by Tony Berman
researched & edited by Shana Dines
While I was in Las Vegas the past couple of days, I checked out the listings of entertainment at the casinos. There were obvious “tribute” shows such as “The Rat Pack is Back,” “Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was,” and “Four Lads From Liverpool.”
Then there were some performers that made me wonder - “The Platters,” “Cornell Gunter's Coasters,” and “The Marvelettes.”
I thought, “Didn’t Cornell Gunter die in the '90s in Las Vegas after being shot?” Who were these Coasters then?
And what about these Marvelettes? I knew that for many years, none of the original members were able to tour under the name "The Marvelettes" in the United States due to a decision by Motown Records to sell their name to a promoter who had much younger girls on both coasts appearing as "The Marvelettes."
"Did original Marvelette Gladys Horton regain control of the name?" I wondered.
And how many of the original Platters would be at this gig? Certainly not Zola Taylor, who I knew had died last year.
Impersonators and tribute bands have long been a popular, inexpensive alternative to seeing the real musical groups, especially those who have passed away. However, when a group falsely claims to include an original member and bills themselves as the real thing, they cross the line and become impostors.
In the past few years, legislation called the Truth in Music Act has made it unlawful in certain states, including California, for any person to advertise or perform using a false, deceptive, or misleading affiliation with a recording group. To be legal, a performing group must be authorized by the owner of the band name's trademark or include at least one member of the original recording group who has a legal right to use the name. Tributes and reviews are still legal, but original members of famous old vocal groups now have some legal redress against impostors.
To date, 18 states have passed Truth in Music bills and 12 more have begun the process of enacting similar laws. The Vocal Group Hall of Fame Foundation, which recognizes and commemorates vocal groups of all genres, is the main force behind urging states to pass this legislation.
The Truth in Music Committee is chaired by Jon Bauman (Bowzer from Sha Na Na) and has members from '50s R&B groups The Drifters ("This Magic Moment," "Under the Boardwalk"), The Platters ("Only You"), and The Coasters ("Yakety Yak").
Truth in Music is intended to protect the original musicians of these and other groups, including the Marvelettes ("Please Mr. Postman"), by preserving their rights and musical legacy. Most groups of this genre were renowned as a whole, while the individual members are less recognizable today (with the exception of Diana Ross of the Supremes).
In fact, as many as 15 different men have sung on various Drifters albums, as the members of the group changed often under the management of George Treadwell. Treadwell owned the trademark to the band name and made each member sign contracts relinquishing rights to the name.
In addition to preserving the rights of the performers, the bill also was intended to protect consumers from paying higher prices to see impostors, thinking they are the originals, as opposed to cheaper tribute bands' admission.
So far, every state to propose the Truth in Music bill has passed it with little opposition.
At the Nevada Senate hearings last year, Bauman, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, and Sonny Turner of the Platters each broke into song while giving testimony in support of the bill. Nevada was a huge accomplishment for the Truth in Music movement, as it is a ground zero for entertainment of this kind.