Falling in love all over again with The Platters

In Colombo this week, the vintage singers woo audiences with their sweet harmony

In the 1950s The Platters made the kind of music people listened to as they fell in love. Catchy, romantic numbers were sung in perfect harmony by a quartet of young black performers, but at the heart of the band was its manager and sometimes song writer Buck Ram. Quite firmly in charge, Buck helped the band win 16 Grammys. He also ensured that The Platters performed despite dramatic changes in the ensemble’s composition.

Pix by Sanka Vidanagama

As sales climbed until it crossed the one million mark, Buck would hire no less than three lead singers for the group. The last of them, Monroe Powell, outlived Buck to become the longest serving member of the group. Now billing themselves as ‘The Legendary Monroe Powell and The Platters’ they continue to tour the world. While no member of the original group remains, over their 50 odd years of existence, The Platters have kept one thing constant – their music, sweetly familiar, would still make a great soundtrack to a love story.

For over four decades Monroe has sung Platters hits to audiences all over the world. Having occasionally performed as many as 200 concerts in a year, the group is still going strong. Though the average teenager is far more likely to consider the band’s name a reference to crockery rather than to the records for which they were originally named, The Platters continue to attract new fans.

“Forty years ago, everyone in the audience was young,” says Monroe, “now we have many grandmothers, who bring their granddaughters to see us – we get younger fans all the time.” Widely considered the most romantic of all the doo wop groups, their set list are built on Platters classics like “Only You”, “The Great Pretender”, “Twilight Time”, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Harbour Lights”. “People still remember those old, old songs...” says Monroe.

Here in Colombo for a set of three concerts at the Cinnamon Lakeside and Waters Edge, Monroe shared the stage with two other Platters stalwarts. Don Gloudè has been with the group for five years and Kenny Johnson for 15. The fourth member of the group, Genevieve Dew, is the newest and youngest addition to the ensemble. “We enjoy being with each other, that’s the thing that really makes it work,” says Don adding, “we keep the laughter going.” In performance the group exudes nostalgia, from their dapper suits and Genevieve’s gold sheath, to their choreography --with its little, quick steps, and gentle hand movements, their performance wouldn’t be out of place in a 1970s music hall.

Monroe Powell Don Gloude

For Monroe, the group’s chemistry is something of vital importance. “If I don’t have a bunch of guys singing behind me, I feel naked,” he says. But not anyone would do. Since they might be on the road for three months at a stretch, each new member is carefully vetted.

“It has to be a person you enjoy being around, that you could be proud of, that you wouldn’t mind inviting to your house to meet your mom and your dad,” says Monroe. In the meantime, they all appear to still enjoy all the travelling – “You can’t name a place we’ve never been,” says Don. They’ve also expanded their repertoire somewhat to include hits by other musicians.

Considering the size of the audience they managed to draw out on a stormy night, it was a wise decision. While very few of their listeners may actually remember the time when the original Platters ruled the airways, they liked the music enough to demand an encore, which The Platters delivered with inimitable showmanshipas their audience fell in love all over again.

Print sponsors for the event were the Sunday Times and the Daily Mirror. Electronic media partners were Gold FM and ART TV, while local host hotels were the Cinnamon Lake side and the Hilton Colombo.

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