From D Day to Top Ten

Remembering Normandy veteran who later played Kings Heath.

75 years ago this month eighteen year old Bill Pinkney from South Carolina was a GI in General Patton’s army. He earned a Presidential Citation with four Bronze Service stars for heroism including Normandy, Saint-Lo, Bastogne and the Rhine. Later in the 1960’s he played at the Ritz Ballroom and other clubs on the Regan circuit as part of The Original Drifters.

Although he was a war hero he said in a 2004 interview “Never could I say I liked the military. I was in service in a segregated army. Overseas fighiting for your country and some of the white soldiers were telling people that we were animals”.

Returning from the war Bill began to sing in gospel choirs where he met Clyde McPhatter and brothers Andrew and Gerhart Thrasher who became the original members of The Drifters. Their first and second records Money Money and Such A Night were big hits on the American rhythm and blues charts in 1953. Then Clyde got drafted and Bill and the brothers were sacked from the group. bill needed work so he quickly registered the name Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters as a trademark.

British promoter Ray Tempest signed up The Original Drifters, bringing them to the UK in January 1966. The line up was Bill Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher, Bobby Hollis and Bobby Hendricks, lead singer on The Drifters second UK single release Drip Drop.

Joe and Mary Regan booked them to play at the Brum Kavern in Small Heath on 16th January. They must have gone down so well that they re-booked them for their summer tour playing at the two Plazas in Handsworth and Old Hill on 8th May and back in Handsworth coupled with King’s Heath’s Ritz Ballroom on 8th June. That makes them ,it is believed, the only American act to play all four Regan venues.

The Regans booked two more shows from Roy Tempest in 1967. On 15th October Clyde McPhatter, The Drifters’ original lead singer, appeared at the Handsworth Plaza and Kings Heath’s Ritz Ballroom and on 22nd November Bill Pinkney’s Original Drifters played the same venues.

Bill would stay in the music business for the next fifty years, dying in a Florida hotel hours before he was due to perform on Indepenence Day in 2007. In 2004 he said “I like the music music world so much. music has done more for for the country than any civil rights law ever could”.

Bob Prew and Ken Whittaker, joint organisers of King’s Heath Walk of Fame, said “We are really grateful to Graham Reay for doing all the research on Bill Pinkney’s life including his appearances at King’s Heath’s old Ritz Ballroom and bringing his story to our attention. Bill was a great war hero and a great musician. It is only fitting that we honour his memory 75 years later, along with all those who took part in the D Day landing”.