Monday, 21 January 2008

Bill Kenny

Apparently Ella Fitzgerald didn't like him, because he would fool about behind her when they appeared together on stage, and although his talent was much less than hers he and the group often got better billing because they were more popular.

Well, maybe*. It is said that together with the Mills Brothers his group helped define the musical genre that led to rhythm & blues and rock and roll, and the subgenre doo-wop. In 1934 they toured the UK with Jack Hylton's Orchestra, and were reviewed in the Melody Maker thus:

The sensation of the programme is the coloured quartette, the Four Ink Spots. They accompany themselves on three tenor guitars and a 'cello—which is not bowed, but picked and slapped like a double bass. Their natural instinct for hot rhythm is exemplified in their terrific single-string solo work and their beautifully balanced and exquisitely phrased vocalisms. They exploit all kinds of rhythmic vocalisms - straight solos, concerted, scat, and instrumental imitations. They even throw in a bit of dancing to conclude their act, and the leading guitarist simultaneously plays and juggles with his instrument.

Bill Kenny joined them in 1936, and by the early 40s their recordings with him as the lead singer mostly featured his high tenor, their close harmony and a trademark piano and guitar accompaniment which was virtually the same whatever the song. But one thing that makes them still a pleasure to listen to today is Bill Kenny's impeccable diction, with every vowel clear as a bell and every consonant clicking into place.

*Decca, recorded 11th June 1940. You can hear this and eleven others HERE.

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