Pinkney funeral a musical tribute to legendary Drifter

SUMTER -- Ali Ollie Woodson, a former lead singer of the Temptations, brought the crowd to its feet Monday afternoon at the Sumter Exhibition Center.

It would have made Willie "Bill" Pinkney grin.

Woodson sang a thrilling rendition of the gospel song "Walk Around Heaven," carrying Pinkney's funeral to its soaring apex.

Pinkney, the last surviving original member of the legendary group The Drifters, died July 4 in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he was scheduled to perform. He was 81.

Woodson sang the same song Dec. 30 at James Brown's funeral. For Woodson, "Walk Around Heaven's" poignancy is overwhelming.

"That was my father's favorite song," he said afterward. And Pinkney, Woodson said, was a father figure to him.

"He gave me my start in the music business," said Woodson, who was with the Temptations in the mid-1980s. "That's my pops out there, man."

Woodson barely could wipe his brow as programs and pens were thrust at him afterward.

It's surprising there weren't more autograph seekers among the more than 1,000 people in attendance, as beach, doo-wop and R&B luminaries turned out in tailored suits looking cleaner than freshly buffed dance floors. And many had business cards because the show must always go on.

Jon "Bowzer" Bauman from Sha Na Na, who joined Pinkney in his fight against "fake" groups that trade on famous names of the past, flew from California. Johnny Mason of the Clovers came, as did Clifford Curry, who recorded "She Shot a Hole in My Soul."

Russell Henry, who sang with Pinkney for almost 30 years, also joined the service.