The Platters formed in Los Angeles in 1953 and were initially managed by Ralph Bass. The group had a contract with Federal Records but had found little success before meeting music entrepreneur and songwriter Buck Ram. Ram made some changes to the lineup, most notably the addition of lead vocalist Tony Williams and female vocalist Zola Taylor. Under Ram's guidance, the Platters recorded seven singles for Federal in the R&B/gospel style, scoring a few minor regional hits on the West Coast. One song recorded during their Federal tenure, Only You (And You Alone), originally written by Ram for the Ink Spots was deemed unreleasable by the label.
Despite their lack of chart success, the Platters were a profitable touring group--successful enough that The Penguins, coming off their #2 Earth Angel single, asked Ram to manage them as well. With the Penguins in hand, Ram was able to parlay Mercury Records' interest into a 2-for-1 deal. In order to sign the Penguins, Ram insisted, Mercury also had to take the Platters. Ironically, the Penguins would never have a hit for the label.
Convinced that "Only You" had potential, Ram had the Platters re-record the song during their first session for Mercury. Released in the summer of 1955, it became the group's first Top Ten hit on the pop charts, and topped the R&B charts for seven weeks. The follow-up, The Great Pretender, with lyrics written in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, exceeded the success of their debut. It became the Platters' first national #1 hit. "The Great Pretender" was also the act's biggest R&B hit, with an eleven-week run atop that chart. In 1956, The Platters appeared in the first major motion picture based around rock and roll, Rock Around the Clock, and performed both "Only You" and "The Great Pretender".
The Platters' unique vocal style had touched a nerve in the music-buying public, and a string of hit singles followed, including three further Hot 100 number one hits. The Platters soon hit upon the successful formula of updating older standards, such as "My Prayer," "Twilight Time," "Harbor Lights," "To Each His Own," "If I Didn't Care" and Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." This latter release caused a small controversy after Kern's widow expressed concern that her late husband's composition would be turned into a "rock and roll" record. It topped both the American and British charts in a tasteful Platters-style arrangement.
The original lineup of the Platters in 1953 included lead vocalist Cornell Gunter, Herb Reed, Alex Hodge, Joe Jefferson, and David Lynch. But, perhaps more than any group of its time, the Platters have undergone changes in lineups and countless splinter groups headed by former members. These problems have diluted the value of any concert labeled as a "Platters" concert, and have resulted in decades worth of litigation. They have also somewhat marred the legacy of this fine group.
The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in its inaugural year of 1998.