Born 18 July 1935, Harvey, Illinois
Died 23 January 1998, Illinois

Johnny Funches was the original lead singer of The Dells, an R&B vocal group, formed in 1953 in Harvey, IL, where all the members attended Thornton Township High School. The original lineup featured lead baritone Marvin Junior, lead tenor Johnny Funches, tenors Verne Allison and Lucius McGill , second baritone Mickey McGill , and bass Chuck Barksdale. Initially called the El-Rays, the group recorded their first single, "Darling I Know," for Chess Records subsidiary Checker in 1954 ; it flopped. Lucius McGill departed not long after, and wasn't replaced, cutting the group down to a quintet. Newly christened the Dells, they got another shot in 1955 when they signed to Vee Jay. Their third single for the label, "Oh What A Nite" (co-written by Funches), peaked at # 4 on the R&B charts in late 1956. Thus established, the group hit the road and appeared at New York's Apollo. Though they continued to put forth quality singles, there were no further hits for many years. Tragedy nearly struck in 1958; on their way to a gig in Philadelphia, the body of the group's station wagon failed, resulting in a serious accident which lacerated Junior's larynx (slightly altering his voice thereafter) and nearly cost McGill the use of his leg. The accident took its toll and the group did not perform for almost two years after that. When they decided to try for stardom again, Johnny Funches, under his wife's mandate, would not go along. The Dells turned out to be one of the most durable acts in vocal group history. They were one of the very few doo wop outfits to successfully update their sound, finding their strongest commercial niche in the late '60s and '70s as a polished smooth soul harmony group. While their chart fortunes have certainly fluctuated over the years, they remained a viable act right up into the '90s, by which time they had long since achieved legendary status in the R&B community. Between 1965 and 1984 they had 42 R&B chart entries (including a # 1 with a remake of "Oh What A Night" in 1969) and 24 hits on the pop charts, 1962-74. After leaving the Dells, Johnny Funches found work in a steel mill. He died in 1998 of emphysema.

More info: Further reading: Jay Warner, The Billboard book of American singing groups (New York : Billboard Books, 1992), page 145-148. CD: Oh What A Night : The Very Best of the Dells (Collectables, 2000).

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