Paul Robi was the booming baritone of the 50s vocal group the Platters. He stayed with the group through their chart topping heyday, performing on timeless classics like “Only You,” “The Great Pretender” and “Twilight Time.” He passed away in the late 1980s, performing for as long as his body would allow. This summer his daughter, Franchesca, released a collection of Platters covers in tribute to her father's legacy, proving a inherited sense of phrasing and romance. She spoke with us by phone in anticipation of her Society of Singers benefit this Monday.
OC Weekly (Sean J. O'Connell): How old were you when you realized what your father did for a living?
Franchesca Robi: I think I realized how famous the group was when I got to my teenage years. I went on tour with them a lot. That was kind of interesting. We'd be out of school a little bit too much. It was fun to travel with my dad. They were so well known around the world. That was really cool to go to a different country and see people who didn't speak English but knew the lyrics to Platters songs.
The weird thing is we got the same response everywhere we went – Indonesia, Australia, Taiwan, Finland. People loved the music. People loved it no matter what. My mom and my dad loved performing in Japan the most. They absolutely loved the Platters in Japan. I toured there for many years too. After my dad passed I continued on with the music. We had a great time there. People love the idea of the daughter carrying on the father's music.
What do you think the Platters' legacy is?
I think it's timeless music. The songs were love songs with beautiful melodies and harmonies. Their music was so beautiful. They don't make songs like that anymore. The whole combination is what made that group and they were such smooth, elegant performers. They were sort of in the same vein as Nat King Cole, that type of swagger. It was amazing to see them perform.
They were more into love songs and ballads. Even though they were in that doo wop scene, everyone would get together and slow dance to them. People would come up to my dad and say “we fell in love to this song” or they conceived their first child listening to one of their songs.
Your album seems like quite a production with strings and a jazz quintet. What did it take to make it happen?
It was a project that my mom and I had talked about for many years. It all came together last year. We met the right people who wanted to get involved. Next thing you know we were in the studio. We recorded the whole thing at Capitol Records in Hollywood. The Platters' first hit was recorded there as well. It was an amazing experience doing the record there. The engineer we used at Capitol, Dan Wallin, is one of the oldest engineers still working. He's very in-demand and he had just done the soundtrack for Mission Impossible. He helped me get all the musicians together for the quintet [including bassist Chuck Berghofer, drummer Peter Erskine]. He was in the first session with the orchestra. He loved my voice. He said “you gotta get back in here and I have the perfect guys for you.”
You're fundraiser is for the Society of Singers. What is their mission?
The organization was founded by Henry Mancini's wife, Ginny. She put it together for singers who have medical problems. There isn't usually health insurance for available for singers. The organization is there to help people who are unable to take care of their medical costs. It's a great cause and I'm glad to be a part of it.