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On Wednesday, May 29th, 2013, a great voice was silenced. Marvin Junior, the lead singer for the Mighty Dells since 1952, passed away at home. He was surrounded by his friends and family. He was 77.
The original group was formed at Thornton High School in Harvey. It still sits there today, just west of Halsted and 150th St. The sound that emanated from this group has never been duplicated, and I am a witness. From about 6 or 7 years old, I was privileged to see the Dells perform at the Regal Theatre in Chicago. Being the youngest, I had to accompany one of my sisters when they went out with their friends, probably for insurance that they would ‘be good!’ They were, the entire crew of neighborhood girls, and I had the experience of a lifetime, one that I’ll never forget. Remember the original versions of ‘Oh What a Night‘ and ‘Stay in My Corner?’ I was ecstatic when they were re-released by the time I got to high school. I already knew all the words!
In fact, there were so many great groups and individual entertainers that came through the Regal, this is only the first of [I hope] many retrospectives on people who could SANG, no electronics, no synthesizers, no gimmicks, nothing but a pure gift from God, coming from their mouths. But that’s a post for another day.
I was also devastated when Johnny Carter, the Dells’ iconic tenor, passed away a few years ago on Aug. 21, 2009. He was 75. It didn’t seem like they were that old, because they definitely still had the voices. Just listen to the Five Heartbeats‘ best song, ‘A Heart is a House for Love.‘ Carter left the Flamingos, another great group, for the Dells in 1956 and never looked back. That gave him the honor of being entered twice into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with both groups.
Another Dells member, Charles Barksdale, the bass, used to visit a car wash owner near my house back in the 90’s, and everyone who knew who he was excited to see him when he came by. That voice! It was real, believe me. Unfortunately, I just read that he’s also gravely ill; may God give him more time.
|Actor-director Robert Townsend stands in the foreground with the Dells (from left, Verne Allison, Charles Barksdale, John Carter, Marvin Curtis Junior and Michael McGill) after the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. (Ed Betz/Associated Press)|
To listen to their discography of work, you pick the year, is a wonder to behold. You can only close your eyes and FEEL their voices going through you. Yes, that’s corny, but it’s exactly what happens when voices are REAL. When they perform live, they are one of the few groups who sing EXACTLY as it sounds on the record. The only other people with that ability are Smokey Robinson and James Brown, both of whom performed many times at the Regal. My sisters had everybody’s record at home, so I had plenty of time to compare the nuances of the voices heard. That was our parents’ indulgence; if we spent all day playing records, they didn’t have to worry about where we were, right? If only it were so easy today. Just ran across ‘Wichita Lineman/By the Time I Get to Phoenix;’ what a voice!
I send many prayers to Marvin’s family and close friends in their hour of grief, and want them to know that he made this one Chicagoan extremely happy when she got the opportunities to hear them live and spent her childhood in the record stores buying their music with every release. Godspeed.
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