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Profile: Clyde McPhatter


Clyde McPhatter

Clyde McPhatter

source: mattthecat.com

Why he matters:

    Perhaps the very first R&B singer to inject gospel into his performances, helping to create soul music
  • Sang on many highly influential songs by the Dominoes and the Drifters before beginning his solo career
  • His remarkable high tenor influenced everyone from Smokey Robinson to Aaron Neville
  • Billy Ward's Dominoes and the original Drifters were formed around his lead tenor
  • Was the second most popular black male vocalist of the Fifties, behind Fats Domino
  • Was the lead singer on the biggest R&B record of the year for a record three years straight


R&B, Doo-wop, Rock and Roll, Pop




November 15, 1932, Durham, NC; died June 13, 1972, New York, NY

Early years:

Son of a preacher and a church organist, Clyde learned to sing gospel while still very young and, after his family moved to New York, even joined the Mount Lebanon Singers. After a falling out with his family over religion, McPhatter turned to secular music, winning second place at the Apollo's amateur night in 1948 and eventually attracting the notice of local boxer and vocal coach Billy Ward, then in the process of putting together a singing group. Though hired as the lead, it was bass singer Bill Brown who took most of the vocals on the group's notoriously raunchy smash, 1951's "Sixty Minute Man."


Ward was a tough taskmaster and reportedly jealous of Clyde's tenor, and soon the young marvel was on his own. However, Atlantic's co-founder Ahmet Ertegun liked McPhatter's voice so much he not only signed him, but built another group around him called the Drifters. Clyde was heard on their legendary 1954 version of "White Christmas," but was drafted into the Army soon after, and by the time of his release, his name had grown so large the label decided to market him as a solo pop act. He hit with "A Lover's Question" and "Lover Please," but the arrival of soul, ironically, soon put an end to his momentum.

Later years:

McPhatter tried a series of career comebacks, cutting sides for the MGM and Mercury labels, then journeyed to England, where he attempted to take advantage of the rock and roll revival just then flourishing there in the late Sixties. However, Clyde had turned to the bottle early on, and years of alcoholism were quickly taking their toll; he was refused a new contract with Atlantic, based on the fact that his looks and voice had changed perceptibly from drinking. After one particularly heavy binge, Clyde McPhatter died in his sleep from liver trouble and an enlarged heart. He was only 39.

Other facts and trivia:

  • Ahmet Ertegun is quoted as saying that when he first heard McPhatter he "fell off (my) chair"
  • Had an affair with Ruth Brown while the two were being marketed as a duo
  • The Drifters' "Money Honey" was written by Jesse Stone with Clyde specifically in mind
  • "A Lover's Question" was co-written by Brook Benton; "Lover Please" was penned by Billy Swan, of later "I Can Help" fame
  • The camel in Ray Stevens' 1962 novelty smash "Ahab, The Arab" was named Clyde in honor of McPhatter, a friend who was visiting the studio that day
  • Otis Redding offered to produce a comeback for Clyde just before Redding's fatal plane crash


  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)
  • GRAMMY Hall of Fame (1999) with the Drifters

Recorded work and hits:

#1 hits:


"Treasure Of Love" (1956)
"Long Lonely Nights" (1957)
"A Lover's Question" (1958)

Top 10 hits:


"A Lover's Question" (1958)
"Lover Please" (1962)

"Love Has Joined Us Together" (1955) with Ruth Brown
"Seven Days" (1956)
"Without Love (There Is Nothing) (1957)
"Just To Hold My Hand" (1957)
"Come What May" (1958)
"Lover Please" (1958)
"Ta Ta (Just Like a Baby)" (1960)

Other important songs: "Crying Won't Help You Now," "I Can't Stand Up Alone," "Long Lonely Nights," "Rock And Cry," "Deep Sea Ball," "Since You've Been Gone," "Deep In The Heart Of Harlem," "Lovey Dovey," "You Went Back On Your Word," "I Never Knew," "Let's Try Again," "I Told Myself A Lie," "Twice As Nice," "Just Give Me A Ring," "Think Me A Kiss," "This Is Not Goodbye," "Tomorrow Is A-Comin'," "I'll Love You Til The Cows Come Home," "A Whole Heap Of Love," "Same Time Same Place," "Maybe," "The Best Man Cried," "From One To One," "Second Window, Second Floor," "Baby Baby," "Crying Won't Help You Now," "A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues," "Sweet And Innocent," "Baby You Got It," "I'll Belong To You," "Why Can't We Get Together," "I'm Lonely Tonight," "My Island Of Dreams," "No Matter What," "I'm Not Worthy Of You," "Thirty Days," "No Love Like Her Love"
Covered by: Elvis Presley, Billy Swan, Tom Rush, The Persuasions, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Tony Sheridan, Bjork, The Four Seasons, Tommy Sands, Paul Evans, Ben E. King, Bob Luman, Loggins and Messina, Lou Rawls, Otis Redding, Del Reeves, B.J. Thomas, Jerry Garcia, Johnny Burnette, Jay and the Americans, Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks
Appears in the movies: "Mister Rock And Roll" (1957)

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