The young foursome toured briefly with Miller's Brown-Skinned Models, an all-black revue that played fairs and carnivals. And they started winning local talent contests. Those victories led to a chance to perform at the Apollo Theatre in New York City. The singers won a contest there, too. And soon after, Los Angeles-based Aladdin Records signed the group.
After a few lineup changes that included adding a fifth member, the combo renamed itself The Five Keys. "Ling, Ting, Tong," was a No. 28 pop hit in 1954. That was followed by the ballad "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," which reached No. 23 in 1956, and "Wisdom of a Fool," which hit No. 35 in 1957. But the group's influence was greater than the best-sellers would indicate.
Before black groups started crossing over onto pop charts, The Five Keys had a powerful effect on R&B music - especially among vocal harmony acts. "One of the most popular, influential and beautiful-sounding R&B singing groups of the 1950s, The Five Keys were not only a link between the gospel/pop units of the '40s and the later R&B and rock groups, they led by example, having hits in R&B, rock 'n' roll, and pop before the decade was through," wrote Jay Warner in the Billboard Book of American Singing Groups.