Herb Reed, the last surviving original member of the Platters, died on June 4, 2012, after losing his battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The Platters were arguably the most significant vocal group of rock and roll's early decades, performing sold-out shows in more than 100 countries, cutting nearly 400 recordings and selling millions of albums. Founding member Herb Reed's inimitable bass vocals were an instrumental part in shaping the instantly recognizable harmonies of the quintet's litany of memorable tracks. Songs such as "The Great Pretender," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," "Only You" and "Twilight Time" – to name but a few – forever enriched the American songbook.
Reed, founding member of the Platters, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1929. The Platters were one of the top vocal groups of the Fifties, delivering smooth, stylized renditions of pop standards. Like the Ink Spots a decade earlier, they were the most popular black group of their time, achieving success in a crooning, middle-of-the-road style that put a soulful coat of uptown polish on pop-oriented, harmony-rich material. Reed sang bass on the Platters’ lengthy string of hits, which began in 1955 with “Only You” and continued until the end of the decade, including four singles that reached Number One: “The Great Pretender,” “My Prayer,” “Twilight Time” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
Herb Reed founded the group in Los Angeles in 1952 and came up with the group's name, inspired by disc jockeys of the era who called their records platters. The Platters made their first recordings a year later for the Federal label before moving to Mercury, where they remained until the mid-Sixties. An initially shifting lineup stabilized around five members: Reed, Tony Williams, David Lynch, Paul Robi and Zola Taylor.
During the latter half of the Fifties, the Platters were a global sensation, touring the world as “international ambassadors of musical goodwill” (per their record label) and appearing in a number of rock-and-roll-themed movies, including Rock Around the Clock and The Girl Can’t Help It. Though the Platters thereafter experienced several personnel changes, beginning with the 1960 departure of lead vocalist Williams for a solo career, they continued to enjoy sporadic chart success in the Sixties with such songs as “With This Ring.” Reed was the only member of the group to appear on all of their nearly 400 recordings. He continued touring, performing up to 200 shows per year, until 2011, often with younger singers under the name Herb Reed and the Platters or Herb Reed's Platters. Reed also waged long legal battles with other artists who performed and recorded under the name the Platters. He finally won a court decision in Nevada in 2011, which gave him rights to the name. He called the court victory every bit as big as the gold and platinum records he had earned.
Herb Reed was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Platters in 1990. In the clip below, the Platters are introduced by Alan Freed and perform "The Great Pretender."