BOSTON — Herb Reed, the last surviving original member of 1950s vocal group the Platters who sang on hits like “Only You” and “The Great Pretender,” has died. He was 83.
Reed died on Monday in a Boston area hospice after a period of declining health that included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, manager Fred Balboni said.
Reed was a Kansas City, Mo., native who founded the Platters in Los Angeles in 1953. Then a quartet, the group won amateur talent shows, and performed nights and weekends up and down the California coast while the members worked days at a carwash and at other odd jobs.
Reed came up with the group’s name, inspired by ’50s disc jockeys who called their records platters.
The group underwent several lineup changes, even adding a woman singer to become a quintet, before signing their first major recording contract in 1955.
Reed sang bass on the group’s four No. 1 hits, including “The Great Pretender,” ”My Prayer,” ”Twilight Time” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
The Platters were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. Their recordings are in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The group’s popularity reached across racial lines and genres, “achieving success in a crooning, middle-of-the-road style that put a soulful coat of uptown polish on pop-oriented, harmony-rich material,” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s website.
Reed credited his survival in the music industry to the poverty he experienced as a child in Kansas City. While other members of the group spent frivolously, he used his first big royalty check to buy a house.
“I never thought that it would keep going, and I never wanted to assume we’d keep getting checks,” he said earlier this year.
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 last year giving him rights to the name. He called the court victory every bit as big as the gold and platinum records he had earned, Balboni said.
Reed had homes in Atlanta and Miami but had called the Boston area home since the 1970s “because the people were always so nice to me,” he told a biographer. He had most recently living in Arlington.
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 last year, often performing with younger singers under the name Herb Reed and the Platters or Herb Reed’s Platters.
Reed is survived by a son and three grandsons.
Funeral arrangements are pending.