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Herb Reed RIP: True tribute to a real Platter

The Humble Worshippers get all hands clapping at Herb Reed's funeral, June 16, 2012.The Humble Worshippers get all hands clapping at Herb Reed's funeral at the Regent Theatre.

Funeral a first for Regent

In its nearly 100-year history, the Regent Theatre has held tributes to countless bands, but it has never staged a funeral. The one for Herb Reed, the last surviving founding member of the Platters, until he died June 4, was a genuine tribute framed by music true to his legacy.

About 250 people joined the three-hour service at the Regent on Saturday, June 16, to say goodbye to Reed, an Arlington resident since the 1970s and a force behind the vocal group since the early 1950s whose musical artistry soared beyond doo wop.

"Only You," "My Prayer" (said to be Reed's favorite), "16 Tons" and "The Great Pretender" -- these are among the Platters' best-known early hits among 400 records. Rendering them was no tribute band, but the true sound of Herb Reed's Platters -- Billie Cox, Wayne Miller, Angela Allen and Efrain "Frank" Pizarro, directed by Michael Larson.

At the close of "Pretender," Cox broke down in tears, was comforted by the rest of the Platters and then completed the song.

The emotion behind the moment has a meaning for beyond the 1955 hit, evoking to the years of legal struggle that Reed and others fought to make sure their music was not copied by pretenders.

Five who knew Reed pose in Regent lobby.Five who knew Reed pose before the service. They are, clockwise from top left, radio personality Jimmy Jay, vocalist Pat Benti, Jon Bauman (Bowzer of Sha Na Na), blues legend Little Joe Cook and Rex Trailer, former Boston TV personality and country singer.In his words of reflection, Jon Bauman, better known as Bowzer of the 1950s-revival group Sha Na Na, was part of the legal effort called "Truth in Music," legislation adopted in 34 states to protect musicians from identity theft.

If Reed were alive, Bauman noted, he would have said, "What a crowd!" He was referring to the diversity among those present, a mixed crowd but one with more whites than blacks.

Bauman lauded the Platters' music, built on the foundation of Reed's bass voice, a building block that brought black music to white audiences.

"That is the legacy of Herb's music," he said, before singing his own bass version of the conclusion to the Marcels' "Blue Moon": "... ding-a-dong-ding ... we love you, Herb Re-e-e-ed."

The Rev. Dr. Regina E. Shearer, pastor of Zion Church Ministries and assistant vice president of academic affairs at Rivier College, offered another musical dimension. In a black robe with a silver cross at her breast, she sang a jazzy version of "When a Hero Comes Along."

Her voice, still strong, had a vibrancy that recalled her days, from 1969 to 1983, when she was known as "Regina Coco" and sang with the Platters.

A surprise visitor was Didier Morissonneau, who flew down from Montreal that morning. He has written what is said to be the definitive biography about the Platters, to be published in French in November.

Emphasizing the Platters' international appeal, he noted that when Elvis Presley commanded the U.S. pop charts in the late 1950s, Reed's group was No. 1 in 36 countries.

Terry Stewart added his Alabama accent to the proceedings. As president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, he was there, in part, because the Platters have been members of the Hall since 1990.

"I worry about the future of vocal groups," he said. "They are disappearing."

Before and after these remarks, the Berklee Reverence Gospel Choir, led by Dennis Montgomery, and the Humble Worshippers sang and clapped -- and had the feet of the audience moving, too.

Providing the welcome and transitions was Frederick J. Balboni Jr., president of Balboni Communications, which represented Reed's interests.

The ceremonious occasion did not reveal much about the personal side of Reed, who fled poverty in Kansas City, Mo., at age 15 and went to Los Angeles with $3. Balboni referred to "Herbisms," but avoided details. A comment on how picky Reed was about food drew chuckles from the audience.

At the close of the service, Reed received full military honors, reflecting his service during the Korean War.

The Regent has 500 seats. One present said the crowd was not as large as it might have been and lacked many of Reed's friends, who were likely engaged in playing gigs. "Saturday is not a day for a musician's funeral," he said.

Leland Stein, manager of the Regent, said the theater has not had a funeral since it opened in 1916. "Only our own," he said, joking. He noted that Reed and the Platters had played the Regent about seven years ago.

On the screen at the Regent was an image of the original Platters with Reed larger than the five others. A small subheading said, "Reunited June 4, 2012," the day Reed died at age 83.

Those present expect the music to live on.

This story was published Sunday, June 17, 2012.

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