The Dell Tolls

Lead vocalist of The Dells and one of the greatest gritty soulmen of the past 60 years, Marvin Junior of The Dells, died on May 29, aged 77.

One of the most recognizable lead voices in soul history, Marvin was the model for Teddy Pendergrass, who openly admitted that he’d based his own style on that of The Dells’ frontman. Indeed, it’s a famous story amongst soul fans how Gamble & Huff nearly signed The Dells to Philadelphia International Records before turning to Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes and discovering Teddy almost by accident.

Junior, who was born on Jan. 31, 1936, in Arkansas, and as a boy moved with his family to the Chicago area, met Charles Barksdale, Michael McGill, Verne Allison and Johnny Funches while they were attending Thornton Township High School in the early ‘50s.

Funches was replaced by Johnny Carter in 1960, and the quintet remained together for decades. Along the way, they scored eight Top-40 hits, including Stay in My Corner (1968) and Oh, What a Night (1969), were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

The quintet began by working out their harmonies in a tunnel under 147th Street and Robey Avenue in Chicago. The group’s first single for Chess Records, Darling, I Know, in 1954 earned them only $69 in royalties. By the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, they were enjoying a string of hits for Chess subsidiary Cadet built on the interplay between Junior’s growly baritone and Carter’s tenor.

Unlike other vocal groups, which often kept the original name even after all the original members had left or died, The Dells continued to perform with Carter and four original members, performing what would be their final show in 2009, when Carter died. To the end, Marvin Junior was a member of the Dells.

“We were just five guys who happened to go to the same high school,” Chuck Barksdale said in 1991. “Five total strangers who became friends and then something more.”

Junior is survived by his wife, Ruby; sons Marvin Jr., Shawn and Todd; and daughters Faye, Latanya and Toya.


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