Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1085



News Item

R.I.P. The Dells lead singer Marvin Junior

Marvin Junior Pic
Marvin Junior Pic

Marvin Junior the lead singer of the Dells, died in his sleep of kidney failure and a weak heart on 29th May at the age of 77 at his Illinois home. Fellow Dells member Chuck Barksdale is said to be gravely ill.

A message on their official website announced the news of Marvin's death, with a simple heartfelt message: "Let's give Marvin Junior a Standing Ovation for over 5 decades of excellence.... He will be missed and mourned by millions. His legacy and music will live forever. Rest In Peace Marvin Junior..... The Dells."

The Dells have been singing and performing for over five decades, have sold millions of records, and are considered the most enduring vocal group in the history of Rhythm and Blues. Affectionately known as The Mighty Dells by fans and leaders in the music industry, its members Γ’€“ including Marvin Junior (lead baritone), John Carter (lead tenor), Charles Barksdale (bass), Michael McGill (baritone) and Verne Allison (second tenor) Γ’€“ have continued to set the standard for top-to-bottom male harmony.

Initially known as the El-Rays, The Dells started in 1952 in Harvey, Illinois, as five friends from high school. Eventually, the El-Rays cut their very first single, Γ’€œDarling I Know,Γ’€ for Chess Records. It went nowhere. Two years later, with a new record contract with Vee Jay Records as The Dells, they released their 3rd recording Γ’€œOh What A Night.Γ’€ It became an immediate R&B hit, finishing third behind Elvis' Don't Be Cruel at number two and Fats Domino's Blueberry Hill on top.

By 1960, The Dells were soon opening and touring for Dinah Washington. Here they fashioned their hypnotic melodious sound and caught the attention of Ray Charles. The Dells soon began touring with Charles, singing more ballads and standards and incorporating jazz into their singing styles.

By 1967, The Dells began charting a string of R&B & Pop Billboard hits, including 3 number one R&B hits: Γ’€œOh What A Night,Γ’€ certified as a million seller in 1956 & 1969; Γ’€œStay in My Corner,Γ’€ the very first million selling single that was 6 minutes and 10 seconds long; and Γ’€œGive Your Baby A Standing Ovation,Γ’€ a certified million seller Γ’€“ plus 44 Billboard R&B and POP Charted Recordings. These hits transformed The Dells from an opening act from a Chicago suburb to major concert headliners around the world.

In 1991, Robert Townsend released The Five Heartbeats, an acclaimed movie based on the lives and careers of The Dells. This film produced another R&B Billboard chart hit, Γ’€œA Heart Is a House for Love,Γ’€ and introduced The Dells to a younger generation of R&B music lovers. The Dells were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

The music still endures, the vocal harmony endears, and the rich legacy of The Dells has earned the group a place in musical history.

After disbanding due to a near-fatal car crash in 1958, the band reformed in 1960 with Johnny Funches being replaced by Johnny Carter. This lineup remained together until Carter's 2009 death. The Dells were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. The band were still performing until illnesses forced longtime lead singer Marvin Junior and bass vocalist Chuck Barksdale into retirement, ending the Dells' 60-year run.

"Oh What a Night" 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. Follow-ups to the hit failed to make a similar impact. In 1958, a car accident threatened to derail the group with McGill nearly losing his leg in the accident. The group agreed to split up to bide time as McGill recovered.

Barksdale briefly sung with Harvey Fuqua's spinoff Moonglows act, Harvey and the Moonglows, which included a young Marvin Gaye. McGill eventually recovered from his injury and the Dells reunited but not before Johnny Funches left permanently frustrated by the group being neglected by their record label. He was replaced by Johnny Carter, formerly of The Flamingos. During this period, the Dells sung background for Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, and Barbara Lewis ("Hello Stranger", 1963). The group was also being vocally fine-tuned by Quincy Jones and began to include jazz and Broadway-styled show tunes as part of their live and recording acts.

In 1966, the Dells returned to Chess under the label's Cadet subsidiary working with Bobby Miller and future Earth, Wind & Fire arranger Charles Stepney. In 1967, the Dells issued the album There Is which included their first R&B chart-topper in years with the title track, which showcased the sharp baritone of Marvin Junior and the harmonies with the four other Dells. The song was also their first top 20 pop hit.

Subsequent R&B hits included "Wear It on Our Face," "Always Together," "I Can Sing a Rainbow - Love is Blue," and their first #1 R&B hit and first Top Ten pop hit, 1968's "Stay in My Corner," which reached #10 on the pop chart and showcased both Carter and Marvin in lead vocals. Subsequent hits included "Open Up My Heart," "Oh What A Day," and "On the Dock of the Bay." In 1971, the Dells' "The Love We Had Stays on My Mind" became another Top Ten hit on the R&B charts, also reaching the pop Top 30. By this time Charles Stepney had taken over production duties from Bobby Miller. 1973's "Give Your Baby a Standing Ovation" was their third certified gold record.

Leaving Cadet around the end of 1974 with the parent company in financial difficulties, the group would continue recording under the Mercury, ABC, 20th Century Fox and Virgin labels finding some hits including 1980's "I Touched a Dream", which returned the group to the top 40 on the R&B charts. The Dells were confined mostly to the oldies market afterwards until they were asked to be creative consultants to Robert Townsend's acclaimed 1991 musical, The Five Heartbeats, which was loosely based on the lives of the Dells.

The group recorded a composition titled "A Heart Is a House for Love". The song reached number thirteen on the Billboard R&B chart, making them only one of two groups to have hit singles in five decades. The following year, signing with PIR, they released the album, I Salute You. The Dells continued performing and recording sporadically in the early years of the new millennium. In 2004, the group were inducted to both the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The group continued performing until 2012.

In 1998, original Dells vocalist Johnny Funches died of pneumonia on January 23, 1998. Johnny Carter died of cancer eleven years later on August 21, 2009. Carter is one of the few artists to be a double Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, having been inducted with The Flamingos in 2001, and the Dells in 2004.

Marvin Junior (January 31, 1936, Arkansas Γ’€“ May 29, 2013) - lead baritone, lead vocals (1952-1958, 1960Γ’€“2012)
Verne Allison (b. June 22, 1936, Chicago) - second tenor, background vocals (1952-1958, 1960-2012)
Mickey McGill (b. February 17, 1937, Chicago) - baritone, background vocals (1952Γ’€“1958, 1960-2012)
Chuck Barksdale (b. June 11, 1935, Chicago) - bass, background vocals (1952Γ’€“1958, 1960-2012)
Johnny Funches (July 18, 1935, Chicago Γ’€“ January 23, 1998) - first tenor, lead vocals (1952Γ’€“58)
Lucius McGill (b. 1935, Chicago) - second tenor, background vocals (1952Γ’€“54)
Johnny Carter (June 2, 1934, Chicago Γ’€“ August 21, 2009) - first tenor/falsetto, lead vocals (1960Γ’€“2009)

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