Rudolph ''Rudy'' Lorenzo West (born July 25, 1932, Newport News, Virginia - died May 14, 1998, Suffolk City, Virginia) was the renowned primary lead singer of the Five Keys and with his delicate, pure singing voice sold millions of records in the 1950s,
Rudy was a graduate of Huntington High School and attended Elizabeth City State Teacher's College on a football scholarship. In 1949, Rudy and his brother Bernard joined another set of singing brothers - Ripley and Raphael Ingram - to form The Sentimental Four, a gospel quartet. Inspired by the harmonies of The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots, they soon began to shift toward R&B. After winning three consecutive weeks of amateur contests at the Jefferson, they were invited to perform at the prestigious Apollo Theatre in New York City, where they also won.
This led to subsequent engagements at the Royal and Howard Theatres. As the group established their reputation along the Eastern Seaboard, they were noticed by Eddie Mesner, owner of the California-based Aladdin Records, who signed them to a recording contract. About this time, Raphael went into the army and was replaced by Maryland Pierce. Also added was another singer, Dickie Smith, and a sixth man, piano player Joe Jones. Reflecting the personnel changes, their name was changed from the Sentimental Four to the Five Keys.
The Keys toured both the East and West Coasts and their Aladdin songs were recorded in New York and Los Angeles. Some of their approximately 17 Aladdin releases in the early '50s consisted of "Glory of Love," "How Long," "Someday Sweetheart," "Red Sails in the Sunset," and "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" with Rudy West and Dickie Smith on leads; and "My Saddest Hour" and "Serve Another Round" with Maryland Pierce on lead.
In 1953, both Rudy and Dickie entered the U.S. Army and were replaced by Ramon Loper and Ulysses Hicks. By mid-1954, the Keys' contract with Aladdin was expiring and their last Aladdin release, "Deep in My Heart," was reviewed in June of that year. In July of 1954, the Five Keys found themselves in the RCA studios, where they recorded four tracks. Two remained unreleased, and "Lawdy Miss Mary" backed with "I'll Follow You" were issued in August 1954 on RCA's subsidiary Groove label. The Keys' manager, Saul Richfield, must have been working very hard for his group at this time, for on August 29, 1954, Capitol announced that they had signed the Five Keys.
By 1955, Rudy West was back and the Five Keys were in the right place at the right time to be recorded using Capitol's advanced audio production techniques. With Rudy on lead, and backed by the Howard Biggs Orchestra, they recorded "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" and "Wisdom of a Fool." Tired of touring, Rudy retired from the group in 1958. In 1959 they recorded several sides for the King label, but they could not sustain the success they had achieved at Capitol. During this time, Rudy also recorded solo sides for King.
While various members reunited during the oldies craze of the 70s, there were to be no further recordings by any 5 Keys group that could be considered original. Rudy West established another Keys group that continued to perform through 1998. In 1992, the United In Group Harmony Association inducted the original Five Keys in to their Hall of Fame. All original members were present and performed together at the induction ceremony. This was their first time together in 40-plus years and would be the last time they would all take to the stage as a group.
Rudy occasionally sang with George Winfield, Oliver Sidney, and Edwin Hall as "Rudy West and His Keys" right up until the time of his death. His last performance was on April 18, 1998, at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, NY. Even at that point in time, his voice was still magnificent, and his phrasing impeccable. The audience was justifiably thrilled at what would be the final performance of this legendary R&B artist.
Having been diagnosed with prostate cancer, Rudy was getting radiation treatments in the weeks before his death. A heart attack dealt the final blow, family members said. "Each time, after the radiation treatments, he would come home and lie down on the couch," said Bernard West, Rudy's brother and also an original member of The Five Keys. "Just so happened that last night, his wife couldn't wake him up." Rudy passed away at his home in Chesapeake on may 14, 1998. He was 65. The Five keys were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.
(Edited from All Music & Daily Press. A big thanks to Marv Goldberg for photographs )
Here's a clip taken from the United in Group Harmony Hall of Fame induction show at Symphony Space, NYC, in 1992. Maryland Pierce is singing lead. Rudy West on falsetto. A very special moment considering they haven’t sung together for years.