McPhatter, Clyde

McPhatter, Clyde

▪ American singer
in full  Clyde Lensey McPhatter 
born Nov. 15, 1932, Durham, N.C., U.S.
died June 13, 1972, New York, N.Y.

      American rhythm-and-blues (rhythm and blues) singer popular in the 1950s whose emotional style anticipated soul (soul music) music.

      One of the most dramatic vocalists of his generation, McPhatter grew up in a devout Christian family that moved from North Carolina to New Jersey in the mid-1940s. There, together with some high school friends (including two of author James Baldwin (Baldwin, James)'s brothers), he formed the Mount Lebanon Singers, who quickly found success on the gospel (gospel music) circuit. In 1950 a talent contest brought him to the attention of vocal coach Billy Ward, whose group he joined. With McPhatter singing lead, Billy Ward and the Dominoes became one of the era's preeminent vocal groups, but the martinetish Ward fired McPhatter in 1953 (replacing him with Jackie Wilson (Wilson, Jackie)). Shortly thereafter, ' Ahmet Ertegun sought to establish a new group around McPhatter, eventually recruiting former members of the Thrasher Wonders. As Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters (Drifters, the), this group soon had a hit with “Money Honey,” which perfectly showcased McPhatter's melismatic, gospel-derived style. In 1954 their recording of Irving Berlin (Berlin, Irving)'s classic “White Christmas” was banned from the radio because of alleged lewdness, yet it became a perennial seller. That fall McPhatter was drafted into the army but, stationed in New Jersey, was able to continue recording and appear in the film Mister Rock and Roll (1957).

      Upon his discharge he became a soloist, with the Drifters continuing with other lead singers (most notably Ben E. King). Thereafter, he began to record increasingly pop-oriented material, including the pop Top 20 hits “Without Love (There Is Nothing)” (1956) and “A Lover's Question” (1958) as well as the rhythm-and-blues hit “Lovey Dovey.” In 1960 he switched record labels, signing first with MGM, then with Mercury. His new material was so pop-oriented that his 1962 hit “Lover Please” did not even show up on the rhythm-and-blues charts, and, after a mild success in 1965 with “Crying Won't Help You Now,” the hits stopped coming, although his voice would have been perfect for the emerging style of soul. Slipping into alcoholism, he played the oldies circuit and died before his 40th birthday. McPhatter was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Ed Ward

Representative Works

Billy Ward and the Dominoes
● “The Bells” (1952)
● “Have Mercy Baby” (1952)

The Drifters
● “Such a Night/Lucille” (1954)

Clyde McPhatter
● “A Lover's Question” (1958)
● “Lover Please” (1962)

Additional Reading
Bill Millar, The Drifters: The Rise and Fall of the Black Vocal Group (1971), is a workmanlike scholarly treatment of the group. Charlie Gillett, Making Tracks: Atlantic Records and the Growth of a Multi-Billion-Dollar Industry (1974, reissued as Making Tracks: The Story of Atlantic Records, 1993), contains some interesting anecdotes about the Drifters and McPhatter. Jerry Wexler and David Ritz, Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music (1993), presents a view of the Drifters and McPhatter from the inside.

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Universalium. 2010.

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