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The Ravens


September 15, 2022

Such a great sound with Mister Ricks taking the lead.

It is really sad how many R&B sings died young. Sam Cooke, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Otis, Jimmy Ricks, Jackie Wilson to name a few. Clyde McPhatter, too.

The Ravens were an American R&B vocal group, formed in 1946 by Jimmy Ricks and Warren Suttles. They were one of the most successful and most influential vocal quartets of the period, and had several hits on the R&B chart in the late 1940s and early 1950s.


Jimmy "Ricky" Ricks was born in Adrian, Georgia, later moving to Jacksonville, Florida. During World War II, he moved to New York City, where he worked as a waiter in Harlem and met Warren "Birdland" Suttles, from Fairfield, Alabama. In early 1946, they decided to form a vocal group and recruited Leonard "Zeke" Puzey, who had recently won a talent contest at the Apollo Theater, and Ollie Jones. They found a manager, Ben Bart, and an accompanist, Howard Biggs, and made their first recordings for Bart's small Hub record label. They called themselves the Ravens, and so initiated the trend for vocal groups to name themselves after birds—groups who later followed included the Orioles, the Crows, the Larks, the Robins and the Penguins.

Although the group were strongly influenced by the Ink Spots, the Delta Rhythm Boys and the Mills Brothers, they used Ricks' bass voice, rather than a more conventional tenor, as the lead on many of their recordings, and this became their trademark style. Their material was also more varied, including elements of pop, jazz, R&B, and gospel styles.

After their initial single, "Honey", Jones left the group and was replaced by Maithe Marshall. The contrast between Ricks' bass voice and Marshall's tenor became integral to their success. In 1947 the Ravens left the Hub label to join National Records, and had immediate hits on what was called at the time the "race records" chart with a version of "Ol' Man River" (from the musical Show Boat) and "Write Me A Letter", which rose to no. 5 on the "race" chart and crossed over to the pop chart. Their run of successes on what came to be known as the R&B chart continued through to early 1950, with the basic line-up of Ricks, Suttles, Puzey, and Marshall essentially remaining together for several years. Their version of "Count Every Star" (1950) was later used in the film Revolutionary Road.

The Ravens primarily existed to showcase bass singer Ricks; in this they were successful, such that Ricks' voice became the standard against which every rhythm and blues bass was measured for the next generation. Although the group had relatively few chart hits, they were popular in concert, commanding a fee of $2,000 dollars a night. The group recorded for Columbia Records and its subsidiary OKeh in 1950, before moving to the Mercury label. In 1951 Marshall and Puzey both left; Joe Van Loan became a long-term replacement for Marshall as lead tenor, and there were various other shorter-term group members. The group had its final hit on the R&B chart in late 1952, when "Rock Me All Night Long" rose to no. 4, the highest position the group reached in their career.

In 1953 they moved to the Jubilee label, but with the rise of rock and roll their style became increasingly unfashionable. After several earlier breaks from the group, Suttles left for the final time in 1954. Ricks left for a solo career in 1956. After his departure, the group was led by Joe Van Loan, who at one point brought his brothers Paul and James into the group; however, the group finally disbanded in 1958.

Ricks recorded as a solo singer without notable success for a number of labels, including Atlantic where he also recorded with LaVern Baker and Little Esther. In 1971, he and Suttles temporarily revived the Ravens, with additional members Gregory Carroll and Jimmy Breedlove. At the time of his death, at the age of 49 in 1974, he was the vocalist for the Count Basie orchestra. Suttles, Puzey and Marshall also appeared together as the Ravens, in 1974.

The Ravens were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2006, Suttles accepted the Harlem Jazz & Music Festival 2006 Rhythm & Blues award on the group's behalf.

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