|A typical imposter Ink Spots group. This one led by Eddie Tigner (right). Ca. 1970’s|
The Ink Spots were an internationally famous African-American vocal quartet that began their career in 1934 and disbanded 20 years later in 1954. After 1954, dozens of vocal groups around the country began popping up left and right using the name “Ink Spots”.
Since we’ll mostly be dealing with the numerous spin-off/imposter Ink Spots groups that sprang up after 1954, lets first make clear who the REAL Ink Spots were. For the sake of completeness let’s include the temporary “fill-in” singers and note their “fill-in” status with an asterisk (*). Anyone who claimed (or claims) to be a member of The Ink Spots and is not listed here, was (or is) lying. If you saw a group using the name “Ink Spots” perform after 1954… you did not see The Ink Spots. If you saw a group calling themselves “The Ink Spots” after 1954 you saw either a “spin-off” group or more likely an imposter group (to which this blog is dedicated)… but let it be known… there is a HUGE difference between The Ink Spots and the spin-off/imposter Ink Spots.
The ORIGINAL Ink Spots:
Jerry Daniels (1934 – 1936)
Ivory “Deek” Watson (1934 – 1943)
Charlie Fuqua (1934 – 1951)
Orville “Hoppy” Jones (1934 – 1944)
Bill Kenny (1936 – 1954)
Billy “Butterball” Bowen (1943 – 1952)
*Bernie Mackey (1943 – 1945)
*Cliff Givens (1944 – 1945 with IS for 5 months)
*Huey Long (1945)
Herb Kenny (1945 – 1951)
Adriel McDonald (1951 – 1954)
Everett Barksdale (1952)
Teddy Williams (1952)
Ernie Brown (1952 – 1954)
Jimmy Cannady (1952 – 1954)
Henry Braswell (1954)
Pianists and Arrangers
Mort Howard (Ink Spots arranger in early 1940’s. It’s unknown how long he stayed)
Bob Benson (1938 – 1940)
Asa “Ace” Harris (1940 – 1942)
Bill Doggett (1943 – 1944)
Ray Tunia (1944 – 1946)
Harold Francis (1946- 1953)
Judge “Fletcher” Smith (1953 – 1954)
**It should be noted that in 1952 Charlie Fuqua left the original Ink Spots to form his own group using the “Ink Spots” name as well. Charlie was an original (and founding) member of The Ink Spots and had a right to the name… but since Bill Kenny is the primary reason for The Ink Spots worldwide fame and success and since Fuqua’s group truly was a “spin-off”, the story of the original Ink Spots ends in July of 1954 when Bill Kenny disbanded the group after a performance at the Bolero Bar in Wildwood, New Jersey.
The story of the spin-off/imposter Ink Spots groups is quite fascinating. When you look at the whole spectrum and timeline of these groups you see that various members would bounce around from group to group and you almost get the feeling that these spin-offs/imposters were part of one large organization or league. Infact, you can think of the whole of these groups as something like the NBA, NFL, MLB etc. You had various teams like “Stanley Morgan’s World Famous Ink Spots” and “Charlie Owens’ Sensational Ink Spots” and you had All-Star players that everyone wanted on their team like the high tenor Orlando Roberson or the deep voiced David McNeil. That may seem like a bad analogy, but wait until we dive into these groups more and I think you’ll see my comparison isn’t far off.
Through the years many leaders of imposter Ink Spots groups claimed that they didn’t know the other imposter groups or their names but you have to question this seeing that nearly every single individual imposter Ink Spot was in some way connected to another and also seeing how geographically clustered many of these groups were. Regardless how aware they were of eachother, for the most part the public still thought there was only one Ink Spots group… the group they had heard in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. The group that recorded for Decca and had record breaking hits such as “If I Didn’t Care”, “Java Jive” and “The Gypsy”. Much of the public wouldn’t know The Ink Spots from the Mills Brothers, visually that is, and this really helped the imposter/spin-off groups thrive throughout not only the country but throughout the world. There are still today at least seven different groups claiming to be The Ink Spots.
The difference between the imposter Ink Spots groups and the spin-offs is that the spin-offs contained at least one original member whereas the imposters usually contained at least one singer who formerly sang with a spin-off group. Many imposter groups however were in no way connected to any original Ink Spots in any way. These spin-off groups did just about as much damage to The Ink Spots legacy as the imposters did so I sort of think of them as one and the same.
Being the loyal Ink Spots fanatic that I am, the last thing I want to do is “celebrate” imposter Ink Spots. I feel very strongly that these spin-off and imposter Ink Spots groups have done near irreversible damage to The Ink Spots legacy. That being said, my goal is to share everything I know and will learn about these imposter groups to draw a greater line between the real Ink Spots and the phony-baloneys. I hope to create a dialogue here and get people involved. If you have any questions, comments, corrections or concerns please contact me. I’m not a writer so there will undoubtedly be some spelling and grammatical errors. Please forgive me for that.