The Platters: The Pioneering Black Rockers Who Deserve Icon Status

Original member of The Platters, Paul Robi, would’ve been 89 today. His baritone vocals helped harmonize a sound that made the band one of the first Black musical groups to make the charts.

For his birthday, we’re celebrating by shining a light on just how much this legendary band helped pioneer rock ‘n’ roll into what it is today.

The Platters, “Only You”

For decades white musicians like Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly have been given the credit for spearheading rock into the world. However, it was Black musicians in bands like The Coasters, The Drifters, The Shirelles, and, of course, The Platters that truly helped form the sound we love and connect to today.

When The Platters first started in the early ‘50s, rock ‘n’ ‘roll was brand new. Jazz and big bands from the ‘30s and ‘40s were still mostly what you’d find on the radio. Though The Platters’ initial sound still embraced that jazzy sensation, they added a new twist the kids were starting to call rock ‘n’ roll.

Billboard says that it was R&B artist Tommy Edwards who was the first Black musician to top the charts with “It’s All In The Game” in 1958. However, online research debates this, with sites like The Platters Music and Black Past saying The Platter’s 1955 song “Only You (And You Alone)” was their first No. 1 hit, quickly followed by “The Great Pretender” later that year, and that their debut self-titled album was the first ever to reach top ten on the U.S. pop charts. ThePlatters.com even goes as far as saying The Platters were the first African-American band to reach international stardom. Billboard’s chart history, meanwhile, puts “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” from 1959 as their official first chart-topper and only No. 1 song—which still makes The Platters some of the first Black musicians to make the popular charts and achieve legendary status.

The Platters, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”

The group was also featured in Rock Around the Clock, a 1956 film about rock ‘n’ roll history. Plus, three of their tracks appeared on the soundtrack for American Graffiti, which helped fuel a doo-wop/’50s rock revival during the ‘70s.

The band began falling apart by the ‘60s, and legal battles plagued them throughout the ‘90s and early ‘00s. Still, they’re responsible for some of the most memorable songs that dawned in the era of rock. In 1990, the group was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and in 1998 they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

If it weren’t for the whitewashing of the entertainment industry and history in general, The Platters would’ve gotten ‘50s icon status near or on the same level as Elvis or Buddy Holly. For true rock ‘n’ roll fans, The Platters will always be known as a main player in the evolution of the genre.

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