From the first notes of “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” the Crighton Theater’s sold-out audience knew it was entering the kind of musical paradise that seems all too rare in a world that debates how much trash should be tolerated at the Grammy Awards. Popular Courier columnist, Peggy Miller, President of the hosting Montgomery County Performing Arts Society, opened the program by pointing out the exquisitely restored theater’s beautiful new aisle carpeting provided by the generous contributions of Society members. Then it was on to the main event, The Ink Spots.
To say this would be a night of “class” and musical elegance would be an understatement. Speaking of elegance, the sharp white suits and matching patent leather shoes of the quartet were a knockout. The purest of harmonies, great solos, and smooth choral backup would prevail throughout a night of sheer musical joy. Perfect support came from the onstage trio led by talented Hopkins Hallman on piano. The audience was beaming non-stop, and before it was all over, one woman told me she had cheek cramps from smiling so much!
The original group’s history dates to 1936 Indianapolis, and its famed lead vocalist, Bill Kenny, came on board three years later. The current group featured Morris Dow, Sonny Hatchett, Harold Winley and last minute substitute (as lead singer), Herman Denby, who filled in valiantly for indisposed group regular, Grant Kitchings. Their rendition of “The Gypsy” was a rich, flowing river of vocal harmony. Winley brings great fun to this, and other tunes, while “talking” the lyrics with his deep bass voice. The tune “Maybe” had the happy lilt and rhythms of an era of musical joy. This melody, and others such as “”Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall,” were treated to such a variety of tempos they called to mind the intricate vocal styling of the Boswell Sisters. The artists add touches of light choreography with some cute steps. Mr. Hatchett was a standout in this regard and earned his nickname, “Twinkle Toes.” He must be the most graceful heavyweight since Jackie Gleason. He also showed his skill as stand-up comic after the intermission.
“We Three” was a plaintive, sweet journey into the world of “…my echo, my shadow, and me.” This could only be improved if we were dancing with a loved one. Then followed a sweet “Paper Doll” that reminded me of a great Mills Brothers concert I attended years ago at the famed Westbury Music Fair on Long Island.
“I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” was velvety smooth, and “I’ll Never Smile Again” was a polished gem with a soft, gentle pace that was a warm embrace on a balmy winter night in Texas. Next came the fun of some “nonsense songs” in the tradition of Spike Jones, George Burns, and the Andrews sisters. The “Java Jive,” a personal favorite of mine, got the best treatment I have heard since the Manhattan Transfer played here at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.
Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” was pure silk with a touch of humor as Hatchett broke down sobbing while he sang. Winley had the appreciative audience clapping along during his brisk and snappy “Mack the Knife.” He teased the audience, explaining they had just applauded a song that glorified a serial murderer. Denby opened a delicious rendition of the group’s trademark song, “If I Didn’t Care,” and was joined by Winley in rich bass. Next, guitarist Dow sang “When the Saints Go Marching In” with great piano accompaniment from Hallman. The boys prance, jog and give abundantly of love. This was medicine. This was joy. I felt as though years were being added to my life. The perfect encore, “This Is A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” left no room for argument.
(The Courier 3.4.01)