Five high school students in a small town in Illinois formed one of the earliest vocal groups in 1952. They initially called themselves the El-Rays and changed their name to the Dells when they began recording in 1954. The original line-up included Marvin Junior, Verne Allison, Johnny Funches, Chuck Barksdale, and Mickey and Lucius McGill.
The group’s first chart success came in 1956 with the release of Oh What A Nite. The record did not reach the Hot 100, but got up to #4 on the R&B charts and sold over a million copies. At least a half-dozen singles followed in the next few years, but none of them turned out to be chart material. The group disbanded in 1958 after they suffered injuries in a car accident.
Johnny Carter had been the tenor singer for the Flamingos through the late fifties, a group that recorded a number of hit records, including I Only Have Eyes For You. In 1960 the Dells reformed with Johnny Carter replacing Johnny Funches. For the next two years, the group sang background vocals for Dinah Washington. They also sang background vocals for Barbara Lewis on Hello Stranger and worked with Quincy Jones to perfect their sound.
The group continuously released singles through the early to mid-sixties. 1968 was the year the group finally connected with the wider public. Their first release that year was There Is, which got up to #20 on the Hot 100. A second single, Wear It On Our Face, just missed the top forty.
The biggest hit of their career came next. The group originally recorded Stay In My Corner in 1965. The original version reached #23 on the R&B charts and missed the Hot 100. They recorded a new version of Stay In My Corner, and this time the record got to #10 on the pop chart and #1 on the R&B chart.
The next single was Always Together. The single reached #18 on the pop charts and managed to get to #3 on the R&B side of the radio.
A fourth single, Does Anybody Know I’m Here was released late in the year and just barely reached #38.
In 1969 the group re-recorded and released Oh, What A Night. Perhaps the correct spelling of “night” helped, since the new version of the song matched the chart success of Stay In My Corner exactly.
The Dells continued to record hits for the R&B charts into the nineties.
The Dells were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. They toured and appeared on live shows as an intact group until Johnny Carter died of cancer in 2009, after which the remaining four members kept the group alive. By 2012 the group finally disbanded for good.