#17: Wisdom Of A Fool by the Five Keys

City: Halifax, NS
Radio Station: CJCH
Peak Month: January 1957
Peak Position in Halifax ~ #3
Peak position in Vancouver ~ did not chart
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #35
YouTube: “Wisdom Of A Fool
Lyrics: “Wisdom Of A Fool

Around 1945, a gospel quartette from Newport News, Virginia, was formed. They consisted of Rudy (born 1932) and Bernard West (born in 1929) and Ripley (born in 1930) and Raphael Ingram. They called themselves The Sentimental Four. They added a second tenor, Edwin Hall, to the group, though they kept their name. Music commentator Marc Goldberg writes, “With their changed sound, the Sentimental Four (plus one) won the Jefferson Theater amateur show for five consecutive weeks.” Consequently, they were rewarded with a trip to the Apollo Theater. The manager of the Jefferson Theater in Newport News was Ike Burton. He was so excited about The Sentimental Four, that he offered to become their manager, which they accepted. Burton wanted the group to change their name. Goldberg recounts, “They were in his office when a key ring with 5 skeleton keys on it fell on the floor, and the “5 Keys” they became.” Soon they had double-breasted gray plaid suits and blue and white ties with the ‘K’ stitched on. They showed up at the Apollo Theatre Amateur Hour on August 24, 1949, with their new outfit.

A paper in Newport News, Virginia, reported on the Five Keys success in late August ’49. “The Five Keys…added a laurel to its musical accomplishments in a recent debut in New York City at the Apollo Theatre. The group was first organized in 1944, had given performances at Virginia Beach, Bucks College Tavern, Williamsburg, and in Norfolk, before competing in an amateur program at the Jefferson Theater.” The article details how the Sentimental Four were getting bookings in Washington DC and other Capital theaters.

The district manager of the Capital theaters suggested the northern trip and aided in making the arrangements for the group. This was the first time that the locals had been up against big city competition, but it was no drawback as they came through with flying colors, to win first place in competition with 31 other groups at the Apollo Theater in New York City. So well did the Keys perform, that they were invited by a number of clubs, and will be given a week at the Apollo for winning first prize.” The group won $50 and subsequently appeared at the Howard Theater in Washington DC as guests of Count Basie. ($50 dollars in 1949 is equal to about $650 in 2024 $). The Five Keys also went on tour with Duke Ellington.

In 1949, Raphael Ingram left the quartette after receiving his draft notice to join the United States Army that summer. James “Dickie” Smith was his replacement. In 1950, Edwin Hall got married and was replaced by Maryland Pierce (born in 1932). The classic Five Keys lineup of Rudy West, Dickie Smith, Maryland Pierce, Ripley Ingram and Bernie West, was established.

In 1951, the group were signed to Aladdin Records, and shifted to R&B. They had a number-one R&B hit in 1951 with “The Glory Of Love”. The single topped the R&B Juke Box and/or the R&B Best Seller list for five non-consecutive weeks. (It was knocked out of the top position twice by “Sixty Minute Man” by Billy Ward and his Dominoes). Cashbox had “The Glory Of Love” at number-one for three weeks in Harlem in October 1951, and 14 weeks in the Top Ten on the regional Harlem R&B chart.

The Five Keys recorded over a dozen more singles into 1954. Rudy West was drafted in 1952, but returned to the group in 1955. (Ulysses Hicks replaces Rudy West, but died of a heart attack in 1955 at the age of 25). Among the songs they recorded was an answer tune: “Mama (Your Daughter Told a Lie on Me)”. But their rejoinder to Ruth Brown’s number-one hit “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” didn’t get much attention.

In 1954 Dickie Smith left for the US Air Force and was replaced with Ramon Loper (born in Pennsylvania in 1935). The Five Keys were signed to Capitol Records. With Capitol Records, the Five Keys were Rudy West, Ramon Loper, Bernie West, Maryland Pierce, and Ripley Ingram. The group’s first single on Capitol was “Ling, Ting, Tong”. The Five Keys appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on November 20, 1955, where they sang “Ling, Ting, Tog”. The single climbed to #5 on the R&B charts, and #28 on the Billboard Pop chart.

Their next release was “Close Your Eyes”, written by Chuck Willis. The single also peaked at #5 on the R&B charts, and was subsequently covered by the Skyliners, Peaches & Herb, and a duet by Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt.

The Five Keys continued to chart in 1955 with “The Verdict”, “‘Cause You’re My Lover” and “Gee Whittakers!”. Billboard wrote of the latter tune, “The group wraps up a bright novelty ‘Gee Whittakers!’ in a bouncy, solidly commercial vocal treatment and a happy beat.” Each of these made the Top 15 on the R&B charts at #13, #12 and #14 respectively. The Five Keys performed at Carnegie Hall in October ’55.

In 1956, the Five Keys charted two singles into the Top 30 of the Billboard Pop chart: “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” and “Wisdom Of A Fool”.

Wisdom Of A Fool by the Five Keys

“Wisdom Of A Fool” was written by Abner Silver and Abner Silberman was born in 1899 in New York City. He wrote songs for Tin Pan Alley and pop standards. “He’s So Unusual” was successfully covered by Cyndi Lauper in 1983. “With These Hands” was a Top Ten hit for Eddie Fisher in 1953. Silver died at the age of 66 in 1966.

Roy Alfred was born in 1916 in New York City. Alfred was a Tin Pan Alley lyricist who in 1946 wrote “The Best Man”, a Top 20 hit for Nat “King” Cole. Alfred wrote lyrics for R&B singer Roy Milton for “The Hucklebuck” in 1949. He also wrote “You Don’t Learn That In School”, recorded in 1947 by Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole and others; “Don’t Do Something To Someone Else (That You Wouldn’t Want Done To You)” for Mel Torme in 1949; In 1953 he wrote the B-side to Frank Sinatra’s “I’m Walking Behind You” titled “Lean Baby.” In 1955 he wrote lyrics to “(The) Rock and Roll Waltz” which became a number-one hit for Kay Starr in March 1956, knocking “The Great Pretender” out of the top spot. That same year he penned a #7 R&B hit for Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers titled “Who Can Explain?”, and a Top 40 pop hit titled “The Wisdom Of A Fool” for the Five Keys. In 1960 Roy Alfred wrote the track, “Cozy Little Compact Car”, for Brian Hyland’s debut album The Bashful Blonde. In 1961 Roy Alfred wrote a Top 40 hit for Sam Cooke titled “That’s It—I Quit—I’m Movin’ On”. He also wrote “She Can’t Find Her Keys” for Paul Peterson in 1962. And in 1965 Roy Alfred penned “Let’s Lock the Door (And Throw Away the Key)” for Jay & The Americans. Roy Alfred died in 2008 at the age of 92.

“Wisdom Of A Fool” is a song warning other lovers to hold fast to the one you love. Be glad if you have someone who loves you. The ‘fool’ narrating the song knows from personal experience that taking a love for granted makes a love grow cold. Looking back, he warns “I’m afraid it’s too late for me.”

“Wisdom Of A Fool” peaked on the pop charts at #3 in Buffalo, and Halifax (NS), #4 in and Milwaukee, #7 in Meridian (MI), and Newport News (VA), #8 in Pittsburgh, Albany (NY), and Troy (NY), #9 in Seattle, and #12 in Detroit.

In 1957, Capitol Records released the album The Five Keys On Stage. The liner notes state “There’s always room at the top, they say, and no one knows it better than the Five Keys, for that’s exactly where their singing has taken them. In personal appearances and on record, these boys with the big sound are really rocking. The very first records made for Capitol, Ling, Ting, Tong and Close Your Eyes, were smashes. More recently, they have scored solidly with Out of Sight, Out Of Mind and Wisdom Of A Fool, two great examples of the group’s outstanding ballad style.”

In the summer of 1957, the Five Keys sang “The Glory Of Love” on American Bandstand. Between 1957 and 1973, the Five Keys released over twenty singles. Their only charting single was “Let There Be You”, climbing to #83 on the Billboard Pop chart in 1957. Capitol released six more singles with the Five Keys. After a studio session on February 11, 1958, Rudy West left the group. He had gotten married in late ’57, and decided he needed a steady job and began work with the U.S. Post Office. He was replaced by Dickie Threatt. Ramon Loper left later in 1958. There were several lineup changes in the years that followed.

In late 1959, the Five Keys signed with King Records. In the case of both Aladdin and Capitol Records, the Five Keys got no royalties. However, though the material recorded with King Records was often superior to their later Capitol releases, the Five Keys were recording tunes that were years out of date. The Five Keys were not recording songs that resembled the latest sounds in R&B like James Brown or Jerry Butler. Their last release with King Records was in 1964 with “I’ll Never Stop Loving You”. It would have sounded fresh in 1955, but in the middle of the British Invasion the Five Keys last release seemed like a throwback.

From the late 40s in the 60s, the Five Keys performed on stage with some of the best R&B artists, including a few white artists that made covers of original R&B hits. This includes Dinah Washington, Andy Williams, Illinois Jaquet, Louis Armstrong, Woody Herman and his Orchestra, Lowell Fulson, Charlie Barnet, Edna McGriff, Big Joe Turner, Varetta Dillard, Faye Adams, Joe Morris, Chuck Willis, Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John, Lloyd Price, Bobby Lewis, Bullmoose Jackson, The Clovers, The Moonglows, Otis Williams & the Charms, Bo Diddley, Al Hibbler, Little Walter, Nappy Brown, The Spaniels, Etta James, Gene & Eunice, Roy Hamilton, Shirley & Lee, Clyde McPhatter, The Flamingoes, The Turbans, The Cheers, Pat Boone, Roy Milton, The Drifters, Ruth Brown, Frankie Lemon & the Teenagers, the Teen Queens, Ivory Joe Hunter, Ernie Freeman, The Penguins, Charles Brown, The Five Satins, Chuck Berry, Bill Doggett, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, the Del-Vikings, The Diamonds, Little Richard, Jo Ann Campbell, Larry Williams, Big Maybelle, the Bobbettes, Wilbert Harrison, Ruby & the Romantics, Ben E. King, Bob & Earl, the Clovers, the Orioles, Screaming’ Jay Hawkins, the Hollywood Flames, Bobby Day, and Bill Haley & His Comets.

In 1995 Ripley Ingram died at the age of 65. In 1998, Rudy West died in 1998 at the age of 65. Ramon Loper died in 2002 at the age of 66. That year Dickie Smith also died. Bernie West died in 2018 at the age of 89, and Maryland Pierce died in 2021 at the age of 89.

April 3, 2024
Ray McGinnis

Five Keys, “Mama (Your Daughter Told A Lie On Me)“, Aladdin Records, 1953.
Maryland Pierce Obituary,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 31, 2021.
Ripley Ingram: Part of the Famous Five Keys,” Daily Press, Norfolk, Virginia, March 26, 1995.
Ramon Navarro Loper – Obituary,” October 23, 2002.
Rudy West – Obituary,” Daily Press, Norfolk, Virginia, May 16, 1998.
Abner Silver, Composer, Dies,” Washington Observer, November 25, 1966.
Five Keys, “Mama, Your Daughter Told A Lie On Me“, Aladdin Records, 1953.
Five Keys, “Close Your Eyes“, Capitol Records, 1955.
Five Keys, “Ling Ting Tong“, Capitol Records, 1955.
Roy Alfred,” Secondhandsongs.com.

Wisdom Of A Fool by the Five Keys
CJCH 920-AM, Halifax (NS) Top Ten | January 26, 1957

One response to “Wisdom Of A Fool by the Five Keys”

  1. Tom Locke says:

    Great song by one of my favorite Doo Wop groups.

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