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It was formed with the original name of Sentimental Four in Newport News, Virginia, U.S., in the late 1940s, and initially consisted of two sets of brothers - Rudy West (born 25 July 1932, Newport News, Virginia) and Bernie West (born 4 February 1930, Newport News), and Ripley Ingram (born 1930 - died 23 March 1995, Newport News) and Raphael Ingram. Ingram left in 1949 and Maryland Pierce (born 1933) and Dickie Smith became members in his place. At this juncture the name of the group was changed to The Five Keys.
They were signed to Aladdin Records in 1951, and in 1952 Rudy West left to join the United States Army, and he was replaced by Ulysses K. Hicks. In 1954 Dickie Smith left and was replaced with Ramon Loper. At this point the Five Keys was signed to Capitol Records, and their popularity increased, although more instrumentation was used.