***BILL KENNY of the INK SPOTS***

(Born 12Jun/14 - died 23Mar/78)

(page under construction)

 

The "voice" that led to the Ink Spots success

 

In early 1936, Bill Kenny replaced Jerry Daniels as lead tenor of the Ink Spots. Shortly thereafter, Moe Gale had the group sign a recording contract with Decca records. Thus, all of the Decca Ink Spots recordings feature Bill Kenny. Even so, many listeners would not recognize the early 1936-38 Decca records of the Ink Spots because the group continued to feature their swing/jump style tunes.

Unlike the other group members, Bill Kenny did not play an instrument (except for limited appearances with a cymbal or triangle) and his singing style focused on ballads. Fortunately for the Ink Spots, the group gradually added some ballads featuring Kenny's tenor voice to their repertoire. Ink Spots NBC radio shows from February and August of 1938 feature songs with the final Kenny tenor, Hoppy talking bass balad style that lead to their great success following the release of If I Didn't Care in 1939. There can be little question that the Ink Spots success was primarily dependant on Bill's joining the quartet even though Deek Watson and Hoppy Jones made important contributions as well.

 

   

Ella Fitzgerald and Bill Kenny:

Decca records paired many of their artists on records. On November 3, 1943 Ella teamed up with the Ink Spots to cut Cow-Cow Boogie, the first of seven joint recordings between 1943 and 1950. Ella and the Ink Spots often appeared together in vaudville. Moe Gale packaged the Ink Spots, Ella and and Cootie Williams band together as a "Big three" travelling road show beginning in January of 1944. Compared to the members of the Ink Spots, Ella Fitzgerald had talent to burn but she was always second billed to the Ink Spots - probably because the less talented group attracted the crowds. This could have been grounds for friction between Ella and members of the Ink Spots. No problems have ever come to light except for an apparent dislike of Bill by Ella. In Janary, 2001 Carl Jones of the Delta Rhythm Boys told Jason Gross:

The reason we recorded with her was because she refused to record with the Ink Spots anymore. She had recorded a couple of things with them and it turned out very well. But she couldn't stand Bill Kenny showing off behind her on stage when they were performing at the Paramount, flashing his gold rings while she was singing. She said 'I'm not going to stand for that!' Then they had an argument. He said, 'I'm just as popular as you are.' So she refused to work with them anymore. So that's how we came to record with her.

PERSONAL COMMUNICATIONS:  

Bill Buchanan, who wrote for both the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe, became friends with Bill Kenny over the years that he wrote reviews for Boston appearances. He attended his first Ink Spots performance at the RKO-Boston on Thanksgiving day in 1943. He first met Bill after a show at the Latin Quarter in early 1948. He attended many Ink Spots shows in theaters like the Paramount and Capital in New York, the State in Hartford, the Frolics at Salisbury Beach in Massachussets and the Providence in Providence, Rhode Island. He also visited the Kennys at there home in St. Albans, Long Island, NY.

He recalls one time when he was riding an elevator in the Brill Building in NYC with Bill and Audrey Kenny. The elevator stopped at a floor and Bobby Worth, who wrote one of their biggest hits - Do I Worry? - was standing there. The elevator operator, who knew the connection, stopped the elevator and told everyone present about it. Bill Kenny then broke into a chorus of Do I Worry and when he finished everyone cheered.

He also recalls meeting Bill shortly after the Ink Spots broke up. At this time Bill Kenny had some booking problems and had called The Ed Sullivan Show about an appearance but the call was not returned. Bill Buchanan knew Ed and called him to remind him that the Ink Spots had performed on his show for minimum wages when they were famous shortly after he started his television show. Ed provided his manager's personal phone number and suggested Bill Kenny call him. Three weeks later, Bill Kenny was on Ed's show.

Darlene Goetz of Vancouver wrote in 2002 that she met Bill Kenny sometime in 1972 in Burnaby, BC where they both lived when she was nine years old:

Bill Kenny was a local celebrity in our area. He would walk around the area dressed in his african robes and would talk to anyone who wanted to talk.  I was a little girl without a father who didn't have a shy bone in her body. We struck up a friendship that to this day (almost 30 years later) I will never forget. 

Mr Kenny and I would talk often. The thing I remember most of those days were many hours spent in his attic looking through boxes and boxes of memorabilia. At that point in my life I had no idea what this stuff was but now realize the importance of it. I remember sitting in his attic with him and he would read me poems. I remember him being a beautiful reader. He would keep me mesmorized for what seems today like hours. I remember vividly him showing me a letter from Elvis Presley and telling me how it would be worth something some day. During that time Mr. Kenny taught me what it was like to feel love from an older man. Not having a father I didn't know about this father/daughter type of relationship which is very important for a young girl growing up.  It's hard to put into words what this relationship was like but he was a genuine caring man opening his heart to a little girl and that is what I would like passed on to his family. He was a wonderful caring man and I will never forget the talks we had. Bill Kenny touched my life in a way I will never forget.

I do remember him talking about being a proud african and not being ashamed of his roots. We never talked about racism however I do remember him talking about having to walk in back doors instead of front doors because he was black.  He mentioned areas of the deep south where people enjoyed his music but he was treated poorly being black. At that period he had some form of a skin disorder ( I dont know if it's a disease) where his pigmentation was different. He had large areas of white blotchy skin and I questioned him on why and did it hurt etc. This I do remember, it stuck with me.. he put his hand beside my hand and said "see, we're the same deep down. If you take off my black color I will be the same color as you".  I will never forget that.

Darlene remembers Bill often wearing long robes and a colorful no-brimmed hat. He did not talk much about the Ink Spots although he did mention appearing at the Cave in Vancouver.

Bill Barnes of Vancouver wrote in March of 2004 to say that he attended one of Bill's shows in Prince Rupert that included his then guitar teacher as one member of the group. He mentions that they also did a show at the Prince Rupert hospital before going on to Terrace for an appearance there. Only Bill Kenny sang at these shows. He mentions how impressed he was with the very personal way Bill and his wife treated everyone they met.

Roy Carver wrote from British Columbia in February, 2006 saying he met Bill Kenny through unusual circumstances:

"In those days, I was attending high school and a friend and I would usually take a short-cut through the golf course on my way home. On one particular day, we were joined by a third fellow who was rather mouthy. Just as we were about to exit the golf course, he yelled out: Hey, N----r! and the two of them took off at a run. I was startled and looked around to see a rather tall black man running towards me.

I waited for him and when he got to me, I said: Sir, I want to apologize for my friend's stupidity. I want you to know that I don't hold with that kind of talk and I think it is just plain ignorant.

He said: Do you know who I am?

I told him, no, I'm afraid I don't. He told me to go home and ask my mother about the Inkspots and Bill Kenny!

Over the next few years I would often meet him as I walked home and we would chat about music and such as we walked. He would call me 'Carver' but would insist that I call him 'Bill', not 'Mr. Kenny'.

He was a fascinating man, full of ideas, always affirming and encouraging. On one of the last occasions that I saw him, he presented me with an 8 X 10 glossy promo portrait and signed it: God Bless you, friend Roy. Your Pal, Bill."

 


Roy took this picture of Bill Kenny at the Langara golf course in Vancouver, BC, in the fall of 1965.

BILL KENNY AS POET:

In 1970, Tiri Book Publishers of Calgary, Alberta in Canada published a small book of poems by Bill Kenny titled Who Is He? The original hand writtem manuscript of this book is now in the collection of Bill Proctor who also has published copy #53. Bill was kind enough to provide scans of the book cover, a printed poem from the book and one handwritten poem from the original manuscript. The publication run was probably very small as this book seldom comes up for sale.


BILL KENNY-SOLO VOCAL INK SPOT GROUPS/SOLOIST AND RECORDINGS (after leaving the original Ink Spots On 14 JULY, 1954:

 

After 1953, Bill Kenny did solo work and had various groups. One group was called Bill Kenny and His Ink Spots Trio. None of the trio members sang. Everett Barksdale (who may have sang as an Ink Spot in an earlier group) played electric guitar, Andy Maize played piano and Harry Prather played bass during a 1956 tour of Britain. Because only Bill Kenny sang, we don't consider this to be a true original Ink Spots group. Rather, we view this as one of the Bill Kenny solo vocal plus instrumental support groups that existed after his singing Ink Spot groups disbanded in July of 1954 after an appearance at the Bolero Bar in Wildwood, NJ. Bill's solo vocal career probably began at the Copacabana in New York city in November of 1954.

Decca solo recordings by Bill Kenny "Mister Ink Spot" (after Bill's brother Herb Kenny left the Ink Spots in May of 1951, all Decca recordings featured only Bill Kenny's voice. Even though some recordings feature an Ink Spots style with a talking bass, it is Bill Kenny who does the talking bass on these records.

Purple label "Faith Series":
14538-Ava Maria/The Lord's Prayer
14547-The Vision Of Bernadette/Precious Memories
14548--I Hear A Choir/It Is No Secret
14549-Stranger In The City/Our Lady of Fatima
14562-The Gentle Carpenter Of Bethlehem/His Eye Is On The Sparrow
14588-At The End Of The Day/I See God
14593-These Things Shall Pass/Keep On The Sunny Side
Regular Decca releases:  
27494-And Then I Prayed/Somebody Bigger Than You And I  
27742-I'm Lucky I Have You/I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You  

27844-Once/My First And My Last Love

 
27946-Please Mr. Sun/If I Forget You  
27966-Honest And Truly (the flip side was recorded in 1950)
28078-I Must Say Goodbye/I'm Heading Back To Paradise  
28164-You May Be The Sweetheart Of Somebody Else/Under The Honeysuckle Vine  
28219-A Soldier's Rosary/The Hand Of God  
28289-Sorry You Said Goodbye/A Bundle From Heaven  
28412-You Are Happiness/Moonlight Mystery  
28462-Forgetting You/I Counted On You  
28677-I Keep Thinking of You/Who's To Blame  
28738-Don't Mind The Rain/Do You Know What It Means To Be Lonely  
28868-When The Chimes Ring/I Believe In The Man In The Sky  

28982-Don't Put It Off Till Sunday/Just For Today

 

29070-Vows/The Rose Of Roses

 

29163-What More Can I Do/Sentimental Baby

 

Other recordings:

 

"X" (later Vik, both by RCA)

 

X-0124-If We All Said A Prayer/We Three

 

X-0155-Whispering Grass/The Gypsy

 

X-0178-Evening Bells/The Flower And The Weed

Vik-X-0195-Let Me Cry/Two Little Candles

Vik-X-0225-Now You Say You Care-Ballad/Now You Say You Care-Shuffle

Vik-EXA-295 EP-That's When I Start To Cry/The Best Way You Know How/Star Sapphire/That's How I Know You're Mine

Tel-C1004-Oh What It Seemed To Be/You Hurt Me

Tel-C1011-The Old Dream Mender/I'd Climb The Highest Mountain

Warwick 541-Whispering Grass/Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

AUB-999-Movita(written by Bill Kenny)/That Old Gang Of Mine/w the Bevan Gore-Langton Trio

RCA-SPCS-45-117-For The Good Times/Are You Lonesome Tonight  

Many thanks to Bill Proctor for help with this page.

 

24Aug/06