The Dells performed 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 – including Marvin Junior (lead baritone), John Carter (lead tenor), Charles Barksdale (bass), Michael McGill (baritone) and Verne Allison (second tenor) – 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, “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, 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: “Oh What A Night,” certified as 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,” a certified million seller – 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, “A Heart Is a House for Love,” 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.