The Platters formed in Los Angeles in 1953 and were initially managed by Ralph Bass. The original group (Alex Hodge, Cornell Gunter, David Lynch, Joe Jefferson, Gaynel Hodge and Herb Reed) managed to land a contract with Federal Records, but found little success. In June 1953, Gunter was replaced by lead vocalist Tony Williams. The band then released two singles with Federal Records, under the management of Ralph Bass, but found little success. The band then met music entrepreneur and songwriter Buck Ram. Ram made some changes to the lineup, most notably the addition of l female vocalist Zola Taylor; later, Alex Hodge was replaced by Paul Robi. Under Ram’s guidance, the Platters recorded eight songs for Federal in the R&B/gospel style, scoring a few minor regional hits on the West Coast, and backed Tony Williams’ sister, Linda Hayes, 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.
Williams moved to Oakland, California at a young age. Learning to play the trumpet in elementary school fueled his interest in music; his skills as a vocalist were first nurtured by singing in gospel choirs and groups around the Bay Area. He worked with several notable artists, such as Sly Stone, Andraé Crouch, Billy Preston and members of the Hawkins family, Edwin, Walter and Tramaine.
Gladys Horton and Georgia Dobbins formed the Casinyets (or “Can’t Sing Yets”) in their hometown Inkster, Michigan a suburb located west of Detroit, Michigan with backing vocalists Georgeanna Tillman, Wyanetta (usually spelled “Juanita”) Cowart, and Katherine Anderson. In 1961 the quintet, now called the Marvels, entered the Inkster High School talent show where they finished fourth. Although only the first three winners could win the prize of a trip to audition for the new Motown record company located on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, an exception was made and they were allowed to audition as well. In April they did this for Motown executives Brian Holland and Robert Bateman with the girls alternating lead parts. They auditioned for Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson who scheduled a second audition after asking if the group had any original material.
Born as Mahala Jackson and nicknamed “Halie”, Jackson grew up in the Black Pearl section of the Carrollton neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans, Louisiana. The three-room dwelling on Pitt Street housed thirteen people and a dog. This included Little Mahala (named after her aunt, Mahala Clark-Paul whom the family called Aunt Duke), her brother Roosevelt Hunter, whom they called Peter, and her mother Charity Clark, who worked as both a maid and a laundress. Several aunts and cousins lived in the house as well. Aunt Mahala was given the nickname “Duke” after proving herself the undisputed “boss” of the family. The extended family (the Clarks) consisted of her mother’s siblings – Isabell, Mahala, Boston, Porterfield, Hannah, Alice, Rhoda, Bessie, their children, grandchildren and patriarch Rev. Paul Clark, a former slave. Mahalia’s father, John A. Jackson, Sr. was a stevedore (dockworker) and a barber who later became a Baptist minister. He fathered four other children besides Mahalia – Wilmon (older) and then Yvonne, Pearl and Johnny, Jr. (by his marriage shortly after Halie’s birth). Her father’s sister, Jeanette Jackson-Burnett, and husband, Josie, were vaudeville entertainers.
The Chantels by 1957, then in high school, had been a group for seven years. Unlike some black groups of their time, the quintet was under the influences of classical music and Latin hymns. The lead singer, Arlene Smith, had received classical training and performed at Carnegie Hall at age twelve. Smith provided the group with both lyrics and music. The girls were discovered by Richard Barrett, lead singer of The Valentines and by summer 1957 signed to End Records, owned by George Goldner. Their first single was “He’s Gone” (Pop #71) in August 1957, written by Arlene Smith. Released in December 1957, The Chantels had a hit with their second single, “Maybe” (#15 Billboard Hot 100; #2 R & B chart) in January 1958.