Clyde McPhatter life and biography

Clyde McPhatter picture, image, poster

Clyde McPhatter biography

Date of birth : 1932-11-15
Date of death : 1972-06-13
Birthplace : Durham, North Carolina, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2011-12-13
Credited as : Singer, R&B music, hit "A Lover's Question"

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Clyde McPhatter was an American R&B singer, perhaps the most widely imitated R&B singer of the 1950s and 1960s, making him a key figure in the shaping of doo-wop and R&B. 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; and later, lead tenor for Billy Ward and His Dominoes. After his tenure with the Dominoes, McPhatter formed his own group called The Drifters before going solo, leaving a legacy of over 22 years of recording history.

A prominent singer in rock history, Clyde McPhatter's short life was marked by a steady stream of chart-topping hits and unprecedented success. McPhatter achieved mainstream popularity in the early 1950s as the lead singer for Billy Ward & His Dominoes, applying the intensity of his well-trained gospel tenor to the secular love songs of the group. This winning combination reached beyond McPhatter's personal success to become a basic formula in R&B and soul music. Feeling stifled under the constraints of the Dominoes, McPhatter left in 1953 to form the Drifters. His unparalleled vocal style and name recognition helped create one of the most notable vocal groups in R&B. After being drafted in 1954 and serving a short stint in the Army, McPhatter embarked on a solo career. Although he continued to record hits like "A Lover's Question" and "I Never Knew," his alcoholism eventually eclipsed his distinctive and magical sound and led to his death from a heart attack in 1972. Although neglected at the time of his death and unaware of his influence on music history, McPhatter had become one of the pioneer voices in rock.

Born a minister's son in Durham, North Carolina, on November 15, 1932, and raised in New Jersey, McPhatter spent much of his childhood in church, singing gospel in the choir and mastering the passion of the music. At 18, McPhatter was asked to join vocal group Billy Ward & His Dominoes, the first consequential move of his career. Reservations about bringing the religious dramatics of gospel to the sexy, romantic secular tunes of the group led McPhatter to initially bill himself as Clyde Ward, claiming to be Billy's brother. From 1950 to 1952, the group scored with hits "Do Something For Me," "I Am With You," and "Sixty-Minute Man," one of the first R&B singles to also score on the pop charts; "Have Mercy Baby," reached number one on the R&B charts for ten weeks in 1952.

In 1953, however, McPhatter grew resistant to Ward's inflexibility and left the band with encouragement from Atlantic Record's Ahmet Ertegun, who promised him top billing and a recording contract with his own act. McPhatter tapped his former gospel group, The Mount Lebanon Singers. Band members included William Anderson, James Johnson, David Baughn, and David Baldwin, who chose the name "the Drifters" from a bird book. The group signed with Atlantic Records, but when the chemistry failed to emerge, McPhatter regrouped with Bill Pinkney of Jerusalem Stars, Andrew and Gerhart Thrasher of Thrasher Wonders, and Willie Ferbie. The combination proved successful and their first debut hit "The Way I Fell," reached number one on the R&B charts and sold in the millions. The group went on to record several other hits, including "Money Honey" and "White Christmas." Just before the release of the successful hit "Honey Love" in May of 1954, McPhatter was drafted to the Army.

In July 1955 McPhatter returned from his short time in the Army and left the Drifters to go solo. The group continued a long and successful career without McPhatter, whose stardom was still holding throughout the second half of the decade. His first hit after returning from military service was a duet with Ruth Brown called "Love Has Joined Us Together," which reached the top ten on the R&B charts. His releases continued to chart consistently during the next several years, among them "Come What May," "Long Lonely Nights," "Just to Hold My Hand," "Seven Days," "Without Love (There is Nothing)," and "A Lover's Question," one of the biggest hits of his career and an R&B classic. Singles like "You Went Back on Your Word," and "Lovey Dovey" hit the top 20, but the climax of McPhatter's career had already passed.

In early 1960, McPhatter switched from Atlantic to MGM, and later switched again to Mercury. Though he was still headlining venues like the Apollo Theater in Harlem, he was beginning to lose his battle against alcoholism. He moved to England in 1968 and toured heavily, but his top 20 singles, including "Ta Ta" on the Mercury label and "I Never Knew," were already behind him. After two years and little success, he returned to the U.S., where he recorded an LP for the record label Decca. McPhatter died of a heart attack related to his excessive drinking in 1972 in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Although McPhatter never reached the stardom of Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson, or Elvis Presley, his distinct and passionate vocal style heavily influenced these artists. The profound effect of McPhatter's role in rock history was honored in 1987 when he was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Selected discography:
-Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters ,Atlantic, 1958.
-Love Ballads ,Atlantic, 1958.
-With Billy Ward & the Dominoes , King, 1958.
-Let's Start Over Again , MGM, 1959.
-Clyde , Atlantic, 1959.
-Ta Ta , Mercury, 1960.
-May I Sing for You ,Mercury, 1960.
-Lover Please , Mercury, 1962.
-Rhythm and Soul ,Mercury, 1963.
-Clyde McPhatter's Greatest Hits , Mercury, 1963.
-Songs of the Big City , Mercury, 1964.
-Live at the Apollo , Mercury, 1965.
-Welcome Home ,Decca, 1970.
-A Tribute to Clyde McPhatter ,Atlantic, 1973.
-Bip Bam , Edsel, 1984.
-Deep Sea Ball-The Best of Clyde McPhatter ,Atlantic, 1991.
-Meet Billy Ward & His Dominoes , Fat Boy, 1996.
-Forgotten Angel , 32 Jazz, 1998.

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