|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
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,
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
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 &
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.]