Clyde Lensley McPhatter was born on 15 November 1933 in the tobacco town of Durham, North Carolina. He was one of ten children for George and Eva McPhatter. His father preached at Mt Calvary Baptist Church and his mother played the organ.
Clyde began singing in the choir at the age of five and was ready to go professional by the time his family moved to New York.
At the age of 14 he formed his first vocal group, The Mount Lebanon Singers, and in 1950 he left his job as a clerk to join the black vocal group Billy Ward and the Dominoes. Within a year Clyde was singing lead for Have Mercy Baby, which became a #1 R&B hit.
In 1953 Clyde left to form his own group, The Drifters, and their first recording (Money Honey) was a hit. But in 1954 Clyde joined the USAF on national service.
During this period he did some recording and then launched his solo career in February 1956 with Seven Days. In 1958 he released his million-selling A Lover’s Question.
He had a high, plaintive voice and a gospel-styled delivery that would be adopted by numerous singers through the 50’s and 60’s. Jackie Wilson, who replaced McPhatter in The Dominoes in 1953 admitted he had used Clyde as a model for his own singing.
In 1959 Clyde left Atlantic Records for MGM, effectively wiping out all his ties with gospel music thanks to insensitive arrangements.
He was soon floundering at the label and switched to Mercury in 1960, where he scored another hit with Lover Please in 1962. It was to be his last.
Drugs and booze contributed to his downhill slide, and Clyde ended up on the small-club and golden oldies circuit. He also endured an unhappy personal life and had been married three times. His abuse of alcohol caused him to be fired from just about every gig he got.
McPhatter died on 13 June 1972 in the Bronx at the age of 38. He died from complications from liver, heart and kidney ailments. He was buried in Teaneck, New Jersey, where he had last lived.