Obituary: Jim Nabbie
Thursday 17 September 1992
JIM NABBIE was the lead for one of the most popular black vocal groups in the Thirties and Forties, the Ink Spots. Their music followed a particular formula, a structure which involved baritone, tenor and bass voices harmonising in a velvety-smooth, effortless combination. The original Ink Spots were formed in New York in the early Thirties (the exact date, 1932 or 1935, is disputed), reputedly whilst working as porters at the Paramount Theatre. They began as a street-corner quartet under the name of 'The Percolating Puppies', but quickly realised that such a name was unlikely to lead to success. The first line-up included Jerry Daniels on guitar and lead tenor, Orville 'Hoppy' Jones on bass, Ivory 'Deek' Watson and Charlie Fuqua (who also played guitar). Jim Nabbie joined them later, in 1945.
The Ink Spots achieved their first major hit with 'If I Didn't Care' in 1939, and capitalised on it with songs such as 'My Prayer' (1939), 'Do I Worry?' (1940) and, probably their most famous song, 'Whispering Grass' (1940). In 1944 the group teamed up with Ella Fitzgerald to record the million-selling 'Into Life some Rain Must Fall'.
From the mid-Forties onwards there were several changes of personnel, often resulting in a degree of public confusion. Orville Jones died in November 1944 and although his distinctive voice was one of the keystones to their special sound they continued to enjoy the same degree of public acclaim. Jones was replaced by Herb Kenny. The following year Deek Watson, who was the founding member, brought in Jim Nabbie to sing lead tenor. Watson himself was replaced by Billy Bowen the year after.
Jim Nabbie was born in Tampa, Florida, in 1920. He was originally a High School maths teacher and taught in Winter Haven, Florida, for two years before moving to New York and being taken up by Watson. He joined the Ink Spots at a time when popular black American musicians had started to earn substantial amounts. The American show-business magazine Billboard had reported that 'negro music grosses' had hit an all-time high. The Ink Spots, with Ella Fitzgerald, were commanding dollars 500,000 per annum. Decca Records released a special set of their 78s in 1946, which entered Billboard's album chart.
The new formation recorded further million-sellers with 'To Each His Own' and 'The Gypsy' (written by the British songwriter Billy Reid). As with the Platters (who had been directly influenced by the Ink Spots), several imitatory groups appeared. By the 1950s there were, in fact, two groups both calling themselves the Ink Spots: Charlie Fuqua and Bill Kenny (who had replaced Jerry Daniels) each owned 50 per cent of the name. Additional members of the groups included Jimmy Holmes and Harold Jackson, and later Leon Antoine and Isaac Royal. The Ink Spots undoubtedly played a major part in introducing a special blend of black music to white audiences, and their influence was far-reaching. Their style was parodied by Johnny Cymbal in 1963 with his hit 'Mr Bass Man'.
The subsequent deaths of Charlie Fuqua and Deek Watson meant that the original concept of the Ink Spots passed into history. But the spirit and influence of their music was sustained by Nabbie and his fellow-performers, who continued to tour actively world-wide, and make cameo appearances in Hollywood films. As with the Platters, the Ink Spots suffered from innumerable 'copy-cat' groups, all maintaining to have some connection with the originals. Jim Nabbie and his current Ink Spots had been performing around 200 shows a year, recently in Branson, Missouri. The group is to visit Britain and Europe on a four-week tour, scheduled to commence on Monday (the tour will continue with a replacement for Nabbie).
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