Kenny, last of original Ink Spots, dies of cancer at Columbia home

July 14, 1992|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

Herbert Cornelius Kenny, a Baltimore man whose rich bass voice blended into the distinctive harmonic sounds of the Ink Spots during the 1940s and early 1950s, died of cancer Saturday at his home in Columbia. He was 77.

A Mass will be offered 10 a.m. Thursday at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, Wilde Lake Interfaith Center. Burial will be in St. John's Cemetery in Ellicott City.

Mr. Kenny, the surviving member of the original Ink Spots, grew up in West Baltimore before he set out on his musical career with the group in 1944.

His brother Bill sang tenor lead for the group, and they produced numerous hit songs on the Decca label, the most memorable being "If I Didn't Care."

The Ink Spots performed locally, nationally and internationally. They appeared at the Royal Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue with the likes of Count Basie, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway and Dinah Washington.

The Ink Spots also were considered pioneers and role models for groups that followed such as the Platters, Penguins, Drifters and Temptations.

"The Ink Spots were an important chapter in modern American music," said Steve Cochran, former program director of a Baltimore oldies radio station and local disc jockey. "They defined what a vocal group could be, substituting beautiful voices for instruments."

Mr. Kenny was born in Philadelphia but moved with his family to Baltimore when he was 5 years old. He lived at 1151 N. Carey St. and attended St. Peter Claver School. He graduated from Booker T. Washington Junior High School and Frederick Douglass High School.

He joined the Ink Spots as a replacement for Orville "Hoppy" Jones, who died on stage in 1944. Besides his brother, the other members of the group were Charlie Fuqua and Billy Bowen.

Besides their classic hit "If I Didn't Care," the Ink Spots sang "A Kiss and a Rose," "The Gypsy," "We Three" and "Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall."

At the height of their popularity, they played all the major clubs and theaters in the U.S. and Europe. The group disbanded in 1951, although other singers calling themselves the Ink Spots still occasionally appear around the country.

From 1952 through 1957, Mr. Kenny sang solo and performed at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. Later, he worked in radio broadcasting as a program director at a Washington station until 1966.

His daughter, Daphne Jackson, said he was a car salesman for several years in Washington but retired to his Columbia home and sang part-time in area clubs.

"Dad showed me letters from people who listened to the tight harmony of the group when they were sick," Ms. Jackson said. "They swore the music was so sweet that they got well."

She said the Ink Spots collected numerous achievements, including induction in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

In his retirement years, Mr. Kenny could usually be found at the Hobbits Glen Golf Club in Columbia, where he played almost daily.

"He was always optimistic and golf crazy," said Gene Ward, the golf pro at Hobbits Glen. "He radiated this youthful optimism and would sing any time you asked him. Oh, don't forget to say he shot in the 80s."

Besides his daughter, who lives in Milburn, N.J., survivors include his wife, Minnie McNeal Kenny of Columbia; a son, Paul Morris of Baltimore; and seven grandchildren.

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