I've loved listening to Clyde McPhatter's voice from the moment I first heard it, late in 1958, on his biggest solo hit, "A Lover's Question." Here's a synopsis of his impact and influence:

In the summer of 1951, The Dominoes' swaggering "Sixty-Minute Man" enjoyed over three months at #1 on the R&B charts and even made it into the top 20 on the pop charts. Bill Brown, a bass vocalist, sang the lead. Soaring on top of the vocal arrangement was the unmistakeable gospel tenor of eighteen year old Clyde McPhatter.

A year later The Dominoes had another #1 R&B hit with the upbeat "Have Mercy Baby." This time McPhatter sang the lead with such fervor that this record has been cited as perhaps the first example of soul music.  He was not the first gospel singer to make an impression in mainstream R&B, but Clyde McPhatter fused sexuality with enthusiasm, joy, and such charisma that his vocal style became hugely influential in R&B's development.

In 1953 McPhatter quit The Dominoes and signed with Atlantic Records to form his own group, The Drifters. Over the next couple of years, The Drifters recorded one sublime classic after another, including "Money Honey," "Honey Love," "White Christmas," and "Whatcha Gonna Do." Even their throwaways from this peak period are excellent vocal group recordings.

McPhatter was drafted into the army in late 1954, leading soon after to the group's breakup. Both McPhatter as a solo artist ("Treasure of Love," "A Lover's  Question") and the original Drifters without him ("Ruby Baby") had subsequent hits, but they will always be best remembered by their classic recordings together.

McPhatter preceded all his gospel-styled contemporaries in making great hit records. It takes nothing away from LIttle Willie John, Jackie Wilson, or Sam Cooke to give props to Clyde McPhatter for blazing the path.

Clyde McPhatter was our Featured Artist for the week of March 2, 2012.