The Dells are the Grandfathers of R&B harmony. They paved the road for such groups as the Temptations, the Miracles, the Stylistics and more recently, R&B harmony groups such as Boyz ll Men, Jagged Edge and 112: In essence, their unmistakable musical harmonies so cleverly created by the late Kirk Stewart and later fine-tuned by the great Quincy Jones are still working its magic — 50 years later.
Initially known as the El-Rays, the Dells started in 1952 in Harvey, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. They were five friends from high school, doo – wopping and harmonizing on the corner of 147th St., & Robey. They would sing down in the subway to get an echo sound.
Eventually, the El-rays cut their very first single, “Darling I Know” 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 “Oh What A Night.” It became an immediate R&B hit. By 1960, with a re-structuring of the group, the Dells were soon opening and touring for Dinah Washington. Working with Washington, the Dells fashioned their hypnotic melodious sound and learned the business of music. It was while singing background on the last Dinah Washington/Quincy Jones produced album, “Tears & Laughter” the Dells caught the attention of Ray Charles. By the mid-1960s, the Dells were touring with Charles, singing more ballads and standards and incorporating jazz into their singing styles.
The Dells re-signed with Chess records in 1966 and the quintet began working with songwriter/producer Bobby Miller (who would eventually produce most of the Dells greatest hits) and arranger Charles Stepney (a co-producer of Earth, Wind & Fire). These two men found a way of combining the Dells unique jazz inhumed harmonies with their signature doo-wop roots to create a series of lavishly orchestrated R&B and Pop hits.
By 1967, the Dells — under the musical craftsmanship of Miller and Stepney — began charting a string of R&B & Pop Billboard hits, including 3 number one R&B hits: “Oh What A Night,” certified a million seller in 1956 & 1969, “Stay in My Corner,” the very first million selling single that was 6 minutes and 10 seconds long, and “Give Your Baby A Standing Ovation,” certified million seller, plus 44 Billboard R&B and POP (There Is, Love Is Blue, Wear It On Our Face) Charted Recordings.
In 1973, these hits transformed the Dells from an opening act from a Chicago suburb to major concert headliners around the world.
For 50 years, Marvin Junior, lead baritone, Johnnie Carter, lead tenor, Verne Allison, second tenor, Michael McGill, baritone, and Chuck Barksdale, basso, better known as the Dells —- have continued to set the standard for top-to-bottom male harmony. They remain one of the powerful and unique vocal groups in the annals of R&B music.
In 1991, producer/director/writer Robert Townsend released the commercial and critically acclaimed hit film, “The Five Heartbeats.” The movie was based on the lives and careers of the Dells and produced another R&B Billboard chart hit, “A Heart Is A House for Love.” This introduced the Dells to another, younger generation of R&B music lovers.
The Dells are the recipients of the “Pioneer Hall of Fame Award” from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, a 1991 NAACP Image Award, the “Soul of American Music Award, the “Illinois NARAS Governors Award,” the “Jackie Award” and many, many other music industry and achievement awards.
On this, the Dells 50th Anniversary, the music still endures, the vocal harmony endears, and the rich musical R&B legacy of The Dells, has earned them an induction into the 2004 Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
– The Dells