Clyde McPhatter

Clyde McPhatter

Clyde McPhatter
McPhatter in 1959
Background information
Birth name Clyde Lensley McPhatter[1]
Born (1932-11-15)November 15, 1932
Durham, North Carolina, United States
Died June 13, 1972(1972-06-13) (aged 39)
Teaneck, New Jersey, U.S.
Genres Rock 'N' Roll, R&B, Soul, Pop
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1950–1972
Associated acts The Mount Lebanon Singers, Billy Ward & the Dominoes, The Drifters

Clyde Lensley McPhatter (November 15, 1932 – June 13, 1972) was an American R&B, soul and rock n' roll singer. He was immensely influential, perhaps the most widely imitated R&B singer of the 1950s and 1960s,[2] making him a key figure in the shaping of doo-wop and R&B. His high-pitched tenor voice was steeped in the gospel music he sang in much of his younger life. He is best known for his solo hit "A Lover's Question". McPhatter was lead tenor for The Mount Lebanon Singers, a gospel group he formed as a teenager,[3] and later, lead tenor for Billy Ward and His Dominoes. McPhatter was largely responsible for the success the Dominoes initially enjoyed. After his tenure with the Dominoes, McPhatter formed his own group, the Drifters, before going solo. Only 39 at the time of his death, he had struggled for years with alcoholism and depression and was, according to Jay Warner’s On This Day in Music History, "broke and despondent over a mismanaged career that made him a legend but hardly a success."[4][5] At the time of his passing, Clyde McPhatter left a legacy of over 22 years of recording history. He was the first artist in music history to become a double inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first as a member of the Drifters, and later as a solo artist, and as a result, all subsequent double and triple inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are said to be members of "The Clyde McPhatter Club."[6][7]


  • Life and career 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Membership in Billy Ward & the Dominoes (1950-53) 1.2
    • Founder of the Drifters (1953-1954) 1.3
    • Solo career 1.4
  • Death 2
  • Legacy and honors 3
  • Singles 4
  • References 5

Life and career

Early life

Clyde Lensley McPhatter was born in the tobacco town community of gospel choir along with his three brothers and three sisters. When he was ten, Clyde was the soprano-voiced soloist for the choir. In 1945, Rev. McPhatter moved his family to Teaneck, New Jersey, where Clyde attended Chelsior High School. He worked part-time as a grocery store clerk, and eventually was promoted to shift manager upon graduating high school.[3] The family then relocated to New York City, where Clyde formed the gospel group The Mount Lebanon Singers.[8]

Membership in Billy Ward & the Dominoes (1950-53)

In 1950, after winning the envied "Amateur Night" at Harlem's Apollo Theater, McPhatter returned to his job as store manager but later was recruited by Billy Ward & the Dominoes, and was present for the recording of "Sixty Minute Man" for Federal Records, a song regarded as the "first record of rock 'n roll," produced by Ralph Bass.

Billy Ward and his Dominoes was one of the top R&B vocal groups in the country, garnering more popularity than the Clovers, the Ravens and the Five Keys, largely due to Clyde's fervent, high-pitched tenor. He is regarded as the main singer to infuse a gospel-steeped singing style into mainstream R&B, though blues singer Roy Brown was actually the first to do so. Even though Roy Brown started the trend, McPhatter was more widely imitated, and was a much bigger influence in the shaping of Doo-Wop/R&B. In his book The Drifters, Bill Millar names Ben E. King, Smokey Robinson of the Miracles, Sammy Turner, and Marv Johnson among the vocalists who patterned themselves after McPhatter. "Most important," he concludes, "McPhatter took hold of the Ink Spots' simple major chord harmonies, drenched them in call-and-response patterns and sang as if he were back in church. In doing so, he created a revolutionary musical style from which---thankfully---popular music will never recover."[9] Oddly enough, McPhatter didn't think much of his own singing abilities. The countless imitators tell a different story, including Jimmy Jones, Bobby Hendricks and David Baughan, both interim Drifters, Nolan Strong of the Diablos, Bobby Day and Dee Clark. Patsy Cline shows McPhatter's influence (listen to his version of "Someday You'll Want Me to Want You", recorded in 1954 with the Drifters. Compare it to Cline's version, which seems to follow that example).[10] In the course of his career Elvis Presley recorded several of McPhatter's songs. Presley's version of "White Christmas" has strong similarities to McPhatter's.

After recording several more songs, including "Have Mercy Baby", "Do Something for Me," and "The Bells", McPhatter left the Dominoes on May 7, 1953. He was sometimes passed off as "Clyde Ward, Billy's little brother." Others assumed it was Billy Ward doing the lead singing. As a member of The Dominoes, Clyde didn't earn much money. Ward paid him $100 a week, minus deductions for food, taxes, motel bills, etc. During an interview in 1971 McPhatter told journalist Marcia Vance "whenever I'd get back on the block where everybody'd heard my records - half the time I couldn't afford a Coca-Cola."[11] Because of such occurrences, and because he was frequently at odds with Ward, McPhatter decided he would quit the Dominoes, intent on making a name for himself. McPhatter announced his intent to quit the group which Billy Ward agreed to if Clyde would stay on long enough to coach a replacement. Later, auditions for a replacement were held at Detroit's Fox Theater and a young Jackie Wilson would later take over as lead tenor for the Dominoes, influencing Wilson's singing style and stage presence. "I fell in love with the man's voice. I toured with the group and watched Clyde and listened..."—and apparently learned.[3] Privately, McPhatter and Ward often argued, but publicly Clyde expressed his appreciation to Ward for giving him his start in entertainment. "I think Billy Ward is a very wonderful musician and entertainer. I appreciate all he did for me in giving me my start in show business."[11]

Founder of the Drifters (1953-1954)

Ahmet Ertegün, founder of Atlantic Records and Jerry Wexler, eagerly sought McPhatter after noticing he was not present for an appearance the Dominoes once made at Birdland, which was "an odd booking for the Dominoes", in Ertegün's words.[12] After locating him, McPhatter was then signed to Atlantic on the condition that he form his own group. McPhatter promptly assembled a group and called them the Drifters. They recorded a few tracks in June 1953, including a song called "Lucille," written by McPhatter himself. This group of Drifters did not have the sound Atlantic executives were looking for however, and Clyde was prompted to assemble another group of singers. The revised lineup recorded and released such hits as "Money Honey," "Such a Night," "Honey Love," "White Christmas" and "Whatcha Gonna Do," with the record label proudly displaying the group name "Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters." (The story of the Drifters is full of personnel changes. The first group of Drifters Clyde assembled were mostly members of the Mount Lebanon Singers.)

In late 1954, McPhatter was inducted into the Army and assigned to Special Services in the continental United States, which allowed him to continue recording. After his tour of duty was up, he left the Drifters and launched a solo career.

Solo career

McPhatter's first solo hit occurred just after being discharged - "Love Has Joined Us Together" (with Ruth Brown). He released several R&B recordings in the next few years, including "Rock and cry", "Seven Days" (later a bigger hit for Tom Jones), "Treasure of Love," "Just to Hold my Hand", and his biggest solo hit, "A Lover's Question," written by Brook Benton and Jimmy T. Williams, which peaked at No. 6 in 1958. In 1962, the song "Lover Please," written by country artist Billy Swan was released. His 1956 recording "Treasure of Love" saw his first solo No. 1 on the R&B charts and one week in the UK Singles Chart. It reached No. 16 on the U.S. Pop charts, sold over two million copies in the United States alone, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.[13]

After leaving Atlantic Records, McPhatter then signed on with MGM Records, and released several more songs, including "I Told Myself a Lie" and "Think Me a Kiss" (1960) and his first single for Mercury Records "Ta Ta." His tenure on these labels proved to be less fruitful than his time with Atlantic. He moved to other record labels and recorded more singles, including "I Never Knew" and his final Top Ten hit "Lover Please," which made it to No. 7 in 1962. It was after "Lover Please" that McPhatter saw a downward turn in his career, as musical styles and tastes were constantly changing during the 1960s. These directional changes were the main reason McPhatter turned to alcohol abuse, as more sporadic recordings failed to chart.

In 1968, McPhatter moved to England, where he was still highly revered, utilizing UK band "ICE" as backup.


McPhatter returned to America in 1970, making a few appearances in rock 'n roll revival tours, but remaining mostly a recluse. Hopes for a major comeback with a Decca album were crushed on June 13, 1972, when he died in his sleep at the age of 39 from complications of heart, liver, and kidney disease, brought on by alcohol abuse. That abuse was fueled by a failed career and resentment he harbored towards the fans he felt deserted him.[11] During his interview with journalist Marcia Vance, McPhatter told Vance "I have no fans."[14] He died at 1165 East 229th Street, Bronx, New York, where he had been living with Bertha M. Reid; they were traveling together as he tried to make a comeback.

McPhatter was a resident of Paramus, New Jersey.[16][17]

Ruth Brown acknowledged in her later years that McPhatter was the actual father of her son Ronald, born in 1954.[18] Ron now tours with his own group named after his father - Clyde McPhatter's Drifters.[19]

Legacy and honors

In 1987 was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Rockabilly Hall of Fame recognized his pioneering efforts.

The Original Drifters were inducted in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998.

The United States Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor in 1993.

The song "Money Honey" (1953) was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

McPhatter was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.[20]

Clyde was also named by Digital Dream Door as the Greatest Ever Lead Singer of a Vocal Group. [21]


Title Peak Pop
Peak R&B
Year Label
"Money Honey" (with the Drifters) - 1 1953 Atlantic
"Such a Night" / "Lucille" (with the Drifters) - 5 1954
"Honey Love" (with the Drifters) 21 1
"Someday (You'll Want Me To Want You)" (with the Drifters) - -
"White Christmas" (with the Drifters) 80 2
"Love Has Joined Us Together" / "I Gotta Have You" (with Ruth Brown) - 8 1955
"Seven Days" 44 2 1956
"Treasure of Love" 16 1
"Without Love (There Is Nothing)" / "I Make Believe" 19 4 1957
"Just to Hold My Hand" 26 6
"Thirty Days" - -
"Long Lonely Nights" 49 1
"Rock and Cry" 93 -
"Come What May" 43 3 1958
"Lover Please" 32 4
"A Lover's Question" 6 1
"Lovey Dovey" 49 12 1959 Atlantic
"I Told Myself a Lie" 70 MGM
"Since You've Been Gone" 39 14 Atlantic
"Twice As Nice" 91 MGM
"You Went Back on Your Word" 72 13 Atlantic
"Let's Try Again" 48 13 MGM
"Just Give Me a Ring" 96 1960 Atlantic
"Deep Sea Ball" / "Let the Boogie-Woogie Roll" - -
"Think Me a Kiss" 66 MGM
"Ta Ta (Just Like a Baby)" 23 7 Mercury
"This Is Not Goodbye" / "One Right After Another" - - MGM
"Tomorrow Is a-Comin'" 103 - 1961 Mercury
"I'll Love You Til the Cows Come Home" 110 -
"A Whole Heap of Love" - -
"I Never Knew" 56 17
"Same Time Same Place" - -
"Lover Please" 7 - 1962
"Little Bitty Pretty One" 25 -
"Maybe" / "I Do Believe" - -
"The Best Man Cried" 118 -
"From One To One" 127 - 1963
"Deep In the Heart of Harlem" 90 90
"Second Window, Second Floor" - - 1964
"Baby Baby" / "Lucille" - -
"Crying Won't Help You Now" 117 22 1965
"A Shot of Rhythm and Blues" / "I'm Not Going to Work Today" - - 1966 Amy
"Sweet and Innocent" / "Lavender Lace" - - 1967
"Baby You Got It" - - 1968 Deram
"I'll Belong to You" / "Book of Memories" - - 1970 Decca
"Why Can't We Get Together" / "Mixed Up Cup" - -

No album he recorded ever appeared on the charts.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Robert Palmer, "Roy Brown, A Pioneer Rock Singer", The New York Times, May 26, 1981.
  3. ^ a b c Arnold Shaw, Honkers And Shouters. The Golden Years Of Rhythm And Blues. New York: Crowell-Collier Press, 1978, p. 381.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ "10 Most Likely Next Members of the Clyde McPhatter Club", Rock Hall Monitors, May 23, 2011.
  7. ^ "New members of 'The Clyde McPhatter Club'", Future Rock Legends, January 17, 2009.
  8. ^ Clyde McPhatter at AllMusic
  9. ^ Shaw, Honkers And Shouters, 1978, p. 384.
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c "The Drifters: Let the boogie woogie roll - 1953-1958", Atlantic Records 81927-1, by Peter Grendysa
  12. ^ Shaw, Honkers And Shouters, 1978, p. 382.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Album liner notes, "The Drifters: Let the boogie woogie roll - 1953-1958", Atlantic Records 81927-1, by Peter Grendysa
  15. ^ via Associated Press. "Death Claims Hit Singer At Age of 41", Merced Sun-Star, June 16, 1972. Accessed September 13, 2011. "Clyde McPhatter, rhythm and blues singer in the early days of rock 'n' roll, died Tuesday in the Bronx of an apparent heart attack. He was 41 years old and lived in Teaneck, N.J."
  16. ^ Browse by Cemetery: George Washington Memorial Park, Find A Grave, accessed April 6, 2007
  17. ^ Strauss, Robert. "Sometimes the Grave Is a Fine and Public Place",
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^