***HERB KENNY of the INK SPOTS***

(Born 12Jun/14, Philadelphia, died 11July/92)
by Bill "Porkchop" Proctor, Feb/02

THE MAN OF MANY TALENTS

Herbert Cornelius Kenny's earlier musical career included singing with Danny Owens of the Four Tunes in church groups, time spent with the Cabineers and with his own group - the Melodeers. The Cabineers were fronted by Bill and Maggie Westbrook primarily at Kelley's Stables in New York city. Herb's Melodeers included bass singer Jimmy Ricks who, after Herb left, was freed to go on to other things and later formed the Ravens. 

Various stories exist about how Herb became an Ink Spot. The most frequently told story is that Herb was about to take the Melodeers to the Plantation Club in St. Louis when he stopped by the NY Paramount to say goodbye to his twin brother Bill. They were auditioning bass singers to replace Cliff Givens, and Herb went over to show one of them how to do the talking part. He went over so well that Bill and road manager Murray Nadell offered him the job. 

Another story is that, while hunting for a new bass singer, the group visited the Apollo to listen to a bass that had been recommended to them. The story goes that the bass turned out to be Bill's brother performing under another name [Chicago Defender, 20Nov/48]. The truth, according to Huey Long, was that Bill simply let Cliff Givens go to make room for his brother Herb to join the Ink Spots. Herb said, in an interview at Howard University in 1990, that the opportunity of employment with a famous group like the Ink Spots seemed more attractive to him at the time than continuing to struggle to become a successful new group.

It was fortunate for us that Herb took the Job. I wonder if they would have had as many hits without him. Herb often made the statement that he had to give up singing to join the Ink Spots, which was quite true. He never did lead vocals on record, but did do fill in work when Bill was ill. Herb had the uncanny ability to go from his 3.5 octave singing voice right into the talking bass. 

Nobody could take the place of the inimitable Orville "Hoppy" Jones, whose voice was once characterized as a "booming whisper," but Herb did very well in his own style. His spoken part on songs such as The Gypsy, I Cover The Waterfront, and Prisoner Of Love are classic. Although Herb often performed with a cello (see photo below), he never played it. It is not clear how many people realized this as Herb was often listed as singing bass and playing the cello (see, for example, the Pittsburgh Courier, 15Sep/45). In fact, Herb got in trouble with the negro AFM in Chicago soon after he joined the Ink Spots. An article in Billboard reported that the AFM wanted him to join saying that Hoppy had been a member in good standing. They relented when Herb, "...proved to their satisfaction that he's no musician and is only using the cello in the act as a stage prop." [20Oct/45] 

His only recorded vocal in the 40's was when he "moonlighted" for Eddie Messner with pick up musicians to record The Key To My Heart & Why Do I Love You on Aladdin. Herb told me about Eddie Messner luring him away to make this record. He said that The Key To My Heart was Mrs. 

The Ink Spots at the time Herb became a member. Clockwise from left, Huey Long, Billy Bowen, Herb and Bill.

Herb's Key To My Heart, done in his Ink Spots style. Click on label for streaming RealAudio.
[Label from collection of Greg Centamore. Thanks to Tony Fournier for the audio.]

Messner's favorite song on the Aladdin label. This was in 1949, no doubt adding to the friction among diverse talents that kept growing in the group (although I never heard him say a bad word about his brother Bill). Listening to The Key To My Heart probably provides a good insight into how the Ink Spots sounded when Herb filled in for his brother. When he missed a radio show in 1951 and the valet Adriel McDonald was introduced as the bass, that was the final straw. It might not have been so hard for Herb to swallow, but he got Adriel the job as valet back when he joined the group in 1945. 

He fared much better in the 50's making one recording on Federal with his Comets, and 5 discs plus one unreleased cut on MGM with his Rockets. Some of these recordings were Ink Spots style (the Ink Spots were imitated by many groups) with talking bass chorus. 

As Rock & Roll took over the music scene in the mid 50's, Herb left singing to work in radio, which was his ambition from childhood. He went from announcing to program manager, starting at WEBB in Baltimore and later moving to Washington. Golf was his pleasure and his nickname on the course was "Silk" by virtue of his beautiful drives. He carried his own bag into his 70's, and also bowled frequently. 

After retiring from radio in the late 70's he began his Reflections of the Ink Spots concerts in the Baltimore area always bestowing praise on brother Bill. He felt that God kept him here to perpetuate the Ink Spots, and he got his chance by representing them along with Jerry Daniels at the 2nd. Annual United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame Awards ceremony in 1992. His son, Paul, told me that Herb was not well days after the awards ceremony since he bowed out of a golf game. That wasn't his style. A dear friend and a true gentleman to the end, he passed away about 2 months later at the age of 78. 

Herb's longest tenure with an Ink Spots group was with this one - the group of Kenny, Bowen, Kenny and Fuqua that formed when Charlie Fuqua returned from the army. Note the cello Herb is holding but which he never played. Hoppy Jones, with his cello strung as a bass, was such a recognized part of the Ink Spots that later bass singers also held a cello but as far as we know, Hoppy was the only bass singer that ever played one [Photo from Bill Proctor's collection] . 

RECORDINGS:

Aladdin- #3048, Key To My Heart and Why Do I love you, released Feb/50
Federal- #12083, Only You and When the Lights Go On Again All Over the World, released Jun/52
MGM- #11332, My Song and You Never Heard A Word I Said, released Sep/52
MGM- #11360, I Don't Care and Calling You, released Nov/52
MGM- #11397, I Miss You So and Take A Little, Leave A Little, released Jan/53
MGM- #11487, But Always Your Friend and (I Dreamed Of A) Star-Spangled Banner, released Apr/53
MGM- #11648, Don't Take My Word (Take My Heart) and Do I have To Tell You I'm Sorry, released Dec/53
MGM-unreleased, Let's Make Memories Tonight, recorded 1953