The Dells Biography

A US soul vocal and close harmony group formed in 1953 as the El-Rays, when the members - Johnny Funches (18 July 1935, d. 23 January 1998; lead), Marvin Junior (b. 31 January 1936, Harrell, Arkansas, USA; tenor), Verne Allison (b. 22 June 1936, Chicago, Illinois, USA; tenor), Lucius McGill (b. 1935, Chicago, Illinois, USA; tenor), Mickey McGill (b. 17 February 1937, Chicago, Illinois, USA; baritone) and Chuck Barksdale (b. 11 January 1935, Chicago, Illinois, USA; bass) - were all high school students. As the El-Rays the group released one record on the Chess Records label, ‘Darling Dear I Know’, in 1953. After a name change they recorded ‘Tell The World’ in 1955, which was only a minor hit, but a year later they released ‘Oh What A Night’ (number 4 R&B chart), one of the era’s best-loved black harmony performances and the Dells’ last hit for 10 years.

In 1965, the Dells returned to the R&B chart with ‘Stay In My Corner’. Three years later, under the guidance of producer Bobby Miller, a re-recorded version of this song effectively relaunched their career when it became a US Top 10 hit. An enchanting medley of ‘Love Is Blue’ and ‘I Can Sing A Rainbow’ (1969) was their sole UK hit in 1969, but a further re-recording, this time of ‘Oh What A Night’, introduced a string of successful releases in the USA, including ‘Open Up My Heart’ (1970), ‘Give Your Baby A Standing Ovation’ (1973) and ‘I Miss You’ (1974). The Dells continued to prosper through the 70s and 80s, surviving every prevalent trend in music, and in the early 90s they contributed music to the movie The Five Heartbeats.

Just as noteworthy was the members’ own relationship which survived almost intact from their inception. Lucius McGill left when they were still known as the El-Rays and the only further change occurred in 1958 when Funches was replaced by ex-Flamingo Johnny Carter (b. 2 June 1934, Chicago, Illinois, USA). Marvin Junior took over as lead and Carter took first tenor. Funches gave his reason for leaving as being ‘tired of the constant touring’ and he died of emphysema in 1998. Inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March 2004, the Dells’ enduring music is a tribute to their longevity.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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