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The Dells

 

The Dells are one of the longest standing R&B groups; formed in 1952 in Chicago, Illinois, and still going as of 2006. Moreover, the membership of the band has stayed the same since 1960.

One of the few doo-wop groups to successfully update its sound, the Dells enjoyed most success in the late 1960s and 1970s as a soul music group with songs like “Oh, What a Night”, “Stay in my Corner” and “Give your Baby a Standing Ovation” which was their only million-seller. The band acted as a consultant for a 1991 film about a fictional vocal group called The Five Heartbeats and they had a surprise hit from the soundtrack “The Heart is a House for Love”. Their revived popularity caught the attention of NBC producer Roger Brown who featured them in a segment on “The Today Show” that same year.

As well as their recording career, the band also worked with Dinah Washington and Ray Charles as backup singers during the 1960s. They can also be heard singing the catchy background vocals on Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger”. One of the members, Chuck Barksdale, was temporarily a member of the Moonglows with a young Marvin Gaye in the late 1950s. Falsetto tenor Johnny Carter was once a member of The Flamingos.

Two of their songs, “Wear It On Our Face” and “Run For Cover” are very popular on the Northern Soul circuit.

The Dells grew up in Harvey, Illinois and began singing together while attending Thornton Township High School.


The Dells grew up in Harvey, Illinois and began singing together while attending Thornton Township High School. Forming in 1952 under the name the El-Rays, the group initially consisted of Marvin Junior, Mickey McGill, Lucius McGill, Verne Allison, Chuck Barksdale, and Johnny Funches. Lucius soon left the group and the remaining quintet signed with Checker Records, releasing their first single, "Darling I Know," which flopped.

In 1955, the group renamed themselves the Dells and signed with Vee-Jay Records. In 1956, they recorded their first hit, "Oh What a Night" (a song co-written by Johnny Funches, who also sang lead on the recording alongside Marvin Junior, which hit the Top 5 of the R&B singles chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. The song is ranked #260 on the Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In November 1958, the Dells suffered a car accident that left McGill in a hospital in Ohio for six months. The group temporarily disbanded and Barksdale sung as a member of Harvey Fuqua's spinoff Moonglows act, Harvey and the Moonglows, which included a young Marvin Gaye. In 1961, the Dells reunited and auditioned for Dinah Washington. After Washington agreed to hire them, Johnny Funches left the group to take care of his family. Funches was replaced by Flamingos founding member Johnny Carter and sung background for Washington for two years. In 1966, Ray Charles hired them to be opening acts, only to fire them after their performance gave them several standing ovations. The group would also sing background for Barbara Lewis, mainly on Lewis' 1963 hit, "Hello Stranger", while also working with Quincy Jones, who helped to fine tune their vocals for standards and jazz material.


The Dells are an influential R&B musical group who were one of the few groups to span music genres resulting in successful recordings surpassing more than four decades. Formed in 1952 after attending high school together, the Dells' repertoire has included doo-wop, jazz, soul, disco and contemporary rhythm and blues. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the group's lineup hasn't changed much since 1960 and has consisted of falsetto leader Johnny Carter, baritone lead singer Marvin Junior and background singers Mickey McGill, Verne Allison and Chuck Barksdale.

50s, 60s Hits

Oh What A Night

Members of this Group


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