The mission of The Department of Afro-American Research Arts and Culture to identify the global significance of the creative contributions pioneered by an international diaspora of Blackness
The Department of Afro American Research, Arts, and Culture's Archive is a subdivision of DAARAC that digitally preserves Afro American films. On this website, you may browse our archive that consists of film posters, screenshots, and movie synopsis. All information provided here is for research and reference purposes. We do not host full-length films on this website.

Search DAARAC's Archive

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Legendary Group: The Dells

A soul vocal and close harmony group formed in 1953 as the El-Rays, who comprised:

Johnny Funches (b.18th July 1935, Harvey, Illinois, U.S.A., d. 23rd January 1998, lead)

Marvin Junior (b. 31st January 1936, Harrell, Arkansas, U.S.A., tenor)

Verne Allison (b. 22nd June 1936, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., tenor)

Lucius McGill (b. 1935, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., tenor)

Mickey McGill (b. 17th February 1937, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., baritone)

Chuck Barksdale (b. 11th January 1935, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., bass)


The Dells grew up in Harvey, Illinois and began singing together while attending Thornton Township High School. Forming in 1952 under the name the El-Rays, the members of the group were Marvin Junior, Mickey McGill, Lucius McGill, Verne Allison, Chuck Barksdale and Johnny Funches. Two years later, the pared down quintet - Lucius left in 1954 - signed under the Chess label and released the doo-wop single, "Darling I Know" that flopped.

In 1956, the group renamed themselves the Dells and signing with Vee-Jay Records, they recorded their first hit, "Oh What a Night", which peaked at the top five of the R&B singles chart. The song is ranked #260 on the Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Follow-ups to the hit failed to make a similar impact. In 1958, a tragic car accident threatened to derail the group with McGill suffering a serious injury nearly losing his leg in the accident. The group agreed to split up to bide time as McGill recovered.

Barksdale would join a new version of the legendary doo-wop group The Moonglows with a young Marvin Gaye as a lead singer. McGill eventually successfully recovered from his injury with Barksdale returning to Illinois to rejoin the Dells in 1960 but not before Johnny Funches, frustrated with the group's slow progress, left permanently. He was replaced quickly by Johnny Carter, formerly of The Flamingos.

It would be the final lineup change for the group as they went on to sing background for the likes of Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, and Barbara Lewis ("Hello Stranger", 1963). The group was also being vocally fine-tuned by the likes of Quincy Jones and began to include jazz and Broadway-styled show tunes as part of their live and recording acts.

In 1966, the Dells returned to Chess under the label's Cadet subsidiary working with Bobby Miller and future Earth, Wind & Fire arranger Charles Stepney. In 1967, the Dells issued the album, There Is, which included their first R&B chart-topper in years with the title track, which showcased the sharp baritone of Marvin Junior and the fine harmonies with the four other Dells.The song was also their first top 20 Pop smash.

Subsequent R&B hits included "Wear It On Our Face", "Always Together", "I Can Sing A Rainbow/Love Is Blue" and their first number-one R&B hit and first top ten pop hit, 1968's "Stay in My Corner", which reached number ten on the pop chart. This showcased both Carter and Marvin in lead vocals. It wasn't until 1969, however, that the group suddenly became R&B superstars with their revival of their first hit, "Oh What a Night", re-produced under a classic soul format. The song was their second number-one hit on the R&B charts and their second top ten pop single, also becoming their signature song. Subsequent hits included "Open Up My Heart", "Oh What A Day" and "On The Dock Of The Bay".

In 1971, the Dells' "The Love We Had Stays on My Mind" became another top ten hit on the R&B charts, also reaching the pop Top 30. Charles Stepney had taken over production duties by then from Bobby Miller. By 1973's "Give Your Baby a Standing Ovation", their first certified gold record produced by Don Davis, the Dells were a top-selling recording and headlining act.

Leaving Cadet around the end of 1974 with the parent company in financial difficulties, the group would continue recording under the Mercury, ABC, 20th Century Fox and Virgin labels finding some hits including 1980's "I Touched a Dream", which returned the group to the top forty on the R&B charts. The Dells were confined mostly to the oldies market afterwards until they were asked to be creative consultants to Robert Townsend's acclaimed 1991 musical, The Five Heartbeats, which was loosely based on the lives of the Dells. The group recorded a George Duke composition titled "A Heart Is a House for Love". The success of the song, issued on the movie's soundtrack, as it reached number thirteen on the R&B singles chart gave the Dells a jolt and helped to make them just the second group to chart singles in four consecutive decades after The Isley Brothers. The success resulted in the group being signed to the Philadelphia International label where they recorded the album I Salute You. In recent years, the Dells have kept a constant touring schedule still occasionally releasing albums including their latest, 2003's HOTT. In 2004, the group was inducted to both the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Original member Johnny Funches died of pneumonia in 1998. As of 2008, the Dells have continued to perform together.


Oh What A Nite (1959)
It's Not Unusual (1965)
There Is (Cadet 1968)
Stay In My Corner (Cadet 1968)
The Dells Musical / Menu Always Together (Cadet 1969)
Love Is Blue (Cadet 1969)
Like It Is, Like It Was (Cadet 1970)
Oh, What A Night (Cadet 1970)
Freedom Means (Cadet 1971)
Dells Sing Dionne Warwick's Greatest Hits (Cadet 1972)
Sweet As Funk Can Be (Cadet 1972)
Give Your Baby A Standing Ovation (Cadet 1973)
with the Dramatics: The Dells Vs The Dramatics (Cadet 1974)
The Mighty Mighty Dells (Cadet 1974)
We Got To Get Our Thing Together (Cadet 1975)
No Way Back (Mercury 1975)
They Said It Couldn't Be Done, But We Did It (Mercury 1977)
Love Connection (Mercury 1977)
New Beginnings (ABC 1978)
Face To Face (ABC 1979)
I Touched A Dream (20th Century 1980)
Whatever Turns You On (20th Century 1981)
One Step Closer (1984)
The Second Time (Veteran 1988)
Music From The Motion Picture: The Five Heartbeats (Virgin 1991)
I Salute You (Philadelphia International 1992)
Dreams of Contentment (Vee-Jay 1993)
Dells, Vol. 2 (Vee-Jay 1994)
Reminiscing (Volt 2000)
Open Up My Heart / The 9/11 Album (Devine 2002)
Hott (A & E Records 2004)


Soul Woman said...

Mr. Stepney's family have started a foundation in his honor. Please visit