Bill Pinkney, 81, the last survivor of the original members of the musical group the Drifters, died July 4th at a hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida, where he was scheduled to perform for Independence Day festivities. A Daytona Beach police spokesman said Pinkney was found dead in his hotel room, but the death was not considered suspicious. Family members said he had heart problems.
Pinkney wasn’t with the Drifters when they recorded their biggest hits, which included “Under the Boardwalk,” “Up on the Roof” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.” He left the group in 1958, five years after it was formed, because of an argument over money. His distinctive bass voice can be heard on the Drifters’ version of the holiday classic “White Christmas” used in the 1990 movie “Home Alone.”
Even though he left the group, Pinkney hung on to the Drifters’ name and went on to lead a group that toured as the Original Drifters. He fought for laws allowing performers or bands to claim an affiliation with a classic group like the Drifters or the Coasters only if at least one member recorded with the original group.
Seven members of The Drifters, including Pinkney, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Born in Dalzell, S.C., in 1925, Mr. Pinkney grew up singing in gospel choirs and picked cotton in South Carolina before entering the Army. He was awarded a Bronze Star and Silver Star after serving in Europe during World War II. He also pitched for the New York Blue Sox of the Negro Baseball League in the late 1940s and early ’50s. You’ll hear lots of Drifters tunes on “the Honor Roll of Hits” exclusively at TUNEDEX MEMORIES!