The Drifters legend Charlie Thomas has died at the age of 85 following a battle liver cancer – as his friend pays tribute after a 60-year career
- The iconic performer passed away after battling liver cancer
- Charlie was a member of The Drifters for over 60 years, and sang the lead on songs including Sweets for My Sweet and There Goes My First Love
The Drifters singer Charlie Thomas has died at the age of 85.
The iconic performer passed away after battling liver cancer, his friend Peter Lemongello Jr revealed on Tuesday.
Charlie was a member of the doo-wop group for over 60 years, and sang the lead on songs including Sweets for My Sweet and There Goes My First Love.
Peter confirmed he died at his home in Bowie, Maryland, on January 31.
He told The New York Times: ‘He was ageing, but he was active almost every weekend.
RIP: The Drifters singer Charlie Thomas has died at the age of 85 (pictured performing in 2016)
‘Unfortunately, he went from being active to being at home and he started going downhill.’
Charlie was born on April 7, 1937, in Lynchburg, Virginia, to his father Willis, a minister, and mother Lucinda, a housewife.
Discussing his family in a 2013 interview with Craig Morrison, he said: ‘My dad was a holy roller preacher down in Virginia.
‘At my father’s church, I used to take the tambourine and do collection, and my mother used to sing in the choir. That’s where I really got my training from singing.’
Charlie performed the lead vocals on When My Little Girl Is Smiling in 1962, with the song reaching number 28 on the US charts.
Known for his distinctive tenor voice, he also provided vocals for tracks such as There Goes My Baby, Under The Boardwalk and Up on the Roof.
The Drifters were first formed back in 1953, but Charlie did not join the group until 1959, having previously performed with a band called The Five Crowns at a theatre in Harlem.
Manager George Treadwell had previously decided to fire the group’s entire lineup after one member became drunk and swore at him.
Legends: The iconic performer passed away after battling liver cancer (pictured far left with then-bandmates Dock Green, Rudy Lewis and Tommy Evan in 1961)
He went onto replace them with members of The Five Crowns, including Ben E. King, who would go onto record and release the hit Stand By Me.
In 1964, Charlie took over the lead vocal on The Drifters’ I Don’t Want to Go On Without You, after original frontman Rudy Lewis’ death in a hotel room.
Of his passing, he told Goldmine magazine in 2012: ‘When he died, I was the one who closed his eyes. I really do love that song because that one, in particular, brings back a lot of memories.’
Charlie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with The Drifters in 1988.
Classic: Charlie was a member of the doo-wop group for over 60 years, and sang the lead on songs including Sweets for My Sweet and There Goes My First Love (pictured in 1980)
Writing in his induction essay, Michael Hill said: ‘Time has hardly made their work seem quaint… rather their work has withstood the ravages of the years to become even more special, more knowing.’
Bill Pinkney, a member of the mid-1950s lineup fired by Treadwell, went onto form a group called the Original Drifters.
Charlie briefly joined the group before starting his own, Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, which continued to perform until 2020.
He is survived by his wife, Rita Thomas, daughters, Crystal Thomas Wilson and Victoria Green, and his sons, Charlie Jr., Michael Sidbury and Brian Godfrey.
Famed: He continued to perform until 2020, and died at his home in Bowie, Maryland , on January 31
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