The Ravens

The Ravens were among the pioneering post-World War II R&B groups, and also among the earliest R&B groups named for birds. In both their musicality and their nomenclature, they influenced two generations of performers that followed, as well as sold lots of records in the process. The Ravens originated with Jimmy Ricks (born 1924, Jackson, FL; died 1974, New York, NY), who started singing at an early age. In 1945, he was employed as a waiter at the Four Hundred Tavern and later at an establishment known as the L. Bar, both in New York's Harlem. One of his co-workers was a friend, Warren "Birdland" Suttles, and during moments when the work wasn't too frantic, the two began singing together, to tunes by the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers, the Delta Rhythm Boys, and other harmony groups whose music appeared on the club's jukebox. They decided to try and form an actual group, searching for two more members that would make up the requisite harmony quartet. The two hooked up with Leonard "Zeke" Puzey and Ollie Jones, and worked up their sound around songs such as "Darktown Strutters' Ball." Choosing the name the Ravens, and thus inaugurating the "bird" group trend in black vocal groups, they were booked into the Club Baton in Harlem, and proved themselves sufficiently talented to rate a national tour, also picking up Howard Biggs, who became their arranger and the composer of much of their original repertory. The Ravens' sound was unusual for its time, featuring bass singer Ricks as the lead voice -- this would become their trademark and one of their most often emulated attributes over the next decade.