Friday, January 31, 2020

Ernie Banks—Mr. Cub’s Long and Happy Life

Ernie Banks connects for the long ball at Wrigley Field.
Today would have been Ernie Banks 89th birthday if he had made it.  But he didn’t.  He died in a Chicago hospital on January 23, 2015.
When the news his passing came it was a shock to many Cubs. It probably shouldn’t have.  After all he was nearly 84 years old.  It’s just that he seemed so ever youthful, not just in those memory pictures we had in our head of his days on the diamond, but in the frequent glimpses we would get of him on TV at fan events or in interviews.  No matter how gray or sparse his hair became, how lined that lean face, he seemed boyish, bursting with enthusiasm and, yes, ready to play two.
Banks was, bar none, the most beloved player in the long history of the Chicago National League franchise.  He was the only longtime Cub player not to draw contempt and scorn from hard core White Sox fans.  Beyond the playing field his gentle demeanor and graciousness to fans and the press endeared him to the whole city.  His status as an icon of a losing franchise almost obscured his real accomplishments on the field.
But as an obituary in the New York Times, hardly a Second City boosting cheerleader, pointed out, Banks was, “the greatest power-hitting shortstop of the 20th century and an unconquerable optimist…”
Banks was born on January 31, 1931, in Dallas, Texas, the second oldest of 11 children of a warehouse worker and his wife.  His father, Eddie Banks had played semi-pro ball and encouraged his athletically inclined son to take an interest in the game.  Ernie was not much interested and at first had to be bribed to play catch with the old man.  Part of it was that he had few opportunities to play organized baseball.  There was no Little League for Texas Black boys in those days and Booker T. Washington High School did not have a team.  Instead he lettered in track, basketball, and football.  The closest he could come to baseball was playing softball in summer church leagues, and for a season with the semi-pro Amarillo Colts.

Ernie Banks, second from right, with the 1953 Kansas City Monarchs.
Still after graduating he somehow managed to catch the attention of the Kansas City Monarchs, the most prestigious franchise in the Negro American League.  Some accounts give credit to a scout who was friendly with his father, others to legendary player Cool Papa Bell.  Maybe it was both.  But in 1950 he was signed and playing for the Monarchs.
Bank’s fledgling baseball career was cut short when he was drafted into the Army in 1951.  He suffered a knee injury during basic training which would haunt him later in his career.  He was attached to the 45th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion at Fort Bliss where he was a sharp enough soldier to be made the unit’s flag bearer.  During his months at Bliss he was able to sub occasionally with the Harlem Globetrotters operation, usually appearing in the uniform of the perpetually loosing Washington Generals.  After that he was stationed in Germany. 
Upon his discharge from active duty, Banks rejoined the Monarchs.  His time with the team was his university of baseball.  He learned and mastered quickly all of the fundamentals of the game.    In no time at all he was a star player.  So good that he was attracting attention from Major League scouts who finally ready to stock their teams with Black talent.  He finished the 1953 season batting for an impressive .347 average.  The Chicago Cubs snatched him up and he would wear the blue pinstripes for the final games of that season.
Despite the opportunity, Banks was loathe to leave the Monarchs which he considered his home.  He thought about asking the team not to sell his contract.   That is the kind of loyalty that in the end he transferred to the Cubs.
The Cubs, badly in need of talent, put Banks directly into the Big League game without any time in the minors.  His debut at Wrigley Field was on September 17, 1953 versus the Brooklyn Dodgers.  

An autographed copy of Banks's rookie card.
Before the game Jackie Robinson crossed the field to welcome the Cubs’ first Black player and give him some support and encouragement.  Robinson had also played for the Monarchs and was Banks’s idol.  Banks later recalled that Robinson told him, “Ernie, I’m glad to see you’re up here so now just listen and learn.”  It was advice he took to heart, maybe too much so. “For years, I didn’t talk and learned a lot about people.”  
His reticence to speak up on racial tensions and issues on and off the field would later draw accusations of being an Uncle Tom from some.  But it was not in his nature to be confrontational and he tried hard to make friends with everybody.  Robinson believed his early reticence in responding to abuse on the field when he first broke baseball’s color line earned him the right to speak out and became Civil Rights movement spokesman.  Despite their differences over this Banks and Robinson remained close.
In his first full season with the Cubs as shortstop he paired up with the team’s second Black player Gene Baker at second base to form a bang-bang double play combination.  The two also roomed together on the road.  Banks hit a respectable 19 home runs and had 71 runs batted in.  It was good enough to finish second in National League Rookie of the Year voting.

Banks turning a bang-bang double play at short stop.
Banks really took off as a dominant player in 1955, his second full season, after he switched to a lighter weight bat increasing his bat speed.  Thanks to strong wrists and a sharp eye for a fast ball, the tall, slender (6’1”, 180 lbs.) shortstop became a genuine power hitter and slugger.  That season he slammed 44 round trippers and drove in 117 runs.  He earned the first of 14 consecutive All Star Game appearances.  His home run total was a single-season record for shortstops and he set a thirty year record of five single-season grand slam home runs.
It was the beginning of a parade of phenomenally successful seasons in which he was a shining star on miserable teams.  In 1956 despite missing 19 games with an infection in one hand that took the edge off of his power Banks still hit 28 home runs, had 85 RBIs, and a .297 batting average. In 1957, he bounced back with 43 home runs, 102 RBIs, and a .285 batting average.
Banks slamming one home at Wrigley Field.
Then there were the back to back Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards—a first in National League history—in ’58 and ’59.  He hit over .300 each year, led the League in RBIs both years, and knocked 47 homers the first year and 45 the next.  In 1960 he led the League with 41 homers, earned a Gold Glove at short stop and for the sixth time in his seven year full season career led the league in most games played.  
Banks was not only the star, but a consistent work horse on terrible teams.  The Cubs currently have a reputation for a fanatical fan base and the ability to fill the seats of Wrigley Field no matter how miserable the teams on the field.  But it was not always so.  In the early ‘50’s years of bad teams had slashed attendance.  The North Side ball park frequently resembled a ghost town.  Banks gave fans something to plunk down money to see.  As Ernie got hot, the fans began to come back.  Not only that, he helped them bond with the team, especially with children for whom he always seemed to have time.  Banks was building a fan base for the team that would become multi-generational.
 Cubs owner P. K. Wrigley was meddlesome, eccentric, and most of all cheap.  Despite Bank’s value to the team, he was paid remarkably modestly.  He was paid only $27,000 for the ’58 season.  That did jump to $45,000 the next year and after that it rose by small increments annual so that by the time he retire in 1971 he was making $50,000.  While those were comfortable salaries in the days before big time agents and skyrocketing pay, they lagged far behind Banks’ peers in the top rung of baseball talent by as much as 50%.  
Yet the star slugger never publicly complained out of loyalty to the team and because he enjoyed an unusually close personal relationship with Wrigley.  The two often had lunch together and in the off season Wrigley entertained Banks and his wife at his California estate.  
As if to make up for the low pay he was handing out, the chewing gum heir advised Banks on investments and encouraged him to get involved in the business world.  Banks credited the advice for encouraging him to take classes in bank management and to enter in a variety of partnership deals in enterprises that included a car dealership.  Some of the investments worked out.  Some didn’t.  But Banks did make money.  And he discovered he was a personal asset to companies who wanted to polish their images and raise their public profiles.  If he never became the great executive he yearned to be, he did become a hugely successful public relations asset and company spokesperson.
In 1961 Wrigley made the oddest decision of his ownership.  Instead of hiring a new manager he put the team in the charge of his famous College of Coaches—management by a committee of 12 coaches who rotated between them who to be field skipper on game day.  The system worked just about as well as you would expect.  
That spring the constant shifting from left to right, a necessary at shortstop, aggravated Banks’ old Army knee injury.  The College decided to rest him at short and put him in left field, a position he was totally unfamiliar and uncomfortable with.  “Only a duck out of water could have shared my loneliness in left field,” he later said.  But with the help of center fielder Richie Ashburn he quickly adapted and made only one error in 23 games out in the cow pasture.
The College then moved him to first base, the position he would keep the rest of his career.  By May 1963 he was good enough at his new position to set a record for most put-outs in a game by a first baseman.  
But Bank’s power began to taper off, as did his speed on the base paths.  In ’62 he had been beaned by Moe Drabowsky and was carried off the field unconscious with a concussion.  He missed three days and bounced back with a three homer game.  But there were lingering effects. The following year he was weakened by the mumps, a very dangerous illness in adult men, and finished the season with 18 home runs, 64 RBIs, and a .227 batting average.  But when he hit, it was timely hitting and the team posted its first winning season since his arrival.
The next year, however the team was back in the toilet.  Banks was settling into homer production in the high 20’s and still good RBI numbers.  On September 2, 1965 Ernie thrilled fans by smacking his 400th career homer.

Things were not all peaches and cream between banks and manager Leo Durocher who had a history of making racist statement, once wanted to bench Banks during a slump but said he couldn't because "There would be rioting in the streets."
The next year, 1965, Leo Durocher arrived from Los Angeles as solo manager with a mandate to turn the bottom dwelling, money hemorrhaging team around.  Things did not go well.  Banks was having the worst season of his career.  He hit only 15 homers and his slowing on the base paths caused him to misjudge leads.  The Cubs finished the season with a dismal 59-103 record. 
Durocher, who spent his evenings night clubbing, let the press who covered his colorful escapades know that he was dissatisfied with Banks who he considered washed up.  In his memoirs Durocher complained that he wanted to bench Banks but could not because, “there would be rioting in the streets.”  Since his past was checkered with racist comments and altercations, there was speculation, particularly in the Black owned Daily Defender that Durocher’s animosity was racially motivated. 
Banks denied it and soldiered on.  In his memoirs he wrote sympathetically of Durocher claiming he wished he had a manager like that early in his career and maintaining that he learned a lot from him. Despite the tense relations, Banks stayed at first base and his numbers came back up.  In 1967 Durocher even named him a player/coach.  He hit 23 home runs, and drove in 95 runs that year. The next year his home run numbers were back up to 32 and he was awarded the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for playing ability and personal character.  And the Cubs were finally building a decent team around him.
The following year the famous ’69 Cubs made their legendary run for the National League pennant leading through much of August until a long losing streak and a hot New York Mets ended their run.  It was the team with the most eventual Hall of Famers of any that never made it to post season play including Banks, his longtime best friend Billy Williams, pitchers Ferguson Jenkins and Ken Holtzman, and Third Baseman Ron Santo.  Banks chipped in 23 home runs, 106 RBIs, and a batting average of .253 to the effort.  It was also the last year of Ernie’s 14 year run as an All Star.
Banks hit his 500th round tripper before a home crowd at Wrigley on May 12, 1970.  But his career was winding down.  After the 1971 season he announced his retirement in December.  He remained on as a coach for three more seasons and then had turns as a scout and in the team front office.  Durocher was fired midway through the next season.
Banks’s life-time stats speak for themselves—512 home runs, 277 of them as a shortstop, a career record at the time of his retirement; 2,583 hits; 1,636 RBIs; and a .274 batting average.  In addition he held the Major League record for most games played without a postseason appearance—2,528.  His Cub records include games played; at-bats, 9,421; extra-base hits, 1,009; and total bases, 4,706.
In his post playing days Banks divided his time between the Cubs and his business affairs.  He became a partner at the first Black owned Ford Dealership in the U.S.  He worked in banking, insurance, and was an executive at a moving company.  His investments paid off and he was worth an estimated $4 million when he retired.
But the Cubs were always closest to his heart.  In 1984 when the Tribune Company bought the team from the Wrigley family, Banks had a desk in the Front Office and a title as a Vice President for Corporate Sales.  The new management unceremoniously dumped him, which was the most disappointing, even heartbreaking moment in his life.  When fan reaction was uniform outrage, the company charged that Banks had missed some important Sales meetings and anonymously leaked comments to the press likening him to “your crazy uncle at Thanksgiving.”  That went over worse.  Within a couple of years the team kissed and made up.  Although Banks was never again given a front office job, he was employed as a team ambassador.

Bank's Baseball Hall of Fame plaque.
After retirement honors just kept piling up.  In 1977 he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.  In 1982 the Cubs retired his number 14, the first player so honored, and flew a flag with the number from the left field fowl poll.  It was five years before another player was so honored.  In 1999 he was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team and the Society for American Baseball Research listed him 27th on a list of the 100 greatest baseball players.  In 2008 Banks became the first Cub player to be honored with a statue outside Wrigley Field.
In 2009 Banks was named a Library of Congress Living Legend, an award in recognition of those “who have made significant contributions to America’s diverse cultural, scientific and social heritage.” On August 8, 2014 President Barack Obama draped the Presidential Medal of Freedom around Banks’ neck in a ceremony that also honored former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and 13 others.  Characteristically, Banks responded with a generous gesture that surprised and touched everyone.  He presented the President with a bat given to him by Jackie Robinson, Obama’s treasured boyhood hero.  Experts speculated that a bat of that provenance—Robinson, Banks, to Obama—instantly became probably the most valuable piece of baseball memorabilia in history.

Receiving the Medal of Freedom from Sox fan  Barack Obama.  In return Banks gave the President a signed bat that Jackie Robinson gave him..

All of these awards and honors paled against the love and affection felt for Mr. Cub by former teammates and fans alike.  When word of his death spread, fans flocked to Wrigley Field which was blocked by chain link fence for reconstruction, leaving flowers, candles, baseball cards, and other tributes in heaps and piles against the fence.  The Cubs had Bank’s statue, which had been removed during construction for repainting and restoration, moved to Daily Plaza where more came to pay their respects.

Posing with Mr. Cub at Wrigley Field.
The public funeral was at Chicago’s history Fourth Presbyterian Church.   A memorial service was broadcast live on WGN-TV and a processional carried Ernie for the last time past Wrigley Field.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Father of the Nation is No More—The Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi--the Mahatma.  The Father of India and icon non-violent passive resistance.
On January 30, 1948 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was shot and killed while on a nightly public walk in Delhi by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist enraged that the Mahatma had promoted communal peace between India and Muslim Pakistan by fasting until the Indian government made a 550 million Rupee payment to Pakistan and paid reparations to Indian Muslims whose homes had been destroyed in the civil unrest following Independence and Partition.  It was the last great non-violent protest of Gandhi’s long life. 
One would think that the accomplishments of a man who since returning to India in triumph following campaigns on behalf of Indian laborers in South Africa, had worked tirelessly for independence since joining the Indian Congress Party in 1915, and whose famous Salt March in 1930 was the opening of a long campaign of non-violent struggle and passive resistance which led ultimately to independence in 1947 would have been honored by nationalists.  You would, of course, be wrong.  Fanaticism, particularly that inflamed by religious righteousness, is incapable of gratitude and intolerant of the slightest perceived attempt to bridge divisions.

Gandhi leading the Salt March in 1930--one of his epic peaceful mass defiance of the British Raj in India.
And Gandhi had been doing that his whole life.  In the 1920’s he reached out to Indian Muslims becoming the first Indian leader to be truly national rather than sectarian.  He had opposed outbreaks of inter-communal violence, and had repeatedly reached out to Muslim victims of Hindu rioters.  When the British Raj finally agreed to independence based on a partition into two states—India and Muslim Pakistan, Gandhi personally rejected the terms and refused to either celebrate Independence or recognize it on those terms.  He refused to take any official part in the new Indian government which his leadership of the Congress Party would have entitled him to.
Upon Partition horrific inter-communal violence broke out across the Indian Sub-Continent, particularly in the Punjab and Bengal.  As many as half a million people were killed and 12 million Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs were displaced from their homes creating waves of refugees and abject misery.
Gandhi launched a series of “fasts unto death” to protest the Partition and violence and to try and bring about peace and reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims who he considered to be one Indian people.  The last of these fasts was launched on January 12, 1948 and lasted until the 27th which was three days after the Indian Parliament had reversed a previous stand and released the money to Pakistan promised in a division of the former colony’s assets and the recompense to Muslim victims of the sectarian violence.

Gandhi's Hindu nationalist assassin Nathuram Godse.
The assassin, Nathuram Godse, was no lone wolf.  He was a member of the extremist Hindu Mahasabha and had several collaborators and accomplices.  And Godse’s hatred of Gandhi went far back—he was involved in the last four of five previous assassination attempts dating back to the 1930’s.  Just days before on January 20 Godse and his group had bungled an attempt at Birla House in Delhi that involved a bomb which exploded at a podium from which Gandhi was scheduled to speak.
Godse and Narayan Apte another of the plotters escaped to Godse’s native Pune via Bombay by rail.  Determined to make another attempt Godse obtained a Beretta .38 caliber semi-automatic pistol with the assistance of other members of the group.  Godse and Apte returned to Delhi on January 29 and checked into a room at the Delhi Railway Station. 
On the evening of the 30th Gandhi was walking in the garden toward Birla House to take part in a prayer meeting.  As usual he was unaccompanied by any security.  Escorting him were young women including his nieces.  At 78 years of age the Mahatma was still recovering from his fast and somewhat feeble.  

Gandhi on his customary evening walk escorted by his nieces.
At 5:17 that evening Godse approached Gandhi and bowed.  The old leader paused to acknowledge the greeting, as was his custom.  One of the young women with him, Abha Chattopadhyay, tugged at his arm and told Godse, “Brother, Bapu is already late,” but the assassin shoved her aside, raised his pistol and pumped three shots into Gandhi’s chest at close range.
Gandhi reportedly cried out Hey Rama!—O Lord!—as he collapsed.  The phrase became a rallying cry for remembering the martyred leader in the days and weeks following his death.
Godse himself called out—“Police! Police!” and waited to be arrested.  He was ready—eager to be a martyr for his cause.  He later told investigators that he knew he would be hated for his act in the short run but that eventually his “removal of Gandhi from Indian politics” would prove such a blessing that he would be honored for his “sacrifice.”
Gandhi was taken to a hospital where he was officially pronounced dead two hours later.  In fact, he had probably died at the scene but the delay allowed government and Congress Party leaders time to be informed and prepare for the public reaction that was sure to follow.

Jawaharial Nehru had been Gandhi's protégée and closest supporter in the Congress Party but had become estranged over partition of India and Pakistan.  It fell to the Prime Minister to announce the Mahatma's assassination on radio.
Later that evening Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, one of Gandhi’s oldest and closest associates from whom he had become estranged for agreeing to form a Congress Party government on the basis of Partition, addressed the nation by radio:
Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that; nevertheless, we will not see him again, as we have seen him for these many years, we will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not only for me, but for millions and millions in this country.
The shocked nation went into deep mourning.  Communal violence once again broke out until the Government assured the nation that it had arrested the murderer and his associates and that they were not Muslim.  The Mahasabha and other Indian religious parties, Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh were outlawed and upward of 20,000 secularist militants were taken into custody.  The Congress Party draped itself in the memory of Gandhi and built loyalty across India from the poor who had little previous allegiance to the new government.  Nehru was, for the time being, able to still calls for an invasion of Pakistan.
Assassination head line in one of India's largest English language daily papers.
Over two million people joined the five-mile long funeral procession that took over five hours to reach Raj Ghat on the banks of the Yamuna River in Delhi from Birla House.  Gandhi’s body was elevated on platform atop an artillery caisson pulled through the streets by fifty men.  At the site overlooking the river, his body was cremated on an open pyre.  Some of the ashes were scattered immediately in the river.  The rest were divided and placed in small urns distributed across India to be scattered in local rivers and bodies of water to unite the country in participation of the final Hindu ritual.  Some of those urns were misplaced or for other reasons not immediately scattered.  Over the last 25 years or so a few have been discovered and ashes scattered at other Indian holy sites, the Headwaters of the Nile, and even near the Los Angeles Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine.  The cremation site at Raj Ghat is now a national memorial and still attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year.

Ganhi's body on his funeral pyre, his bullet wound still vixible on his chest.
Godse, Apte, and six others were tried for participation in the assassination plot.  After an eight month trial all but Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a leading political figure in the Hindu nationalist movement, were convicted on at least some charges.  Dattatraya Parchure, a medical doctor and intellectual later had his conviction overturned by the High Court of Punjab.  Godse and Apte were sentenced to death by hanging.  The remaining defendants received life in prison for conspiracy to commit murder or violating the Explosive Substances Act in connection with the January 20 failed bomb attempt.
Despite appeals by the Gandhi family and Prime Minister Nehru to spare the lives of the assassins in the spirit of Gandhi’s non-violence, Godse and Apte were hung on November 15, 1949 at Ambala Jail.

The Memorial at the Raj Ghat cremation site.
It must be said that 71 years later India has a Hindu nationalist government, however not as virulent as the Mahasabha.  But religious minorities are subject to punitive legislation, sectarian violence is on the rise, and tensions over Kashmir regularly threaten to plunge nuclear-armed India and Pakistan into war.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Bob Shane—The Last Kingston Trio Founder Bows Out

Bob Shane, David Guard, and Nick Reynolds--the original Kingston Trio.
Word has come that Bob Shane, the last surviving original member of the Kingston Trio died on Sunday in hospice care in Phoenix, Arizona.  He was 85 years old.  With him faded on of the final lights of the once bright pop folk revival of the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s.  
The group Shane founded with Dave Guard and Nick Reynolds on California campuses in the mid-‘50’s went on to dramatically change American popular music and become by far the most successful act and top recording artists of the era eclipsing rock and roll stars like Elvis Pressley, rhythm & blues acts, pop crooners, and jazz ensembles.  
Shane was born in Hilo, Hawaii on February 1, 1934, the son of a wealthy German immigrant merchant and his Utah born wife who had met while attending Stanford University.  While attending a tony private high school he became interested in Hawaiian and Polynesian music casually picking up the ukulele.  He found a kindred spirit in classmate David Guard.  Shane was self-taught on the guitar and taught Guard.  Both had interest in Hawaiian slack-string guitar.   The pair performed at parties and in school shows doing an eclectic mix of Tahitian, Hawaiian, and calypso songs. 
At graduation both headed for California for college.  Guard enrolled at Stanford while Shane went to Menlo College in near-by Atherton where he met San Diego born Nick Reynolds, a particular devotee of calypso who played bongo and conga drums in addition to guitar and whose tenor voice harmonized with the other two.  Together the three with a sometimes rotating cast of one or two other college musician began playing on campuses and in clubs as Dave Guard and the Calypsonians.  Both Guard and Shane picked up the banjo and either played it.  They also added some traditional sea shanties to their repertoire.  They had fun and developed a local following but none of them seriously considered a musical career.
When Shane graduated in 1956 he returned to Hawaii to join his father’s business as expected. He did not enjoy business and was drawn to moonlighting as a musician.  He later made the entirely unsubstantiated claim to performing as “the first ever Elvis impersonator.”  But he spent more time covering Hawaiian music, Hank Williams, The Weavers, and especially Harry Bellefonte.  
In 1957 Guard and Reynolds decided to give professional performing a shot and Shane eagerly joined them to form the Kingston Trio, named for Kingston, Jamaica home of calypso.  Almost immediately they were signed by agent/publicist Frank Werber.  Werber had them intensely rehearse for six months with an assist from vocal coach Judy Davis while the expanded their repertoire adding traditional folk songs and some foreign language tunes to their calypso core.  Guard, by this time the most skilled musician, arranged most of the songs.  Occasionally they tried out sets at college hang-outs.

Showing their calypso roots, the Kingston Trio with Nick Reynolds on conga.
The Trio also agreed on a sort of stage uniform in an era when most performers were appearing in suits and ties or even tuxedos. The chose open-neck three-quarter sleeve vertically striped sport shirts, the epitome of laid-back So-Cal style.  Four years later at the height of the Trio’s success another close harmony but very different group, The Beach Boys, would adopt the same look.
The Trio’s break-out came when comedienne Phillis Diller canceled a week-long engagement at The Purple Onion in San Francisco.  Webber convinced house management to give his new act a try.  They did not waste the opportunity.  Guard sent out five hundred postcards to everyone that they three musicians knew in the Bay Area and local music movers and shakers while Werber plastered the city with handbills.   The crowds showed up and continued to come on the strength of word of mouth.  The one week gig was extended to six months.  By the time it was over they were West Coast celebrities.
They went national with a tour in early 1958 that included such top clubs as Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago, the Village Vanguard in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Storyville in Boston, and finally back to San Francisco and for it premier club, the hungry i, 
Record companies took note and both Dot and Liberty Records offered deals but wanted to record 45 rpm singles, the staple of radio disc jockeys and juke boxes.  But the trio knew that their sophisticated, hip audiences were beginning to prefer LP 33rpm albums to play on hi-fi sets.  Los Angeles based Capitol Records, home of such top talent as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Al Martino, and Dinah Shore, signed the Kingston Trio to an exclusive seven-year deal. 

The Kingston Trio's debut album.
The group’s first album, the self-titled The Kingston Trio, was recorded over a three-day period in February 1958 and released in June that year, just as the group was embarking on its engagement at the hungry i.   It included an eclectic mix that mirrored what the group did on the nightclub stage—calypso inspired songs like The Sloop John B, Weavers style folk song like Santy Anno and Bay of Mexico, and contemporary songs like Scotch and Soda, whose authorship is still in dispute despite having been copyrighted by comedian Morey Amsterdam.
The album was recorded without the orchestral back up standard on even folk recordings at the time but with a string base accompaniment.
Sales were brisk in California but so-so nationally until Salt Lake City DJs Paul Colburn and Bill Terry at KLUB in Salt Lake City began playing one cut—the Appalachian murder ballad Tom Dooley and personally called radio personalities in other cities to do the same.  Not only did album sales explode, but there was an irresistible demand for a single.  A single was finally released on August 8.  It reached #1 on the Billboard chart by late November, sold a million copies by Christmas, and was awarded a Gold Record.  It drove the album to #1 on the chards as well winning a second Gold Record.  It remained on the Billboard charts for 195 weeks. 

The Trio's Tom Dooley single shattered sales records.
Such overwhelming success was bound to be recognized. Tom Dooley won the 1959 Grammy for Best Country & Western performance.  The selection outraged top country acts, but there was no folk music category at the time.  The next year as more Kingston Trio recordings were topping the charts and new acts like the Chad Mitchell Trio, The Limelighters, and others were joining in what had suddenly become the great popular folk revival boom, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences the Grammy for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording, which the Trio promptly won for their second studio album At Large.   
They were now on an unprecedented roll.  Their first five studio albums achieved # 1 chart status and got Gold Records. For five consecutive weeks in November and December 1959, four Kingston Trio albums ranked in the top ten of Billboard’s Top LPs, a feat unmatched by any artists before or since. They Trio also charted several single records during this time, made numerous television appearances, and played upwards of 200 engagements per year.

The Trio on the Jack Benny Program with Mel Blanc.
But such overwhelming success also brought fierce criticism.  Country artists continued to be miffed about the group’s encroachment on some of the songs that were the foundation of modern country & western.  Rock and roll acts considered them bland and as a rival for teen audiences. R&B performers considered them as “white bread” intended to keep young audiences away from “dangerousNegro music.  
But for the Trio the most stinging criticism of all came from traditional folk performers who resented their “slick” arrangements and the copyrights they obtained for arrangements of traditional songs including Tom Dooley as well as for contemporary songs like the much-disputed Scotch and Soda.  Yet the rising tide of pop folk lifted all boats giving traditional artists new life on the college circuit, which the Trio was credited with practically inventing, new recording opportunities, radio airplay, and TV exposure on both big name variety shows and on the popular folk series Hootenanny.
Joan Baez later reflected on the conflicted feelings of folk traditionalists:
Before I turned into a snob and learned to look down upon all commercial folk music as bastardized and unholy, I loved the Kingston Trio. When I became one of the leading practitioners of ‘pure folk,’ I still loved them.
Bob Dylan echoed similar sentiments:
There were other folk-music records, commercial folk-music records, like those by the Kingston Trio. I never really was an elitist. Personally, I liked the Kingston Trio. I could see the picture...the Kingston Trio were probably the best commercial group going, and they seemed to know what they were doing…
But before those accolades put their commercial success in perspective, the scorn of “serious” folk musicians put a strain on the three singers.  Guard reveled in being called “the group’s acknowledged leader” in album liner notes and in the press.  Shane and Reynolds resented that and believed they deserved equal credit for their collaborative efforts.  Guard also disdained the musical ability of his partners and pushed them hard to improve the instrumental skills.  He also wanted to change and expand the Trio’s repertoire to prove themselves as worthy serious musicians.  The others saw no reason to change the eclectic selection process that had brought them success.  And like some of the critics they resented Guard personally claiming copyright to arrangements of traditional songs as well as Scotch and Soda.  Business disputes also contributed to the tension.

Shane and Reynolds with John Stewart--the second configuration of the Trio.
In May 1961 Guard resigned from the group but agreed to fulfill commitments through November.  Shane, Reynolds, and Werber bought out Guard’s interest in their business partnership for $300,000 and replaced him with John Stewart, a 21-year-old member of the Cumberland Three, one of the many groups that sprang up hoping to imitate the Kingston Trio's success.  He publicly debuted with the Trio in September 1961.
The change did not seem to adversely affect the Trio.  Stewart was an accomplished guitarist and banjoist as well as a songwriter who had already sold two songs to the group.  Shane noted “We did nearly as well with John as we did with Dave.” Six of the group's next seven albums between 1961 and 1963 continued to place in Billboard’s Top Ten and several of the group’s most successful singles, including Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and Greenback Dollar, charted as well.
But nothing lasts forever.  Folk music was changing with Baez, Dylan, and Phil Ochs leading the charge with their new protest music and radical political themes.  Another, even more polished pop/folk group, Peter, Paul & Mary who also did protest material stole part of their thunder.  Then came the British Invasion that threatened to blow all American acts out of the water.
Record sales plummeted.  Capitol dropped the group and Decca picked them up for four more albums that did not have strong sales.  They remained a popular act on the college circuit that they had pioneered but other venues were drying up.  By mutual agreement the group decided to disband after a final two week engagement at the old hungry i in June 1967.
Reynolds moved to Oregon and pursued interests in ranching, business, and race cars for the next twenty years. Stewart enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a singer-songwriter, composing hit songs like Daydream Believer for The Monkees and Runaway Train for Rosanne Cash.  He recorded more than 40 albums, had mid-level chart success with several singles, and had a devoted fan base.
Shane struck out on his own as a single act and recorded several singles and one album to only middling success.  But he still had a great ear for a song and recorded Honey which later became a million-seller for Bobby Goldsboro.  He experimented with different performing partners before securing permission from Reynold and Werber in 1969 to revive the group as the New Kingston Trio to distinguish it from the original group.  He also had permission to use the group’s songs and arrangements in addition to new music.

Bob Shane in one of the later configurations of the group.
The new group went through at least three changes in line up with Shane remaining the anchor.  They did not have much recording success but were kept busy touring.  In 1976 Shane secured the unencumbered rights to use the band’s original name in exchange for relinquishing his interest in the still-profitable corporation, whose holdings included copyrights and licensing rights to many of the original Trio’s songs.  It was not a wise business decision—the old partnership still produced substantial income every year and income from touring and recording seemed to shrink year by year.  But Shane became the last guardian of the Kingston Trio legacy.
Various configurations of the trio continued to tour.  The combination of Shane, Roger Cambrill, George Grove were together from 1976 to 1985—the longest any three singers performed together.  
In 1981 PBS mounted a reunion special for their ubiquitous fund raising appeals.  Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds, and John Stewart joined the Shane-Gambill-Grove Trio and guest performers Mary Travers, Tom Smothers, and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac at the Magic Mountain amusement park for a program billed as The Kingston Trio and Friends Reunion.  Despite lingering tensions between Guard and Shane the different configurations of the Trio took turns performing sets of the group’s best-known songs with all the artists joining onstage for a finale.
After Gambill died unexpectedly from a heart attack on March 2, 1985 at the age of 42 there were several changes in line-up for the Trio, including a brief return of Nick Reynolds, all helmed by Shane continued to tour and record until ill health cause Shane’s retirement from performing in 2004.  Grove, Bill Zorn, and Rick Dougherty toured under Shane’s direction for 12 years.

Bob Shane soldiering on despite being on oxygen.
In 2017 Shane licensed his rights to a new trio consisting of Nick’s son Josh Reynolds, Nick’s cousin Mike Marvin, and Tim Gorelangton.  That line-up encouraged a revival of interest but did not last long.  Josh Reynolds left in 2018 and two others have taken his spot.  Currently Don Marovich rounds out the Trio.
Dave Guard died in 1991.  John Stewart and Nick Reynolds both passed in 2008.
After retiring Shane lived in Phoenix surrounded by Gold Records and Kingston Trio memorabilia. His survivors include his wife, Bobbi (Childress) Shane and five children from an earlier marriage, to Louise Brandon.