On May 15th, we lost one the suavest, coolest, most debonair bass singer in our business, Chuck Barksdale founding member of the Mighty Dells.
We have created a special Great Soul Performances edition featuring our salute to Chuck and the Dells with as many of their songs as we can get in; keeping in mind that they recorded in five decades, so you won’t hear them all, but a goodly amount.
Also you’ll hear the Dells in their own words from an interview I did with Chuck Barksdale, Marvin Junior and Mickey McGill, recorded back when I was at WWRL in New York, several decades ago. All aspects of their career will be covered from Doo Wop, Soul, Jazz, Smooth R&B and several songs they sang on as background singers.
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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 sang 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 sang background for Washington for two years. In 1966, they were hired to open for Ray Charles, only to be fired after a performance resulted in 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.