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Clyde Lensley McPhatter (November 15, 1932 – June 13, 1972) was an American
rhythm and blues Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B or R'n'B, is a genre of popular music Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and ...
,
soul In many religious, philosophical, and myth Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually non-humans, such as ...

soul
, and
rock and roll Rock and roll (often written as rock & roll, rock 'n' roll, or rock 'n roll) is a genre of popular music Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and st ...

rock and roll
singer. He was one of the most widely imitated R&B singers of the 1950s and early 1960sPalmer, Robert (1981)
"Roy Brown, a Pioneer Rock Singer"
''
The New York Times ''The New York Times'' is an American daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership. Founded in 1851, the ''Times'' has since won List of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to The New York Times, 132 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of a ...

The New York Times
'', May 26, 1981.
and was a key figure in the shaping of doo-wop and R&B. McPhatter's high-pitched tenor voice was steeped in the gospel music he sang in much of his early life. He was the lead tenor of the Mount Lebanon Singers, a gospel group he formed as a teenager.Shaw, Arnold (1978). ''Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues''. Reprint edition (March 1, 1986); / New York: Crowell-Collier Press. pg. 381. He was later the lead tenor of
Billy Ward and his Dominoes Billy Ward and his Dominoes were an American R&B Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B, is a genre of popular music that originated in African-American communities in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to descri ...

Billy Ward and his Dominoes
and was largely responsible for the initial success of the group. After his tenure with the Dominoes, McPhatter formed his own group,
the Drifters The Drifters are several American doo-wop Doo-wop (also spelled doowop and doo wop) is a genre of rhythm and blues music that originated among African-American youth in the 1940s, mainly in the large cities of the United States, including N ...

the Drifters
, and later worked as a solo performer. 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." McPhatter left a legacy of over 22 years of recording history. He was the first artist to be inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first as a solo artist and later as a member of the Drifters. Subsequent double and triple inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are said to be members of the "Clyde McPhatter Club".


Life and career


Early life

McPhatter was born in the community of Hayti, in
Durham, North Carolina Durham ( ) is a city A city is a large .Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: Routledge. It can be defi ...
on November 15, although the year is disputed. Some sources cite 1932. Author Colin Escott cites 1931, stating, "most biographies quote 1933 or 1934, although government documents cite the earlier year". His grave marker cites his birth year as 1932. He was raised in a
Baptist Baptists form a major branch of Protestantism, Protestant Christianity distinguished by baptizing professing Christianity, Christian believers only (believer's baptism, as opposed to infant baptism), and doing so by complete Immersion baptism, ...

Baptist
family, the son of Rev. George McPhatter and his wife Beulah (some accounts refer to her as Eva). Starting at the age of five, he sang in his father's church
gospel Gospel originally meant the Christian message ("the gospel#REDIRECT The gospel In Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Te ...
choir along with his three brothers and three sisters. When he was 10, Clyde was the soprano-voiced soloist for the choir. In 1945, Rev. McPhatter moved his family to
Teaneck, New Jersey Teaneck () is a Township (New Jersey), township in Bergen County, New Jersey, Bergen County, New Jersey, United States, and a suburb in the New York metropolitan area. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 39,776, r ...

Teaneck, New Jersey
, where Clyde attended Chelsior High School. He worked part-time as a grocery store clerk and was promoted to shift manager upon graduating high school. The family then relocated to New York City, where Clyde formed a gospel group, the Mount Lebanon Singers.


With Billy Ward and the Dominoes (1950–53)

In 1950, after winning the coveted Amateur Night at Harlem's
Apollo Theater The Apollo Theater is a music hall Music hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment Entertainment is a form of activity that holds the attention and interest In finance Finance is the study of financial institutio ...

Apollo Theater
contest, McPhatter returned to his job as a store manager, but was later recruited by
Billy Ward and his Dominoes Billy Ward and his Dominoes were an American R&B Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B, is a genre of popular music that originated in African-American communities in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to descri ...

Billy Ward and his Dominoes
and was present for the recording of "
Sixty Minute Man "Sixty Minute Man" is a rhythm and blues Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B or R'n'B, is a genre of popular music Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industr ...
" for
Federal Records Federal Records was an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United St ...
, produced by
Ralph Bass Ralph Basso, Jr. (May 1, 1911 – March 5, 1997), known as Ralph Bass,The birth surname of Ralph Bass's paternal grandfather, who was born in Italy, was DuBasso. was an American rhythm-and-blues Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated as R&B, is ...
. Billy Ward and his Dominoes was one of the top R&B vocal groups in the country, garnering more popularity than
the Clovers The Clovers are an American rhythm and blues/doo-wop vocal group who became one of the biggest selling acts of the 1950s.The Guinness Who's Who of Fifties Music. General Editor: Colin Larkin. First published 1993 (UK). . The Clovers p77. They had ...
,
the Ravens The Ravens were an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States ...
, and
the Five Keys The Five Keys were an American rhythm and blues vocal group who were instrumental in shaping this genre in the 1950s. They were formed with the original name of Sentimental Four in Newport News, Virginia, US, in the late 1940s, and initially consi ...
, largely due to McPhatter's fervent, high-pitched tenor. In his book ''The Drifters'', Bill Millar named
Ben E. King Benjamin Earl King ( né Nelson, September 28, 1938 – April 30, 2015) was an American soul In many religious, philosophical, and myth Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, s ...

Ben E. King
,
Smokey Robinson William "Smokey" Robinson Jr. (born February 19, 1940) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and former record executive director. Robinson was the founder and front man of the Motown vocal group the Miracles, for which he was also ...

Smokey Robinson
of the Miracles,
Sammy Turner Sammy Turner (born Samuel Black, June 2, 1932, Paterson, New Jersey New Jersey is a U.S. state, state in the Mid-Atlantic States, Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States, Northeastern regions of the United States. It is bordered on t ...
, and
Marv Johnson Marv Earl Johnson (October 15, 1938 – May 16, 1993) was an American R&B singer, songwriter Songwriting partners Rodgers and Hart working on a song in 1936 A songwriter is a musician A musician is a person who composes, conducts, or perf ...
among the many vocalists who patterned themselves after McPhatter. "Most important," he concluded, "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." After recording several more songs with the Dominoes, 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 Billy Ward was doing the lead singing. As a member of the Dominoes, McPhatter did not earn much money; Ward paid him $100 a week, minus deductions for food, taxes, motel bills, etc. In 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."Grendysa, Peter. "The Drifters: Let the Boogie Woogie Roll, 1953–1958". Atlantic Records 81927-1. Due to such occurrences, and as he was frequently at odds with Ward, McPhatter decided he would quit the Dominoes, intent on making a name for himself. He announced his intention to quit the group, and Ward agreed to his leaving provided that McPhatter stayed long enough to coach a replacement. Auditions for a replacement were later held at Detroit's Fox Theater, and a young
Jackie Wilson Jack Leroy Wilson Jr. (June 9, 1934 – January 21, 1984) was an American soul In many religious, philosophical, and myth Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundationa ...

Jackie Wilson
eventually took over as lead tenor for the Dominoes. The position influenced 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. Privately, McPhatter and Ward often argued, but publicly McPhatter expressed his appreciation of 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."


The Drifters (1953–54)

Ahmet Ertegun Ahmet Ertegun (, Turkish spelling: Ahmet Ertegün (); – December 14, 2006) was a Turkish-American businessman, songwriter and philanthropist Philanthropy consists of "private initiatives, for the public good, focusing on quality of life ...
, founder of
Atlantic Records Atlantic Recording Corporation (simply known as Atlantic Records) is an American record label A record label, or record company, is a brand A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller's good ...
and
Jerry Wexler Gerald Wexler (January 10, 1917 – August 15, 2008) was a music journalist Music journalism (or music criticism) is media criticism and reporting about music topics, including popular music, classical music, and traditional music. Journalis ...
, 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 Ertegun's words. 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 The Drifters are several American doo-wop Doo-wop (also spelled doowop and doo wop) is a genre of rhythm and blues music that originated among African-American youth in the 1940s, mainly in the large cities of the United States, including N ...

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 initial members of the Drifters McPhatter assembled were mostly members of the Mount Lebanon Singers. The revised lineup recorded and released such hits as " Money Honey," "
Such a Night "Such a Night" is a popular music, popular song from 1953, song writer, written by Lincoln Chase and first recorded by The Drifters. The Drifters, featuring Clyde McPhatter, recorded the song in November 1953, and Atlantic Records released it ...
", " Honey Love", " White Christmas", and "Whatcha Gonna Do", with the record label displaying the group name "Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters" on the first two singles, later changed to "The Drifters featuring Clyde McPhatter". In late 1954, McPhatter was inducted into the U.S. Army and assigned to Special Services in the continental United States, which allowed him to continue recording. After his tour of duty, he left the Drifters and launched a solo career. The Drifters continued as a successful group, but with many changes in personnel, and the group assembled by McPhatter was long gone by the time their greatest successes were released after he left the group. Upon his departure from the Drifters, McPhatter unwisely sold his share of the group to the band's manager
George Treadwell George McKinley Treadwell (December 21, 1918''U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014'' in New Rochelle, New York New Rochelle () is a Political subdivisions of New York State#City, city in Westchester County, New York, United States, in ...
, a decision that he later came to regret, after realizing that he caused his fellow musicians to experience unprofitability and the group essentially became a revolving-door line-up with recycled members on a ridiculous $100 weekly salary and paid virtually no royalties.


Solo career

Just after his military discharge, McPhatter recorded his first solo hit, "Love Has Joined Us Together", with
Ruth Brown Ruth Alston Brown (; January 12, 1928 – November 17, 2006) was an American singer-songwriter and actress, sometimes known as the "Honorific nicknames in popular music, Queen of R&B". She was noted for bringing a popular music, pop music style ...

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", "Let Me Know", "Just to Hold My Hand", and his biggest solo hit, "
A Lover's Question "A Lover's Question" is a 1958 Pop Pop or POP may refer to: Places * Gregorio Luperón International Airport (IATA code POP), Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic * Pop, a tributary of the river Jijia in eastern Romania * Poppleton railway station ...

A Lover's Question
", written by
Brook Benton Benjamin Franklin Peay (September 19, 1931 – April 9, 1988), better known as Brook Benton, was an American singer and songwriter who was popular with rock and roll Rock and roll (often written as rock & roll, rock 'n' roll, or rock 'n rol ...

Brook Benton
and Jimmy T. Williams, which peaked at number six in 1958. McPhatter's 1956 recording "Treasure of Love" was his first number-one hit on the R&B charts as a solo artist, and spent one week in the
UK Singles Chart The UK Singles Chart (currently titled Official Singles Chart, with the upper section more commonly known as the Official UK Top 40) is compiled by the Official Charts Company The Official Charts Company (previously known as the Chart Inf ...
. It reached number 16 on the U.S. pop charts, sold over two million copies in the United States alone, and was awarded a
gold disc Music recording certification is a system of certifying that a music recording has shipped, sold, or streamed a certain number of units. The threshold quantity varies by type (such as album, single, music video A music video is a short film ...
by the
Recording Industry Association of America The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is a trade organization A trade association, also known as an industry trade group, business association, sector association or industry body, is an organization founded and funded by busin ...
. After leaving Atlantic Records, McPhatter then signed with
MGM Records MGM Records was a record label founded by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (also known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures or MGM) is an American media company, founded in 1924, that produces and distributes feature f ...
and released several more songs, including "I Told Myself a Lie" and "Think Me a Kiss" (1960), and his first single for
Mercury Records Mercury Records was an American record label A record label, or record company, is a brand A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. ...

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-10 hit, "
Lover Please "Lover Please" is a 1962 song written by Billy Swan and first recorded by the Rhythm Steppers in 1960. It is most known for the version performed by Clyde McPhatter on his 1962 album ''Lover Please!'' where it went to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, ...
", written by country artist
Billy Swan William Lance Swan (born May 12, 1942) is an American country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an individual's birth, residence or citizenship. A country may b ...
, which made it to number seven in 1962. After "Lover Please", McPhatter's career took a downward turn, as musical styles and tastes were constantly changing during the 1960s. He managed a top 30 R&B hit, “Crying Won’t Help You Now”, in 1964, then fell off the charts. McPhatter turned to
alcohol abuse Alcohol abuse encompasses a spectrum of unhealthy alcohol In chemistry, alcohol is an organic compound that carries at least one hydroxyl functional group (−OH) bound to a Saturated and unsaturated compounds, saturated carbon atom. The t ...
, sporadically releasing recordings that failed to chart. In 1968, McPhatter moved to England, where he still had something of a following, using the UK band ICE as backup.


Death

McPhatter returned to the U.S. in 1970, making a few appearances in rock-and-roll revival tours, but lived mostly as 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, of complications of
heart The heart is a muscular MUSCULAR (DS-200B), located in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use ...

heart
, liver, and
kidney disease Kidney disease, or renal disease, technically referred to as nephropathy, is damage to or disease A disease is a particular abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of ...
, brought on by alcohol abuse – behavior fueled by a failed career and resentment he harbored towards the fans he felt deserted him. In his interview with journalist Marcia Vance, McPhatter said, "I have no fans." He died at 1165 East 229th Street, in
the Bronx The Bronx () is a borough of New York City New York City is composed of five boroughs: The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Each borough is coextensive with a respective Administrative divisions of New York (state)#Count ...
, 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
Teaneck, New Jersey Teaneck () is a Township (New Jersey), township in Bergen County, New Jersey, Bergen County, New Jersey, United States, and a suburb in the New York metropolitan area. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 39,776, r ...

Teaneck, New Jersey
, at the time of his death. He was buried at George Washington Memorial Park in
Paramus, New Jersey Paramus ( Waggoner, Walter H ''The New York Times'', February 16, 1966. Accessed October 16, 2018. "Paramus – pronounced puh-RAHM-us, with the accent on the second syllable – may have taken its name from 'perremus' or 'perymus,' Indian for ...

Paramus, New Jersey
.Browse by Cemetery: George Washington Memorial Park
Find A Grave Find a Grave is a website that allows the public to search and add to an online database of cemetery records. It is owned by Ancestry.com. It receives and uploads digital photographs of headstones from burial sites, taken by unpaid volunteers a ...
. Accessed April 6, 2007.
Strauss, Robert
"Sometimes the Grave Is a Fine and Public Place"
''
New York Times ''The New York Times'' is an American daily newspaper A newspaper is a periodical Periodical literature (also called a periodical publication or simply a periodical) is a category of Serial (publishing), serial published, publicatio ...

New York Times
'', March 28, 2004. Accessed September 13, 2011. "A decade before the Shirelles became famous, Clyde McPhatter started the Drifters. He had a
heart attack A myocardial infarction (MI), commonly known as a heart attack, occurs when blood flow Hemodynamics American and British English spelling differences#ae and oe, or haemodynamics are the Fluid dynamics, dynamics of blood flow. The circulatory sy ...

heart attack
and died at the age of 39 in 1972; he is buried in George Washington Memorial Park in Paramus."
At the time of his death, Clyde McPhatter had one daughter, Deborah L. McPhatter, born in April 1953. Ruth Brown acknowledged in her later years that McPhatter was the father of her son Ronald, born in 1954. Ron now tours with his own group named after his father – Clyde McPhatter's Drifters. Clyde McPhatter was among hundreds of artists whose material was destroyed in the
2008 Universal fire On June 1, 2008, a fire broke out on the backlot A backlot is an area behind or adjoining a movie studio containing permanent exterior buildings for outdoor scenes in filmmaking Filmmaking (or, in any context, film production) is the process ...
.


Legacy and honors

*In 1987, McPhatter was
posthumously Posthumous may refer to: * Posthumous (album), ''Posthumous'' (album), by Warne Marsh, 1987 * Posthumous (EP), ''Posthumous'' (EP), by The Banner, 2001 * Posthumous (film), ''Posthumous'' (film), a 2014 American-German romantic comedy See also

...
inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF), sometimes simply referred to as the Rock Hall, is a museum A museum ( ; plural museums or, rarely, musea) is a building or institution that Preservation (library and archival science), cares for a ...

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
. * The
Rockabilly Hall of Fame The Rockabilly Hall of Fame is an organization and website launched on March 21, 1997 to present early rock and roll Rock and roll (often written as rock & roll, rock 'n' roll, or rock 'n roll) is a genre of popular music Popular music i ...
recognized his pioneering efforts. * The Original Drifters were inducted into the
Vocal Group Hall of Fame The Vocal Group Hall of Fame (VGHF) was organized by Tony Butala Anthony Francis Butala (born November 20, 1940) is an American singer.
in 1998. * The
United States Postal Service The United States Postal Service (USPS; also known as the Post Office, U.S. Mail, or Postal Service) is an independent agency A regulatory agency or regulatory authority, is a Public benefit corporation Public-benefit corporation is a te ...
issued a stamp in McPhatter's honor in 1993. * The song " Money Honey" (1953) was inducted into the
Grammy Hall of Fame The Grammy Hall of Fame is a hall of fame A hall, wall, or walk of fame is a list of individuals, achievements, or animals, usually chosen by a group of electors, to mark their in their field. In some cases, these halls of fame consist of ac ...
in 1999. * McPhatter was inducted into the
North Carolina Music Hall of Fame The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization and museum in Kannapolis, North Carolina Kannapolis () is a city in Cabarrus and Rowan The rowans ( or ) or mountain-ashes are shrubs or trees in the genus ''Sorbus ''S ...

North Carolina Music Hall of Fame
in 2009. * In October 2020, Clyde McPhatter's exhibit opened in the North Carolina Museum of History, named "The Beach Music Exhibit". This exhibit was completed with interviews and memorabilia supplied by his daughter Deborah, board chair of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.


Singles


References

{{DEFAULTSORT:McPhatter, Clyde 1930s births 1972 deaths The Drifters members African-American rock singers Alcohol-related deaths in New York (state) American expatriates in the United Kingdom American male pop singers American rhythm and blues singers American rock singers American soul singers American tenors Deaths from liver disease Deaths from kidney disease Deaths from heart disease Musicians from Durham, North Carolina People from Teaneck, New Jersey Mercury Records artists Atlantic Records artists MGM Records artists 20th-century American singers Year of birth uncertain Burials at George Washington Memorial Park (Paramus, New Jersey) Rock and roll musicians 20th-century American male singers