Thursday, February 2, 2023

Charlie Thomas, Member of Legendary Soul Group the Drifters, Dies at 85

SoloEntCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Charlie Thomas, a prominent member of the golden-era lineup of the R&B group the Drifters in the 1960s, died on Tuesday (Jan. 31). He was 85.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, who sang on two of the group's top 40 hits — 1961's "Sweets for My Sweet" and "When My Little Girl Is Smiling" (1962) — had been battling liver cancer.

Originally formed as a backing group for Clyde Lensley McPhatte, one of the doo-wop and R&B circuit's most popular acts in the ’50s, the Drifters have played an outsized role in music history through the group's various incarnations, lineups and spin-offs.

Thomas was an original member of the second iteration of the band, formed in 1958 when the vocal group he was part of (The Five Crowns) was hired to become the new Drifters by the group's manager George Treadwell following a falling out with the original members over low pay and other issues.  

The group featured legendary singer Ben E. King and was popularly known as Ben E. King and the Drifters. Thomas remained in the group until 1967, only to return to a different lineup later.

Eventually, he formed his own version of the group. Charlie Thomas' Drifters toured incessantly around the world throughout the new millennium until sickness sidelined the singer.

The Lynchburg, Virginia, native was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of fame in 1988, along with six other former members of the Drifters, whose membership spanned three eras of the band.

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