink Spots were about the feud. Some articles sided with Kenny and others seemed to side with Fuqua… but most often they sided with Kenny. Kenny claimed that the only reason that Fuqua had any share of the group was solely based on the fact that he was a founding member and not because of any contributions he had made to the group. Here is an excerpt of a Bill Kenny interview from the Washington Afro-American dated July 1, 1952:

“His (Fuqua’s) claim that he’s not satisfied with one man running the show and his statement ‘I want The Ink Spots to return to it’s original musical makeup” is pitiful. Imagine The Ink Spots of today showing their teeth and screaming ‘Ah feels so unnecessary’ or ‘sweet essence of neck-bone and buttermilk!’ we wouldn’t make a dime! Fuqua has been ‘through’ for years – at least insofar as his value to The Ink Spots is concerned. His work shows no improvement, he has done nothing to keep up with the times or to even offer any worthwhile suggestions that could do the act some good.” 


Kenny went on to say:

“I know what I have done for The Ink Spots because, without bragging, I am the one who kept the act from being a fourth rate group of jitterbugging clowns. I’m simply talking facts. I have been the one who has fought with our booking agent for the right type of engagements and it was I who angled things to the point where we now get $17,500 a week instead of $200 or $300.”

These statements from Kenny may come off as a bit arrogant to some but I think his point is very valid. It’s like when you were in school and you were assigned to a group project. Maybe no one else seemed to care so you took on the project yourself and put in all of the work. Your group got an A+ and received recognition but you were the only one putting in the work. I’m sure we’ve all been there and understand how frustrating that can be. This is not to say that Kenny did “everything” but he certainly was “carrying the load”.

In the same article, Kenny claimed that he owned 75% of the act and Fuqua the remaining 25%. Kenny said that he didn’t understand Fuqua’s “sudden” claims of 50% ownership of the group. Perhaps Kenny’s 75% had to do with money and the 50% that Fuqua was referring to was in regards to usage of the Ink Spots name. Many years later, Kenny admitted that Fuqua DID have a right to use the name but but claimed that Fuqua was not suppose to bill his group as the “Original Ink Spots” but rather use the title “The New Ink Spots”.

1952-1953

In 1952, Charlie Fuqua began searching for singers to form his new “Ink Spots” group. Fuqua had the idea of bringing in ex-original Ink Spot Deek Watson as the second tenor and he knew a Bassist who could sing named Harold Jackson… but the most difficult task Fuqua was faced with was to find a tenor who could match the style of Bill Kenny. It is unknown how many singers auditioned for the role of lead tenor but when Fuqua first heard Jimmy Holmes sing he knew right away that he’d found his man. As it turns out Holmes apparently did not “audition” for the group at all. Holmes had an acetate demo record made that his agent would take around to various clubs to try and get bookings. This agent happened upon Fuqua in New York and played the record for him in Fuqua’s office. Fuqua who was very impressed by Holmes voice and range said “whoever he is, I want him.” The rest is history.

In 1953 Charlie Fuqua’s Ink Spots got their first professional gig at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater for one week starting January 2nd. They headed a bill that also included James Moody, Babs Gonzalez, Georgia Carr and a couple of comedy teams. We know that the group was not accompanied by a Pianist for at least one night at the Apollo as a live recording of one of the songs they performed during that week exists. Judging by the crowd reaction captured on the recording, Fuqua’s new group was very well received. The recording captures them singing “Wish You Were Here”, a very popular new song at the time from the musical of the same name. The arrangement features Jimmy Holmes and Deek Watson and does not have a spoken bridge or second chorus. The only instrumental accompaniment is Fuqua’s Guitar and Harold Jackson’s Bass. This is a great example of how the group really sounded without being hidden behind a Piano or Orchestral accompaniment. It’s very clear by this recording that they were well rehearsed and serious about sounding good. Fuqua introduces the song and group. Listen for yourself:

 

1953-1955

Sometime in 1953, Deek Watson left Fuqua’s group. Watson supposedly left because he wanted a higher percentage of the groups earnings which Fuqua could not give him as well as his name more prominently featured in the advertising/billing of the group. Fuqua replaced Watson with Antoine Leon. Shortly afterwards, Fuqua’s group recorded “Flowers Mister Florist Please” and “Here In My Lonely Room” for King Records. Both sides featured Jimmy Holmes. In 1954-1955 the group recorded a few more sides for King with some featuring Antoine Leon including “If You Should Say Goodbye”, “Changing Partners”, “Planting Rice” and “I’ll Walk A Country Mile” (the last two written by Fuqua).

Sometime in 1955 Leon left and was replaced by Lord Essex Scott, formerly a vocalist with Earl Hines’ orchestra in the early 1940’s. In his younger days, Scott had a high tenor voice similar in style to many of the female vocalists of the time but as the years passed his voice became a bit deeper. Although he could still sing high, Holmes was the lead singer so Scott happily took the 2nd tenor role being featured on the groups “rhythm numbers”. This group of Holmes, Scott, Fuqua and Jackson toured Australia, Japan, and the US and made a handful of TV appearances both local and national. In 1955 they appeared in a film short singing “If I Didn’t Care” and “In A Shanty In Old Shanty Town”. Scott takes the lead on “Shanty”…

In the same year, Fuqua’s group recorded a few more selections for King Records including “When You Come To The End Of The Day”, “Someone’s Rocking My Dreamboat”, “Melody Of Love”, “There Is Something Missing”, “Don’t Laugh At Me” and “Keep It Moving”. All of these recordings for King  1953-1955 are considered by many to be of higher musical quality than the original Ink Spots recordings for Decca in the 40s.  Although that is debatable, there is no question that Fuqua had a fantastic group of singers who were serious about sounding good.