DAYTONA BEACH, FL (WIS) - Bill Pinkney, frontman for the popular rhythm and blues group the Original Drifters, has died at the age of 81, according to his family. A memorial service has been scheduled for Pinkney.
Relatives say Pinkney was found dead of an apparent heart attack in his Daytona Beach hotel room at around 6:00pm. He was in town for a concert.
Pinkney was supposed to come home to Sumter County Thursday to help get ready for a 150-person family reunion he helped organize.
Pinkney was born in 1925 in Dalzell, SC, and was the only surviving member of the 50's R&B group The Drifters, responsible for hits like Under the Boardwalk and Irving Berlin's White Christmas.
His sister, Eliza Pearson, says, "He said he liked to make people happy - did something to him to let people sit back and enjoy his singing."
Pinkney told us about his love for performing in a 2000 interview. "I said, I want to sing. And I guess it was just in the blood, because I turned out to be a decent singer."
It began as a child, says Eliza. "He would organize groups to sing during programs at school - and he would always be the one to get the group together."
Pinkney left the Drifters before it recorded its hits like "Up on the Roof" and "Under the Boardwalk," but kept the group's legacy alive by keeping the Drifters name in the public eye.
Prior to his 50-year recording career, Pinkney served in World War II and pitched for a team in the Negro Baseball League.
Among many other honors, Pinkney has been admitted into the South Carolina Black Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Beach Music Hall of Fame. He also received the Order of the Palmetto.
House Majority Whip and Sixth District Congressman James E. Clyburn has issued a statement on the passing of Bill Pinkney:
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of my friend and fellow Sumter County native Bill Pinkney. South Carolina and our country have lost a musical genius. Bill was an extraordinary entertainer, and deeply devoted to his state and his community.
"My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time."
Services are as follows:
- Lying in repose - Sunday, July 8, 12:00pm - 6:00pm at Williams Funeral Home, 821 North Main Street, Sumter, SC
- Viewing - Monday, July 9 11:00am - 1:00pm
- Service - Monday, July 9, 1:00pm at Sumter Exhibition Center, 700 West Liberty Street, Sumter, SC (803-436-2270)
There will be a Memorial Service in Las Vegas in early August.