In the vast tapestry of American R&B history, few groups have left an indelible mark quite like The Dells. Formed in high school in 1953, this vocal powerhouse has woven its harmonies through six decades, enduring challenges and celebrating triumphs. Let’s delve into the captivating journey of The Dells, exploring their early years, successes, and the timeless legacy they’ve etched into the annals of music history.

Early Career: Harmonising Beginnings

The Dells’ story commenced in 1952 in Harvey, Illinois, where Marvin Junior, Michael and Lucius McGill, Verne Allison, Chuck Barksdale, and Johnny Funches first harmonised as the El-Rays. Despite a challenging start with their initial single, “Darling I Know,” the group persevered. A pivotal moment came in 1956 when they rebranded as The Dells and signed with Vee-Jay Records, marking the beginning of their ascent.

Oh, What a Night: The Breakthrough

The turning point arrived in 1956 with the release of “Oh, What a Night.” Co-written by Johnny Funches, the song soared to the top 5 of the R&B singles chart, selling over a million copies and earning a gold disc. This track, now a timeless classic, holds a revered place as the 260th greatest song of all time according to Rolling Stone magazine.

Reunion and Resilience

Despite a near-fatal car crash in 1958 that led to a temporary disbandment, The Dells regrouped in 1961 with Johnny Carter replacing Johnny Funches. Auditioning for Dinah Washington and later opening for Ray Charles, the group showcased their resilience and versatility. In 1966, they returned to Chess Records, marking a successful chapter with hits like “Stay in My Corner” and “Wear It on Our Face.”

The Soulful Journey

The late ’60s and early ’70s brought more success with chart-toppers like “Stay in My Corner” and a soulful remake of “Oh What a Night.” Their sound evolved under the production of Charles Stepney, culminating in hits such as “The Love We Had Stays on My Mind” and the certified gold record “Give Your Baby a Standing Ovation.”

Triumphs and Transitions

Departing Cadet in 1974 due to financial difficulties, The Dells continued their journey with Mercury, ABC, and Virgin labels, finding hits like “I Touched a Dream” in 1980. While they navigated the oldies market, their influence remained potent. In a remarkable turn, they became creative consultants for Robert Townsend’s film, “The Five Heartbeats,” a tribute to their era.

A Heart Is a House for Love: A Lasting Legacy

The Dells proved their enduring impact by releasing “A Heart Is a House for Love” for the film, reaching number 13 on the Billboard R&B chart. This accomplishment solidified their unique status as one of the few groups with hit singles in five decades. Inducted into multiple Halls of Fame, their journey continued until 2012, leaving an indelible mark on the R&B landscape.

In the grand symphony of R&B, The Dells’ harmonies echo through time. From the highs of chart-topping hits to the lows of a near-fatal accident, their journey is one of resilience, creativity, and lasting influence. As we reflect on their 60-year run, The Dells remain not just a vocal group but a testament to the enduring power of soulful harmony in American music history.