The Ravens, the late 40s, and National Records©1999JCMarion

The Ravens were organized in 1945 in Harlem and the idea for a vocal quartet was begun with bass singer Jimmy Ricks and baritone voice Warren Suttles. Soon they were joined by Ollie Jones and Leonard Puzey and the Ravens were now ready to learn the ins and outs of performing as a vocal group. Like every other budding vocal combo of the time, they were a huge fan of the Inkspots who set the standard which all others followed. The Ravens were also admirers of the vocal stylings of the Delta Rhythm Boys and the Golden Gate Quartet. The group got together with arranger and writer Howard Biggs (who in the fifties would do much work for the Joe Davis labels and Bruce Records) and soon had worked up a number of songs. The new group began a series of in person appearances at clubs in Harlem and was soon set to record for a label owned by Ben Bart and Jack Pearl called Hub Records. The first sides for Hub were released in June of 1946. Hub #3030 featured "Honey" and "My Lullaby". Nothing much became of this initial outing but the second Hub release two months later featured the tunes "My Sugar Is So Refined" and "Out Of A Dream" (made popular a few years before by The Marshall Brothers) on #3032. This record did much better as people liked the catchy title of "Sugar" and soon the group had high hopes for their third try for Hub #3033 - "Bye Bye Baby Blues" and "Once And For All". The ballad side "Once" seemed like it had all the required ingredients for a hit but it too was a failure. At this time the group felt it needed a new emphasis on a lead singer and Ollie Jones was replaced by tenor sensation Maithe Marshall who was a one time member of the mentioned Marshall Brothers.

The Ravens were also recording for a new label as their short time with Hub did not work out to their satisfaction, and now they would be recording for King Records located in Cincinnati, Ohio. What King Records had in mind was to re-record the group's songs that they had done for Hub with new lead singer Marshall featured. So King #4234 was a new version of Hub #3033 - "Bye Bye baby Blues" and "Once And For All". When that release went nowhere they took one song by the Ravens and coupled it with a flip side by little known instrumental trio called The Three Clouds. King #4260 paired "Out Of A Dream" with "Blues In The Clouds"; #4272 - "Honey" with "Matinee Hour In New Orleans"; and #4293 - "My Sugar Is So Refined" with "Playing Around". With four unsuccessful records for King the group felt it was time to move on again. It was now 1947, and although the group found acceptance and local popularity at their in person appearances, the elusive record hit was yet to be experienced. Soon all that would change. The third record label for the group was a New York label owned by Albert Green and featured some top talent in producing and A & R work such as Herb Abramson, Lee Magid, and Bobby Shad. The label was called National Records. The first 1947 release on the label was quickly lost (#9034 - "Mahzel" / "For You"), but it was the second effort for the new label that hit paydirt. Jerome Kern's "Ol Man River" from the stage show "Show Boat" had been a beloved standard of American music for years, ever since Paul Robeson's stirring stage version in 1936. The Ravens featured a lightly swinging arrangement and a superlative lead vocal by bass voice Jimmy Ricks, and this combination won over the record buying public. Estimates of a final sales tally are impossible to come by but by all information gathered over the years it would seem that the great help gotten by National Records to press and distribute this recording that the numbers could very well have exceeded seven figures. This was a huge accomplishment for The Ravens in 1947 and went a long way toward making the group a time honored name when talking about the history of the music with this first big breakthrough. Keeping the momentum going, the followup recording on National #9038 was "Write Me A Letter" and another Kern standard - "Summertime". The Howard Biggs tune "Letter" did well for the group on the national charts but surprisingly enough was also a big enough seller on the pop charts to make an appearance there in December of 1947 (the only Ravens recording to accomplish this feat).

The next three National sides were certainly listenable but did not make substantial headway on the sales charts. "Searching For Love" / "For You" on #9039; "Fool That I Am" / "Be I Bumble" on #9040; and "Together" / "There's No You" on #9042. During the summer of 1948 The Ravens recording of "Send For Me If You Need Me" / "Until The Real Thing Comes Along" made the national R & B charts with both sides getting good airplay. In the midst of this new popularity for the group King Records re-released "Bye Bye Baby Blues" to good sales and airplay. The group was now a viable R & B attraction and began to make national appearances. The Ravens version of "September Song" was another winner for National (#9053) and the flip featured a nice version of the swing era standard "Once In A While" with Maithe Marshall excelling on lead on both sides. National #9056 was the group's version of "It's Too Soon To Know" which had been recently recorded by a new group from Baltimore called The Orioles on It's A Natural Records. National #9059 featured "I Don't Know Why" and "How Could I Know" was not a hit but next out was a unique version of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" on #9062. The Ravens arrangement was the basis for the Drifters Atlantic record five years in the future. Maithe Marshall did a wonderful job on "Silent Night" for the flip side for this holiday special. In 1949 The Ravens began with pop standards - "Always" on #9064 and "Deep Purple" on #9065 but neither were much more than marginal sellers. Moving away from American standards the group recorded "Rickey's Blues" which was a solid seller for the group and a big hit on the nation's juke boxes. The rest of the year did not feature a return to the best seller charts with "Careless Love" / "There Is Nothing Like A Woman In Love" on #9085, "Someday" / "If You Didn't Mean It" - #9089, and "I'm Afraid Of You" / "Get Wise Baby" on #9098. A novelty rhythm number was the next hit seller for the group in early 1950 - "I Don't Have To Ride No More" on #9101, and which was their final chart record for National Records. By 1950 the group had three more releases for National - "Count Every Star" on #9111 in a lovely ballad side which predated by eight years a hit version by The Rivieras. National #9131 was the forgotten "I'm Gonna Take To The Road", and was followed by a lovely version of the ballad "Lilacs In The Rain" on #9148 the last National Records release. In 1950 there was a release on the Rendition label which presented a tune recorded for National. In this case it was their version of the swing era standard "Marie" in a jivey jump tempo dance tune that set the stage for the Four Tunes Jubilee release in three years.

The Ravens now would move to the Columbia label, its subsidiary label Okeh, then a good stretch on the Mercury label. The Ravens in the late forties had a number of successes and were certainly influential in setting the style for all the vocal groups that followed beginning with The Orioles. In the history of the music this vocal group is due a certain amount of respect because of the place they hold in the story of their time. They are very seldom if ever played on "oldie" format radio stations and are conveniently forgotten when the story is told. These facts are unfortunately the hand we are dealt in presenting the story of the R & B vocal groups, and so this is an attempt to remember the contributions of the one and only Ravens.

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