Clyde Lensley McPhatter was a great singer of R&B and pop tunes in the 50's and 60's, and a huge influence in the evolution of music during that time.
He was born in Durham, North Carolina on November 15, 1932, according to his daughter Deborah, although some other sources inaccurately cite a different date. He was the son of a clergyman. Clyde sang in the church choir before going professional with a gospel group at age 14. In 1950 he met Billy Ward and joined his group, The Dominoes. He stayed with The Dominoes for several years and first began to put hit songs on the charts in the early 50's. Some of the group's most successful recordings of this era were a song called Sixty Minute Man which was a huge hit and topped the R&B charts in 1951, and Have Mercy Baby, a chart topper on which Clyde sang lead. He trained his replacement, Jackie Wilson, before leaving in June of 1953 to form his own group.
That group was The Drifters. It was a showcase for Clyde and his considerable vocal talents and a group that the Atlantic Record label was proud to call its own. They recorded Money Honey in 1953 and it became an instant classic, reaching number one R&B. Other songs followed: Such A Night, Lucille, Honey Love [another number one], and The Drifters' arrangement of White Christmas. Clyde's career with the Drifters ended when he was drafted in 1955, although the group went on to have numerous personnel changes and a great deal of success into the next decade.
While on leave in 1956, Clyde McPhatter recorded his first solo effort Seven Days, which was to be his first song to make the pop charts. Returning to Atlantic Records, he established himself as a successful crossover artist and in 1958 Clyde recorded what was to be his most successful pop tune ever, A Lover's Question.
Eventually Clyde moved to MGM, then to Mercury. One day in 1962 at Mercury a young artist named Ray Stevens was recording his novelty tune Ahab, The Arab and he spotted Clyde McPhatter in the studio; he re-arranged the words to his song slightly, naming the camel after Clyde.
Clyde McPhatter met with success at Mercury, his biggest recording being the top ten song Lover Please. He continued to put songs on the pop and/or R&B charts for a time, but never had another top forty pop song after 1962.
Clyde had a distinctive, pleasing singing voice and is regarded as one of the top lead singers of all time. He was a very strong influence on the soul era that followed his prominence in the music business. In addition, he was there in the very early days of rock-and-roll and made significant contributions to forming it into the commercial success that it became. Had he stayed strictly with R&B in the 50's and not had a pop career with Mercury, he would most likely have been one of the top soul singers of the 60's. His accomplishments at Mercury, however, pretty much relegated him to the oldies circuit.
On June 13, 1972, Clyde McPhatter died of a heart attack. He was inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, as were The Drifters the following year.
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