Charlie Thomas, Drifters Singer and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Dead at 85
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Charlie Thomas, the singer best known for his musical work with The Drifters, has died. The iconic performer passed away at his home in Bowie, Maryland on Jan. 31 following a battle with liver cancer, his friend, singer Peter Lemongello Jr., confirmed to The New York Times. Lemongello said that Thomas "was aging, but he was active almost every weekend," adding, "unfortunately, he went from being active to being at home and he started going downhill." Thomas was 85.
Born in Lynchburg, Virginia in April 1937, Thomas' interest in music began at a young age. He previously revealed in an interview with Craig Morrison that he "used to take the tambourine and do collection" at his father's church, adding that his "mother used to sing in the choir. That's where I really got my training from singing." After moving to Harlem with his mother and sister when he was 10, Thomas began signing on street corners, eventually capturing the attention of Lover Patterson, the Crowns' manager, who hired him in 1958. The group went on to record "Kiss and Make Up" for the songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman's short-lived RnB label before they garnered the attention of George Treadwell, who turned them into the Drifters.
Thomas remained with The Drifters for more than 60 years and toured with the group until the pandemic closed the nightclub and concert circuit. A tenor, Thomas was an important part of the group. Throughout their decades-long career, the R&B band put out hits including "There Goes My Baby," "Under The Boardwalk," "Up on the Roof," and "Saturday Night at the Movies." Their song "Save The Last Dance For Me" reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Thomas sang lead vocals on two of the group's biggest hits, "Sweets for My Sweet," which reached No. 16 on the Hot 100 in 1961, and "When My Little Girl Is Smiling," which peaked at No. 28 the next year, according to Deadline.
In 1988, Thomas was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his work with The Drifters. In 1999, he earned recognition from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation with a Pioneer Award. Thomas performed with The Drifters for more than six decades, eventually forming Charlie Thomas' Drifters. The band continued performing until the pandemic halted much of the life-performance world.
Thomas is survived by his wife, Rita Thomas; his daughters, Crystal Thomas Wilson and Victoria Green; his sons, Charlie Jr., Michael Sidbury and Brian Godfrey, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.