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The Drifters are a long-lasting American doo-wop and R&B/soul vocal group. They were originally formed to serve as a backing group for Clyde McPhatter (of Billy Ward and his Dominoes) in 1953.
According to Rolling Stone magazine, the Drifters were the least stable of the great vocal groups, as they were low-paid musicians hired by George Treadwell, who owned the Drifters name. There have been 60 vocalists in the history of the Treadwell Drifters line, including several splinter groups by former Drifters members (not under Treadwell's management). These groups are usually identified with a possessive credit such as "Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters", "Charlie Thomas' Drifters", etc.
There were three Golden eras of the Drifters; the early 1950s, the 1960s, and the early 1970s (post-Atlantic period). From these, the first Drifters, formed by Clyde McPhatter, was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame as "The Drifters". The second Drifters, featuring Ben E. King, was separately inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame as "Ben E. King and the Drifters". In their induction, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selected four members from the first Drifters, two from the second Drifters, and one from the post-Atlantic Drifters.
According to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame: "Through turmoil and changes, the (original) Drifters managed to set musical trends and give the public 13 chart hits, most of which are legendary recordings today." Matching that feat, subsequent formations of the Drifters recorded 13 Billboard Hot 100 top 30 chart hits. A 1970s revival in Britain, with both old and new material, was not matched in the United States, although it saw their biggest successes on the UK pop charts, peaking with the #2 hit "Kissin' in the Back Row of the Movies".
The classic first Drifters and Clyde McPhatter
To many fans and historians, "The Drifters" means Clyde McPhatter, although he was with the group for only one year. McPhatter was lead tenor for Billy Ward and His Dominoes for three years, starting in 1950. It was McPhatter's high-pitched tenor that was mostly responsible for the Dominoes' success. In 1953, Ahmet Ertegün of Atlantic Records attended a Dominoes performance at Birdland and noticed Clyde wasn't present, only to learn that McPhatter was no longer with the group. As Jerry Wexler recalls,
"Ahmet exited Birdland like a shot and headed directly uptown. He raced from bar to bar looking for Clyde and finally found him in a furnished room. That very night, Ahmet reached an agreement with McPhatter under which Clyde would assemble a group of his own. They became known as the Drifters."
Wanting to blend gospel and secular sounds, Clyde's first effort was to get members of his old church group, the Mount Lebanon Singers. They were William "Chick" Anderson (tenor), Charlie White (tenor), David Baldwin (baritone, and author James Baldwin's brother), James "Wrinkle" Johnson (bass), and David "Little Dave" Baughan (tenor). After a single recording session of four songs on June 29, 1953, Ertegün realized that this combination didn't work and had McPhatter recruit another lineup.
This second group of new recruits consisted of gospel vocalists; first tenor Bill Pinkney (of the Jerusalem Stars), second tenor Andrew Thrasher and baritone Gerhart Thrasher (both formerly of the gospel group, the "Thrasher Wonders"), and Willie Ferbee as bass, with Walter Adams on guitar.
This is the group on the second session, which produced the group's first major hit, "Money Honey", released September 1953, with the record label proudly displaying the group name Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters. McPhatter was barely known during his time with the Dominoes, and he was sometimes passed off as "Clyde Ward, Billy's little brother." In other instances people assumed it was Billy Ward doing the singing.
"Lucille", written by McPhatter, from the first session was put on the B-side of "Money Honey", making a recording industry rarity; a single released with songs from two essentially different groups of the same name on the two sides. "Money Honey" was a huge success and propelled the Drifters to immediate fame.
More lineup changes followed, after Ferbee was involved in an accident and left the group and then Adams died. Adams was replaced by Jimmy Oliver. However, Ferbee was not replaced; instead, the voice parts were shifted around. Gerhart Thrasher moved up to first tenor, Andrew Thrasher shifted down to baritone, and Bill Pinkney dropped all the way down to bass. This group released several more hits, including "Such A Night" in November 1953, "Honey Love" June 1954, "Bip Bam" October 1954, "White Christmas" November 1954, and "What'cha Gonna Do" in February 1955. McPhatter received his draft letter in March 1954; however, as he was initially stationed in Buffalo, New York, he was able to continue with the group for a time. "What'cha Gonna Do", recorded a year before its release, was McPhatter's last official record as a member of the Drifters, although his first solo release ("Everyone's Laughing" b/w "Hot Ziggety") was actually from his final Drifters session in October 1954. After completing his military service, McPhatter pursued a successful but relatively short-lived solo career with 16 R&B and 21 Pop hits.
McPhatter had demanded a large share of the group's profits, which he had been denied in the Dominoes; however, on his departure, he did not ensure that this would continue for his successor. He sold his share of the group to George Treadwell, manager, former jazz trumpeter, and husband of singer Sarah Vaughan. As a result, the Drifters recycled many members, none of whom made much money. McPhatter later expressed regret at this action, recognizing that it doomed his fellow musicians to unprofitability.
McPhatter was first replaced by David Baughan, who had already been singing lead in concert while McPhatter was in the service. Baughan's voice was similar to McPhatter's, but his erratic behavior made him difficult to work with and unsuitable in the eyes of Atlantic Records executives. Baughan soon left the group to form the Harps (1955) (finding his way back into Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters in 1958), and was replaced by Selma native Johnny Moore (formerly of The Hornets). September 1955 saw this lineup record a major double-sided R&B hit with the A side's "Adorable", reaching number one and the B side, "Steamboat," going to number five. These were followed by "Ruby Baby" in February 1956, and "I Got To Get Myself A Woman".
Low salaries contributed to burnout among the members, particularly Bill Pinkney, who was fired after asking Treadwell for more money. In protest, Andrew Thrasher left as well. Pinkney formed another group, called "The Flyers", with lead singer Bobby Hendricks, who would leave to join the Drifters the next year. Bill Pinkney was replaced by Tommy Evans (who had replaced Jimmy Ricks in The Ravens). Charlie Hughes, a baritone, replaced Andrew Thrasher. Moore, G. Thrasher, C. Hughes, and Evans were the last quality lineup with the top ten hit, "Fools Fall In Love" in 1957 (number 69 Pop and number 10 R&B).
Moore and Hughes were drafted in 1957 and replaced by Bobby Hendricks and Jimmy Millender. By early 1958, the lineup was: Bobby Hendricks (lead tenor), Gerhart Thrasher (first tenor), Jimmy Millender (baritone), Tommy Evans (bass), and Jimmy Oliver (guitar). This lineup had one moderate hit, the original version of "Drip Drop" (number 58 Pop), released in April 1958.
With declining popularity, the last of the original Drifters were reduced to working the club scene and doing double duty with gigs under the Coasters and the Ravens names. By May 1958, both Hendricks and Oliver had quit, returning only for a week's appearance at the Apollo Theater. During that week, one of the members got into a fight with the owner of the Apollo, Ralph Cooper. That was the last straw for manager George Treadwell, who fired the entire group. After the argument with Cooper, Treadwell hired a group called the Five Crowns on the spot and renamed them "The Drifters".
Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters
Although Treadwell allegedly owned the Drifters brand, original members felt they were the real Drifters and were determined to keep the group alive. Bill Pinkney left first. After receiving exclusive and irrevocable ownership of the name/mark "The Original Drifters" in a binding arbitration, he joined with the Thrashers and David Baughan to begin touring as "The Original Drifters." Several original Drifters came in and out of this group over time, as well as other new artists, but these Drifters never replicated the success of the earlier Drifters group.
Baughan left after a short time. Bobby Lee Hollis joined in 1964 and took over the lead spot. Later that year, Andrew Thrasher left and Jimmy Lewis joined the group. Bobby Hendricks returned, making the group a quintet for a short time, before Lewis' departure. Andrew Thrasher returned, replacing Hollis. Hollis and Baughan were periodically with the group through the 1960s. As of 1968, the group consisted of Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher, Hollis, and Hendricks.
Pinkney then recruited an existing group, the Tears, to perform as part of his group on a short tour. The Tears were Benny Andersson, George Wallace, Albert Fortson, and Mark Williams. After the tour, the Tears—without Pinkney—continued to tour as the Original Drifters, but Pinkney successfully sued to stop them using the name.
Pinkney then added new members Bruce Caesar, Clarence Tex Walker, and Duke Richardson, but the lineup changed rapidly. In 1979 the group was Pinkney, Andrew Lawyer, Chuck Cockerham, Harriel Jackson, and Tony Cook. Their 1995 album Peace in the Valley, on Blackberry Records, credited vocals to Pinkney, Cockerham, Richard Knight Dunbar, (Vernon Young), and Greg Johnson. They appeared on the 2001 PBS special Doo Wop 51 with Pinkney, Dunbar, Johnson, and Bobby Hendricks. The lineup in the early 2000s was Pinkney, Cockerham, Dunbar, Young, and Ronald Jackson, the son of singer Ruth Brown.
Pinkney died July 4, 2007, and his legacy continues via the successfully defended registered federal service mark "Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters(R). http://bskb.com/JMS_Drifters_Win_2016.html The present Original Drifters lineup is Russell Henry, Chuck Cockerham, Richard Knight Dunbar, and Roger Whitehead.
The New Drifters
Treadwell owned the rights to the name "Drifters", and still had a year's worth of bookings for the Apollo when he fired the group. In the summer of 1958, he approached Lover Patterson, the manager of the Five Crowns featuring lead singer Benjamin Earl Nelson—better known by his stage name of Ben E. King—and arranged for them to become the Drifters. The new line-up consisted of King (lead tenor), Charlie Thomas (tenor), Dock Green (baritone), and Elsbeary Hobbs (bass). James "Poppa" Clark was the fifth "Crown"; he was not included due to an alcohol problem, which Treadwell had considered to be a problem with the first group. The group went out on the road to tour for almost a year. Since this new group had no connection to the prior Drifters, they often played to hostile audiences.
When Atlantic decided to send the new Drifters into the studio, Ertegün and Wexler were too busy to produce the sessions, so they enlisted Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had been successful producing the Coasters. With Leiber & Stoller producing, this new lineup — widely considered the "true" golden age of the group — released several singles with King on lead that became chart hits. "There Goes My Baby", the first commercial rock-and-roll recording to include a string orchestra, was a Top 10 hit, and number 193 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. "Dance with Me" followed, and then "This Magic Moment" (number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960). "Save the Last Dance for Me" reached number 1 on the U.S. pop charts and number 2 in the UK. It was followed by "I Count The Tears". This version of the Drifters was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000 as Ben E. King and the Drifters. The write-up indicates an award primarily as a tribute to Ben E. King with a nod to his time in the Drifters, only one of five paragraphs being exclusively devoted to the Drifters, although Charlie Thomas was also cited by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame's induction of the original Drifters, which technically was only through 1958).
With this brief golden age lasting just two years, personnel changes quickly followed. Lover Patterson (now the Drifters' road manager) got into a fight with George Treadwell. Since Patterson had King under personal contract, he refused to let him tour with the group. Thus King was only able to record with the group for about a year. Johnny Lee Williams, who sang lead on "(If You Cry) True Love, True Love", the flipside of "Dance with Me", handled the vocals on tour along with Charlie Thomas. When the group passed through Williams' hometown of Mobile, Alabama, Williams left the group. (Williams died on December 19, 2004, at the age of 64.)
When King asked Treadwell for a raise and a fair share of royalties, a request that was not honored, he left and began a successful solo career. Williams left at the same time and new lead, Rudy Lewis, (of The Clara Ward Singers), was recruited. Lewis led the Drifters on hits such as "Some Kind of Wonderful", "Up On The Roof", "Please Stay" and "On Broadway", which reached number 5 on the U.S. pop singles chart and number 4 on the U.S. R&B singles chart in 1963. Lewis was also named in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Drifters induction. (Ben E. King died on April 30, 2015 at the age of 76.)
Hobbs was drafted for military service and eventually replaced by the returning Tommy Evans (from the first group). Green left in 1962 and was replaced by Eugene Pearson (of The Rivileers and The Cleftones). Evans left again in 1963 and was replaced by Johnny Terry, who had been an original member of James Brown's singing group, The Famous Flames (and was co-writer of their first hit, "Please Please Please"). After his military service and a failed solo career, Johnny Moore returned in 1964, making the group a quintet of Moore, Thomas, Lewis, Pearson, and Perry.
Later that year, the group was scheduled to record "Under the Boardwalk" on May 21. However, Rudy Lewis died the night before the session, and Johnny Moore took over as the sole lead (he and Lewis had been alternating). Terry was replaced in 1966 by Dan Dandridge for a couple of months, then by William Brent, who had been with Johnny Moore in the Hornets in 1954. Gene Pearson was replaced by Rick Sheppard that same year. By late 1966, baritone/bass Bill Fredricks replaced William Brent. Charlie Thomas, the group's last member from the Five Crowns, left in mid-1967 and was replaced by Charles Baskerville, a former member of The Limelites. Baskerville stayed only a short time. It was in 1972 that the Drifters quietly left the talent roster of Atlantic artists.
After this, the Drifters moved to England and continued with several different vocalists. Although early lineups included golden era singers Moore, and later Ben E. King, they fell off the US radar, but continued to have UK chart successes, notably "Like Sister & Brother", "Kissin' in the Back Row of the Movies", "There Goes My First Love" and "You're More Than a Number in My Little Red Book". Butch Leake and former Ink Spot Grant Kitchings replaced Sheppard and Thomas. Fredricks was replaced by Clyde Brown the next year, and Kitchings by Billy Lewis the year after. Leake was replaced by Joe Blunt in 1976, making the lineup Johnny Moore, Clyde Brown, Joe Blunt, and Billy Lewis. This year, Faye Treadwell renamed the group's management company Treadwell Drifters Inc.
Moore left in 1978 and was replaced by Ray Lewis. Blunt and Billy Lewis left in 1979 and were replaced by the returning Johnny Moore and former Temptations lead Louis Price. Moore left again in late 1982, along with Clyde Brown. They were replaced by two returning members, Benjamin Earl Nelson (a.k.a. Ben E. King) and Bill Fredricks.
Fredricks, Lewis, and Price all left in 1983, and were replaced by the returning Johnny Moore, Joe Blunt, and Clyde Brown. In 1986, the group split up, and the a new lineup was constructed by Treadwell, consisting of new member Jonah Ellis and former members Ray Lewis, Billy Lewis, and Louis Price. The next year, more former members came in as replacements, making the group Moore, Billy and Ray Lewis, and Gene Jenkins (replaced shortly after by George Chandler, then John Thurston). Ray Lewis was out in 1988, and was replaced by Joe Cofie. In 1989, Billy Lewis left, and was replaced by the returning George Chandler, then Tony Jackson, Keith John, and finally Peter Lamarr in 1990.
Thurston was out at the end of the year and was replaced by Roy Hemmings. Patrick Alan was in for Peter Lamarr briefly, before Lamarr left in 1991, and was permanently replaced by Rohan Delano Turney. Johnny Stewart joined the group in 1963 and left in 1993 in Las Vegas. He later joined The Platters and continued his singing career. This lineup lasted until 1996, when Cofie was out and Jason Leigh was in. Leigh was replaced after two years by the returning Lamarr. Leigh later returned on the next tour and Lamarr was replaced by the returning Patrick Alan.
Tragedy struck on December 30, 1998, when the group's longest-serving member, Johnny Moore, died in London. Patrick Alan returned to the group, keeping it a quartet.
In 2001, Faye Treadwell left the United Kingdom and apparently abandoned the Treadwell Drifters franchise (even though in January 2000 a US court had previously overturned a 1999 jury verdict declaring that it was abandoned.) In this environment, two members of her company, Mark Lundquist and Phil Lunderman, started a new management company, Drifters UK Limited, to run the group. Their new duties included stopping a patent by a UK group calling themselves American Drifters. Lamarr left again in 2003, and was replaced by Victor Bynoe. Hemmings left in 2004 and was replaced by the again-returning Peter Lamarr. The group's lineup as of 2007 was Peter Lamarr, Rohan Delano Turney, Patrick Alan, and Victor Bynoe. On June 20, 2007, this lineup performed at Prime Minister Tony Blair's Farewell Party in London. In 2008 Tina Treadwell won her case in a UK court establishing her ownership of the Treadwell Drifters franchise, so this lineup lost the right to use the Drifters name (see below).
In December 2006, writs were served in the London High Court by Tina Treadwell, daughter of George and Faye, against Mark Lundquist and Philip Luderman Drifters UK Ltd, alleging they are not the rightful controllers of the Drifters.
In July 2008, The Treadwell family and Prism Music Group Ltd won their legal battle. The court order prohibited Phil Luderman, Mark Lundquist, Rohan Delano Turney, Peter Lamarr, Patrick Alan or Victor Bynoe from using the Drifters name.
Ownership of the Drifters name continues with the Treadwell family in the form of George Treadwell's daughter, Tina, and the UK-based company Prism Music Group Ltd. The line-up features Michael Williams, Pierre Herelle, Ryan King and Carlton Powell.
The current Drifters line up performed at the London IndigoO2 Arena in 2009 with special guests the Drifter Legends, made up of some of the most prestigious former members of the group. Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented at this concert to Joe Blunt and Butch Leake by Neil Martin from Sony Music, and songwriter, Roger Greenway. Later in 2012, Gold discs (100,000 Units sold of the CD, Up On The Roof, The Very Best Of) were awarded by Sony Music to Butch Leake, Joe Blunt and Clyde Brown.
This is the only line up, with the exception of Johnny Moore, to have recorded on both of the group's former labels, having recorded new material on Atlantic/Warner in 2009 and now in 2011 on Sony Music (Bell Arista) with the new release on March 21, 2011.
In the early 1970s, promoter Larry Marshak decided to reunite the Drifters (not realizing that they were still performing with a newer lineup). He found Dock Green, Charlie Thomas, and Elsbeary Hobbs, and began to promote them as "The Drifters". This brought swift legal action from Faye Treadwell, wife of George Treadwell, who was managing the Drifters. In an attempt to grant his group the sole rights to the name, Marshak convinced Hobbs, Thomas, and Green to apply for a trademark on the Drifters name in 1976. The trademark was granted, but due to Treadwell's legal action it was revoked in 2000 in U.S. Federal Court. The trio of original Drifters split afterward into separate groups.
Dock Green led his group, the Drifters featuring Dock Green, throughout the 1970s and 1980s. That group consisted of Dock Green (lead/baritone), Derek Ventura (lead/tenor), Lloyd Butch Phillips (second tenor), and Bernard Jones (bass/baritone). Green died on March 10, 1989; Phillips died in 2002.
Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters (Pinkney died on July 4, 2007) continue to tour and record. Charlie Thomas leads another group billed as "Charlie Thomas' Drifters."
Rick Sheppard also tours with another group. Sheppard owns the Canadian Trademark for the Drifters name and has recently won a lawsuit in Canada, so that no other Drifters are permitted to perform there. Ray Lewis and Roy Hemmings have led a Drifters group. Bobby Hendricks leads a group, as does Billy Lewis. Don Thomas leads a group, Don Thomas and the Drifters Review. In addition, Ronn McPhatter, son of Clyde McPhatter leads a group called Clyde McPhatter's Drifters.
Aside from the official post-2008 lineup, Treadwell managed a second group, The Drifters Legends, composed of former members Rick Sheppard, Butch Leake, Joe Blunt and Clyde Brown. Faye Treadwell died of breast cancer, aged 84, on May 22, 2011.
The Vocal Group Hall of Fame has inducted both "The Original Drifters" (1998) and "Ben E. King and the Drifters" (2000). In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the Drifters #81 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In 1988, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the Drifters; naming members Clyde McPhatter, Bill Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher, Johnny Moore, Ben E. King, Charlie Thomas, and Rudy Lewis. Bill Pinkney, Charlie Thomas, and Johnny Moore (posthumously) received Pioneer Awards from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in 1999. The Songwriters Hall of Fame include The Drifters among their Songwriters Friends, the artists who popularized the songs written by inductees.
Clyde McPhatter (1953–54; died 1972)
David Baughan (1953, 1954–55; died 1970)
William Anderson (1953)
David Baldwin (1953)
James Johnson (1953)
Bill Pinkney (1953–56; died 2007)
Gerhart Thrasher (1953–58; died 1977)
Andrew Thrasher (1953–56; died 1978)
Willie Ferbee (1953)
Walter Adams (1953; died 1953)
Jimmy Oliver (1954–57)
Johnny Moore (1954–57, 1964–78, 1980, 1983, 1987–98; died 1998)
Tommy Evans (1956–62; died 1984)
Lee Anderson 2015
Charlie Hughes (1956)
Bobby Hendricks (1957)
Jimmy Millinder (1957)
Ben E. King (1958–60, 1981–85; died 2015)
Charlie Thomas (1958–67)
Dock Green (1958–62; died 1989)
Derek Ventura (1972–84)
Bernard Jones (1972–84)
Lloyd Butch Phillips (1972–84; died 2002)
Elsbeary "Beary" Hobbs (1958–60; died 1996)
James Clark (1958–59)
Johnny Lee Williams (1959–60; died 2004)
Reggie Kimber (1959–60)
James Poindexter (1960)
Rudy Lewis (1960–64; died 1964)
Eugene "Gene" Pearson (1962–66)
Johnny Terry (1963–66; died 2005)
Jimmy Lewis (1963–65; died 2004)
Dan Dandridge (1966)
William Brent (1966)
Rick Sheppard (1966–1988)
Bill Fredericks (1966–??, 1982–83; died 1999)
Charles Baskerville (1967)
Butch Leake (1970-1976)
Joe Blunt (1976-1980, 1983-1986)
Ray Lewis (1978–83, 1986–present)
Terry King (1978–Retired 1989)
Rudy Ivan (19??–82)
Louis Price (1980–83, 1986)
Peter Lamarr (1990, 1991, 1998–2001, 2004–??)
Roy Hemmings (1990–2003)
Rohan Delano Turney (1991–????)
Patrick Alan (1990, 1998–????)
Jason Leigh (1995–2001)
Vernon K. Taylor (1995–present)
Victor Bynoe (2002–??)
Steve V. King (2008–10)
Maurice Cannon (2008–11)
Damion Charles (2008–12)
Michael Williams (2008–present)
Ryan King (2010–present)
Carlton Powell (2011–14)
Pierre Herelle (2012–14)
Daniel Bowen Smith (2014–2015)
Damien Charles (2014–present)
Bobby Charles Taylor
Gil Johnny Thunder Hamilton
Emmanuel Dadey (2015)
Jerome Bucknor (2015)
The Atlantic Years 1953-1972
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The Marvelettes were an American all-girl group who achieved popularity in the early to mid-1960s. They consisted of schoolmates Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, (now Schaffner) Georgeanna Tillman, (later Gordon) Juanita Cowart, (now Cowart Motley) and Georgia Dobbins, who was replaced by Wanda Young (now Rogers) prior to the group signing their first deal. They were the first major successful act of Motown Records after The Miracles and its first significantly successful girl group after the release of the 1961 number-one single, "Please Mr. Postman", one of the first number-one singles recorded by an all-female vocal group and the first by a Motown recording act.
Founded in 1960 while the group's founding members performed together at their glee club at Inkster High School in Inkster, Michigan, they eventually were signed to Motown's Tamla label in 1961. Some of the group's early hits were written by band members and some of Motown's rising singer-songwriters such as Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye, who played drums on a majority of their early recordings. Despite their early successes, the group was eclipsed in popularity by groups like The Supremes, with whom they shared an intense rivalry. Nevertheless, they managed a major comeback in 1966 with "Don't Mess with Bill", followed by a few smaller hits. They struggled with issues of dismal promotion from Motown, illnesses, and mental breakdowns, with Cowart the first to leave in 1963, followed by Georgeanna Tillman two years later, and Gladys Horton two years later. The group ceased performing together in 1969 and, following the release of The Return of the Marvelettes in 1970, featuring only Wanda Rogers, the group disbanded for good, with both Rogers and Katherine Anderson leaving the music business.
The group has received several honors, including the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. In 2005, two of the group's most successful recordings, "Please Mr. Postman" and "Don't Mess with Bill" earned million-selling Gold singles from the RIAA. In 2012, the Marvelettes were nominated for 2013 induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Origins and initial success
The group that would become the Marvelettes formed at Inkster High School in Inkster, Michigan, a suburb located west of Detroit, Michigan by fifteen-year-old glee club member Gladys Horton in the fall of 1960. Horton enlisted older glee club members Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, Juanita Cowart, and Georgia Dobbins (already a high school graduate) to join her. The members struggled to come up with a name for their new act until one of the members jokingly took a stab at their own singing abilities, saying "we can't sing yet." Horton altered the saying to "The Casinyets".
In 1961, the quintet, which had then changed her name to the Marvels, entered a talent show contest on the behest of their teacher and ended up finishing in fourth place. Though only the first three winners were offered a trip to audition for the fledging Motown label, two of the girls' schoolteachers advised that they be allowed to audition too. Upon auditioning for Motown executives including Brian Holland and Robert Bateman, they had a second audition with bigger staff including Smokey Robinson and the label president and founder, Berry Gordy, who while impressed with their vocal styles advised them to come back with their own composition. Returning to Inkster, Georgia Dobbins contacted a local musician named William Garrett, who had an unfinished blues composition titled "Please Mr. Postman"; Garrett allowed Dobbins to use it as long as he received songwriting credit if the song became a hit. Despite having no previous songwriting experience, Dobbins took the song home and reshaped it overnight to reflect the teenage sound of doo-wop.
Prior to returning to Motown, Dobbins left the group due to her growing family and her father, who advised her not to continue her career in show business. Dobbins' departure left Horton in full charge of the group. To replace her, Horton asked another Inkster graduate, Wanda Young, to replace Dobbins. When the group returned and performed their composition, Gordy agreed to work with the group but under the advice that they change their name. Gordy renamed them The Marvelettes and signed the act to Motown's Tamla division in July 1961. The following month, the group recorded "Please Mr. Postman", which was polished by Brian Holland and Robert Bateman, and another composition, "So Long Baby", sung by Wanda. Tamla issued "Please Mr. Postman" the following September. The song then climbed to the top of the singles chart, reaching #1 that December. making them the first Motown act to have a #1 hit on the Hot 100.
To follow up on this success, Motown had the group record "Twistin' Postman" to take advantage of the twist dance craze and the re-release of Chubby Checker's "The Twist". The song eventually peaked at #34 on the pop chart in early 1962. Before the end of 1961, Tamla issued the first Marvelettes album, also named Please Mr. Postman, but it failed to chart. The group's next single, "Playboy", marked the second time one of their singles was written by a band member, this time by Gladys Horton. Like "Postman", the song was retooled by other writers and upon its release in early 1962, reached #7. A fourth hit, "Beechwood 4-5789", co-written by Marvin Gaye, reached #17. During 1962, two more albums would be issued by the band including The Marvelettes Sing and Playboy. Following the success of "Beechwood", R&B radio stations also frequently played the single's flip side, "Someday, Someway", which paid off sending the song to #8 on the R&B chart---their first double-sided hit.
Due to their success, the group had to leave school in order to perform and despite the promise of tutors to help with their schooling, they were never granted any. Due to their young ages and Horton being an orphaned ward of the courts, they eventually were taken in by Esther Gordy Edwards, who bussed them to Motortown Revue shows. After several successful Top 40 recordings, the group released the modest success, "Strange I Know", which peaked at #49. In early 1963, the group was shortened to a quartet when Juanita Cowart opted to leave the band citing a mental breakdown---caused by stress from performing on the road and a mistake she made in describing the group's background during an appearance on American Bandstand. Carrying on as a quartet, the group issued one of Holland–Dozier–Holland's early compositions, "Locking Up My Heart", which peaked at #44. It was one of the first singles to feature Horton and Young in co-leads. The success of "Locking" was probably tested due to strong airplay by the song's B-side, the Young-led ballad "Forever", which also received a pop charting, peaking at #78. Then Berry Gordy composed and produced the single, "My Daddy Knows Best", but it was their lowest charting at the time, #97.
The departure of Georgeanna Tillman and renewed success
By 1964, the majority of American vocal groups especially all female bands such as The Shirelles and The Ronettes started struggling with finding a hit after the arrival of British pop and rock acts. In the meantime, other Motown girl groups such as Martha and The Vandellas and The Supremes were starting to get promoted by Motown staff with the Vandellas becoming the top girl group of 1963. The following year, the Supremes took their place as the label's top primary female group after a succession of hit recordings that year, culminating in the release of their second album, Where Did Our Love Go, which Motown was able to promote successfully. Regarding the aforementioned 'Where Did Our Love Go', page 97 of The Original Marvelettes: Motown's Mystery Girl Group by Marc Taylor makes it clear that the Marvelettes did turn it down. Gladys recalls "When they played 'Where Did Our Love Go' they played 'Too Many Fish In The Sea'. We picked 'Too Many Fish In The Sea' because it had all the music and all the bongos. We were all together and said at the same time we didn't want 'Where Did Our Love Go'."
That year, the Marvelettes reached the top forty with the Norman Whitfield production, "Too Many Fish in the Sea", reaching #25 with the recording. By now, Motown had begun its charm school hiring choreographer Cholly Atkins and Maxine Powell to refine the label's acts. Atkins began polishing the Marvelettes' dance moves while Powell taught the group to be more graceful. telling them and every other Motown act that they would "perform in front of kings and queens". Meanwhile two of the Marvelettes got married: Georgeanna Tillman married longtime boyfriend Billy Gordon of The Contours and Wanda Young married her longtime boyfriend Bobby Rogers of The Miracles changing her name to Wanda Rogers. By the end of 1964, Georgeanna Tillman, a longtime sufferer of sickle cell anemia was diagnosed with lupus. By early 1965, struggling to keep up with their stringent recording sessions and touring schedules and her illnesses, a doctor of Tillman's advised her to leave performing for good. The rest of the Marvelettes carried on as a trio from then on.
In mid-1965, Wanda Rogers took over as lead vocalist, as Motown producers felt Rogers' voice was more suitable for this role than Horton's. With Rogers as lead, the group had a hit with "I'll Keep Holding On", which reached #34 while "Danger! Heartbreak Dead Ahead" settled for a #61 showing but was #11 on the R&B chart. Later in 1965, the group released the Smokey Robinson composition, "Don't Mess with Bill", which brought the group back to the top ten reaching #7 and becoming their second single to sell over a million copies. From then on, with Robinson mainly in charge, most of the Marvelettes singles would feature Rogers on lead. In 1966, they had a modest success with "You're the One" and by the end of that year, they reached the top 20 with the "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game", which Smokey had to fight to get released. In 1967, the group recorded the Van McCoy composition, "When You're Young and in Love", which had been originally recorded by Ruby & the Romantics. The song reached #23 in the U.S. and peaked at #13 in the UK which was their only hit there.
By 1967, Gladys Horton had reconsidered her involvement with the Marvelettes. After her first child, Sammie, was born with cerebral palsy, Horton decided to leave the group entirely, doing so before the release of the hit "My Baby Must Be a Magician". The song peaked at #17 and was noted for featuring The Temptations' Melvin Franklin providing the opening line. With Horton out, Harvey Fuqua introduced the group to Ann Bogan who became Horton's replacement. However, by the time Bogan joined the group in 1968, most of the musicians of Motown's early years had left, mainly due to financial disputes with the label. The group struggled with recordings after the release of "Magician", with Motown offering little to no promotion. The 1968 singles "Here I Am Baby" and "Destination: Anywhere" were only modestly successful, peaking at #44 and #63 respectively. The release of their 1969 album, In Full Bloom, failed as did its only single, the Justine Washington remake of "That's How Heartaches Are Made".
Wanda Rogers, who had suffered from a number of personal problems for some time, became unreliable and difficult to work with. Concert scheduling was difficult as she sometimes failed to turn up for performances. In 1970, Rogers recorded songs for the album, The Return of The Marvelettes, which was produced by Smokey Robinson and included covers of earlier Motown recordings. As this album featured no other Marvelettes, original member Katherine Anderson refused to participate in appearing on the cover of the album due to what she felt was Motown's disrespect towards her and the group. The album was only a modest hit, reaching #50 on the R&B album charts and featured no charted hit singles. Following this, the group disbanded with Katherine Anderson settling briefly as a staff writer for Motown. After Motown moved to Los Angeles in 1972, Anderson and Rogers left the business altogether returning to Michigan with Anderson settling in her hometown of Inkster while Rogers moved to Southfield, Michigan. Meanwhile, Gladys Horton had moved to Los Angeles where she raised her three sons.
In January 1980, former Marvelette and original member Georgeanna Tillman died from complications of lupus, in her mother's house in Inkster, at the age of 36. Shortly afterwards, several of the former members filed suit against Motown, complaining of not receiving any royalties from their work. In 1989, Gladys Horton tried to reunite the original Marvelettes after being offered a contract with Motorcity Records. Wanda Young was the only other Marvelette to agree to sing on the recording. Following this, Horton continued to perform, sometimes as "Gladys Horton of the Marvelettes". Due to a legal disagreement with Larry Marshak, who bought the Marvelettes' name from Motown after the label lost rights to the name, Horton would fight for years to retain ownership of the name. Marshak had several groups billing themselves as "The Marvelettes", but the women billing themselves as the group members who portrayed themselves as the Marvelettes were much younger than the original lineup.
By 2006, legislation had been launched in 33 states via The Truth In Music Act to prevent performers from using the name of a group that didn't have at least one original member, causing the groups who Marshak had hired as Marvelettes to bill themselves as "Tribute to the Marvelettes". Both Horton and Katherine Anderson began fighting to get back ownership of the name and were in their final stages of having the name returned to them when Horton died from a stroke at a California nursing home in January 2011. Following their exits from the Marvelettes, both Georgia Dobbins and Juanita Cowart remained in Inkster and settled into life outside the entertainment industry, with Cowart being active in her Inkster church choir. Wanda Rogers now lives with her daughter in Westland, Michigan while Katherine Anderson resides in Inkster and mentors several Detroit-area vocal groups. Ann Bogan, the latter-day member of the group, now lives in Cleveland, Ohio and is a member of a gospel group. All the surviving members of the group were recently interviewed for an episode of their lives on the TV-One show, Unsung.
In 2005, the group was awarded two gold plaques for their biggest hits, "Please Mr. Postman" and "Don't Mess with Bill" after the RIAA had certified the singles as million-sellers. The following year, Horton appeared on the PBS concert special, My Music Salute to Early Motown, along with other Motown stars from the label's early years. Some of the group's recordings were later sampled for songs by rap musicians, most notably Jay-Z's song, "Poppin' Tags", sampled the group's 1970 cover of Smokey Robinson's composition, "After All", from his 2002 album, The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse.
In 1995, they were honored with the "Pioneer Award" at the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 2004, the group was inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. In 2006, Marc Taylor issued the biography, The Original Marvelettes: Motown's Mystery Girl Group. The group's story had been documented several years before in Goldmine magazine from a 1984 article.
In 2009, as part of Motown's 50th Anniversary celebrations, a new limited-edition triple-CD set on the group entitled The Marvelettes: Forever – The Complete Motown Albums Vol. 1 was released. This featured the group's first six albums, some of which had never been released on CD. The Marvelettes: Forever More – The Complete Motown Albums Vol. 2, which included their later albums and bonus material, was released in 2011.
In 2012 the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominated the Marvelettes for 2013 induction. They became eligible for induction in 1987. On August 17, 2013 The Marvelettes were inducted into The Official R&B Music Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
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The Coasters are an American rhythm and blues/rock and roll vocal group that had a string of hits in the late 1950s. Beginning with "Searchin'" and "Young Blood," their most memorable songs were written by the songwriting and producing team of Leiber and Stoller. Although the Coasters originated outside of mainstream doo wop, their records were so frequently imitated that they became an important part of the doo wop legacy through the 1960s.
The Coasters are a doo-wop group that started in October 1955. The original members of the Coasters were Carl Gardner, Billy Guy, Bobby Nunn, Leon Hughes (who was replaced by Young Jessie on a couple of their early Los Angeles recordings), and guitarist Adolph Jacobs. Jacobs left the group in 1959. The Coasters' were formed out of the group The Robins, a Los Angeles based rhythm and blues group, which included Carl Gardner and Bobby Nunn.
The songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had started Spark Records, and in 1955 produced "Smokey Joe's Cafe" for the Robins (their 5th single with Leiber-Stoller). The record was popular enough that Atlantic Records offered Leiber and Stoller an independent production contract to produce the Robins for the Atlantic label. Only two of the Robins—Gardner and Nunn—were willing to make the move to Atlantic, recording their first songs in the same studio as the Robins had done (Master Recorders). In late 1957 the group moved to New York and replaced Nunn and Hughes with Cornell Gunter and Will "Dub" Jones. The new quartet was from then on stationed in New York (although all had Los Angeles roots).
The Coasters' association with Leiber and Stoller was an immediate success. Together they created a string of good-humored "storytelling" hits that are some of the most entertaining from the original era of rock and roll. Their first single, "Down in Mexico," was an R&B hit in 1956 and appears (in a re-recording from 1970—still with Gardner singing the lead) on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof. The following year, The Coasters crossed over to the national charts in a big way with the double-sided "Young Blood"/"Searchin'." "Searchin'" was the group's first U.S. Top 10 hit, and topped the R&B charts for 13 weeks, becoming the biggest R&B single of 1957 (all these were recorded in Los Angeles).
"Yakety Yak" (recorded in New York), featuring King Curtis on tenor saxophone, included the famous lineup of Gardner, Guy, Jones, and Gunter, became the act's only national #1 single, and also topped the R&B chart. The next single, "Charlie Brown," reached #2 on both charts. This was followed by "Along Came Jones," "Poison Ivy" (#1 for a month on the R&B chart), and "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)."
Changing popular tastes and a couple of line-up changes contributed to a lack of hits in the 1960s. During this time, Billy Guy was also working on solo projects, so New York singer Vernon Harrell was brought in to replace Guy for stage performances. Later members included Earl "Speedo" Carroll (lead of The Cadillacs), Ronnie Bright (the bass voice on Johnny Cymbal's "Mr. Bass Man"), Jimmy Norman, and guitarist Thomas "Curly" Palmer. The Coasters signed with Columbia Records's Date label in 1966, reuniting with Leiber and Stoller (who had parted ways with Atlantic Records in 1963), but were never able to regain their former fame. In 1971, The Coasters had a minor chart entry with "Love Potion No. 9," a song that Leiber and Stoller had written for the Coasters but instead gave to The Clovers in 1959. In Britain, a 1994 Volkswagen TV advertisement used the group's "Sorry But I'm Gonna Have To Pass" track, which led to a minor chart placement in that country.
In 1987, the Coasters became the first group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, crediting the members of the 1958-era configuration. The Coasters also joined the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.
Several groups used the name in the 1970s, touring throughout the country, though Carl Gardner, one of the original Coasters, held the legal rights to it. Gardner continued to tour with the Coasters and made many attempts to stop bogus groups with no connection to the original group using the name. In late 2005, Carl's son Carl Gardner, Jr. took over as lead with the group when his father retired. The Coasters' lineup then consisted of Carl Gardner, Jr., J.W. Lance, Primo Candelara and Eddie Whitfield. Carl, Jr. has since split with this group and has started his own group with Curly Palmer.
As of 2012, Leon Hughes and Adolph Jacobs are the only surviving members of the original Coasters. Some of the former members suffered tragic ends. Saxophonist and "fifth Coaster" King Curtis was stabbed to death by two junkies outside his apartment building in 1971. Cornelius Gunter was shot to death while sitting in a Las Vegas parking garage in 1990. Nate Wilson, a member of one of Gunter's offshoot Coasters groups, was shot and his body dismembered in 1980. Former manager Patrick Cavanaugh was convicted of the murder after Wilson threatened to notify authorities of Cavanaugh's intent to buy furniture with stolen checks. While Cavanaugh was convicted of the murder and given the death sentence in 1984, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died in 2006, in Nevada's Ely State Prison. Cavanaugh was 60.
The Coasters continue to appear regularly on "oldies" shows and PBS specials as old favorites and are available for bookings.
The Hits list below is from Joel Whitburn's Top R&B Singles and from the Pop positions published in Bill Millar's book "The Coasters" (1975).
In late June, 2007 Carl Gardner's autobiography "Carl Gardner: Yakety Yak I Fought Back - My Life with The Coasters" was published at AuthorHouse. On August 28, 2007 the Coasters' Leiber-Stoller produced recordings for Date/King 1966-1972 was released on a Varèse Vintage (Varèse Sarabande) CD, titled "Down Home" (302 066 844 2) - and on December 12, 2007 the complete Atco recordings 1954-1966 were released on a Rhino Handmade 4CD-set, titled "There's A Riot Goin' On: The Coasters on Atco" (Rhino RHM2 7740).
The Coasters' repertoire had a significant impact on '60s and '70s rock artists. For example, Leon Russell performed "Young Blood" at the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, imitating the group's arrangement of the song with four different solo voices, and Bad Company's version of the song reached #20 on 22–29 May 1976 on the Hot 100; Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen recorded The Robins' "Riot in Cell Block #9," while The Beach Boys recorded a 1971 version with revised lyrics by that group's vocalist Mike Love, titled "Student Demonstration Time." The novelty singer Ray Stevens reached #27 on the U.S. pop singles chart with a 1969 remake of "Along Came Jones." Elvis Presley included "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)" in the soundtrack for his 1964 film Roustabout. The first two British hits of The Hollies were "(Ain't That) Just Like Me" and "Searchin'." The Monkees reached #10 on the Cashbox singles chart with "D. W. Washburn." (The Coasters recorded it first, but when Date declined to release it, Leiber and Stoller sent it as a demo to the Monkees. After the Monkees' record charted, the Coasters' original was issued.) Several Coasters songs were part of The Beatles' repertoire before the British rock group began its recording career; George Harrison is among the singers on the above-mentioned Leon Russell live recording. The Grateful Dead similarly performed several Coasters songs in their early days. This was influenced by a weekend in 1965 in which the group (while still called The Warlocks) served as pickup band for the Coasters at a lounge in Belmont, CA. When the Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead united on stage to perform a brief set at New York City's Filmore East, they performed "Searchin'" and "Riot in Cell Block No. 9." Numerous groups have recorded "Poison Ivy."
The Coasters' hits also comprised a major portion of the song score for the 1994 musical revue Smokey Joe's Cafe, a retrospective of Leiber & Stoller songs that received one Grammy Award and seven Tony Award nominations following its 1995 Broadway debut. Their song "Baby, That Is Rock and Roll" has served as the main title for a biography/songbook of Leiber & Stoller songs and a Bravo television documentary on the songwriters.
In addition, Coasters songs and the Coasters themselves have been referred to by later popular musicians. Frank Zappa referenced the group in the lyrics of the song "Status Back Baby" on his second album, Absolutely Free. Sly Stone titled a No. 1 hit 1971 album by his group Sly & the Family Stone after the tag line from "Riot in Cell Block No. 9": There's a Riot Goin' On. The folksinger David Bromberg quoted from "Little Egypt (Ying-Yang)" in his 1972 song "Sharon". Paolo Nutini regularly covers "Down in Mexico" during live performances.
J. W. Lance – lead vocals, previously tenor vocals (2001–present)
Primotivo Candelara – baritone vocals (2008–present)
Eddie Whitfield – bass vocals (2009–present)
Dennis Anderson – tenor vocals (2011–present)
(Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductees' listed in bold.)