The Dells formed in Harvey, IL (as the El-Rays) back in 1952. For 40 years, the group stayed together with only one lineup change, and racked up 46 R&B hits. They signed with Vee-Jay Records in 1955, and the following year they had their first hit with “Oh, What A Night”. The single was top five on the R&B Chart, and sold a million copies, earning The Dells a gold record. “Oh, What A Night” was co-written by the Johnny Funches, who sang lead on the recording. But the group’s efforts to equal that early success with subsequent releases failed, and in 1960 Funches left the group and was replaced by Johnny Carter, who had been in the Flamingos.
The fallow period for the Dells continued until 1966, when they signed with Cadet, a subsidiary of Chess Records. The following year they topped the R&B Chart with the single “There Is,” their first hit in many years. The recording also brought overdue attention to the husky growl of lead singer Marvin Junior, who emerged as one of the great soul singers of that, or any era. There were more hits over the next couple of years, including “Wear It On Our Face,” and “Always Together,” but it wasn’t until 1969 that the Dells attained true R&B stardom. That was the year they re-recorded their 1956 hit “Oh, What A Night” in a stunning new extended version with Marvin Junior handling the lead vocal. The single topped the R&B Chart, was top ten on the Pop Chart, and sold a million copies … again.
Since then, the Dells have recorded numerous hit albums and singles for Cadet as well as other labels. “A Heart Is A House For Love,” a song from the soundtrack of Robert Townsend’s film The Five Heartbeats (loosely based on the Dells), was an R&B hit in 1991. The Dells most recent album, Reminiscing, was released in 2000, and in 2004 both The Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the Dells.
There is a reason why they are known as the Mighty Dells, and it all began with “Oh, What A Night,” a song so nice they struck gold with it twice.
Listen to Marvin Junior tear it up vocally on this live recording of the Dells’ classic soul ballad “Stay In My Corner,’ from 1975.
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