Clyde Lensley McPhatter (November 15, 1932 – June 13, 1972) was an American R&B and rock n’ roll singer.
He was immensely influential, perhaps the most widely imitated R&B singer of the 1950s and 1960s, making him a key figure in the shaping of doo-wop and R&B.
His high-pitched tenor voice was steeped in the gospel music he sang in much of his younger life.
He is best known for his solo hit “A Lover’s Question”.
McPhatter was lead tenor for The Mount Lebanon Singers, a gospel group he formed as a teenager, and later, lead tenor for Billy Ward and His Dominoes.
McPhatter was largely responsible for the success the Dominoes initially enjoyed.
Clyde Lensley McPhatter was born in the tobacco town community of Hayti, in Durham, North Carolina, on November 15, 1932, and raised in a religious Baptist family; the son of Rev. George McPhatter and wife Beulah.
Starting at the age of five, he sang in his father’s church gospel choir along with his three brothers and three sisters.
When he was ten, Clyde was the soprano-voiced soloist for the choir.
In 1945, Rev. McPhatter moved his family to Teaneck, New Jersey, where Clyde attended Chelsior High School.
He is regarded as the main singer to infuse a gospel-steeped singing style into mainstream R&B, though blues singer Roy Brown was actually the first to do so.
Even though Roy Brown started the trend, McPhatter was more widely imitated, and was a much bigger influence in the shaping of Doo-Wop/R&B.
In his book The Drifters, Bill Millar names Ben E. King, Smokey Robinson of the Miracles, Sammy Turner, and Marv Johnson among the vocalists who patterned themselves after McPhatter. ”
Most important,” he concludes, “McPhatter took hold of the Ink Spots’ simple major chord harmonies, drenched them in call-and-response patterns and sang as if he were back in church.
Ward was a tough taskmaster and reportedly jealous of Clyde’s tenor, and soon the young marvel was on his own.
However, Atlantic’s co-founder Ahmet Ertegun liked.
McPhatter’s voice so much he not only signed him, but built another group around him called the Drifters.
Clyde was heard on their legendary 1954 version of “White Christmas,” but was drafted into the Army soon after, and by the time of his release, his name had grown so large the label decided to market him as a solo pop act.
After a falling out with his family over religion, McPhatter turned to secular music, winning second place at the Apollo’s amateur night in 1948 and eventually attracting the notice of local boxer and vocal coach Billy Ward, then in the process of putting together a singing group.
Though hired as the lead, it was bass singer Bill Brown who took most of the vocals on the group’s notoriously raunchy smash, 1951’s “Sixty Minute Man.
” Clyde had turned to the bottle early on, and years of alcoholism were quickly taking their toll; he was refused a new contract with Atlantic, based on the fact that his looks and voice had changed perceptibly from drinking.
After one particularly heavy binge, Clyde McPhatter died in his sleep from liver trouble and an enlarged heart.
He was only 39.