Charlie Thomas, Longtime Member of the Drifters, Dies at 85

Charlie Thomas singing onstage

Charlie Thomas (Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage).

Charlie Thomas, Longtime Member of the Drifters, Dies at 85

Thomas joined the classic doo-wop group in 1958, and sang on hits like “Under the Boardwalk” and “There Goes My Baby”

Vocalist Charlie Thomas, who was a member of the classic doo-wop group the Drifters for more than six decades, has died. Thomas’ friend, singer Peter Lemongello Jr., confirmed the news to The New York Times, saying that Thomas died of liver cancer on January 31 at his home in Bowie, Maryland. He was 85 years old.

Thomas was born in 1937 in Lynchburg, Virgina. He was greatly influenced by the music at his local church, where his father was the minister, as well as his mother, who sang frequently around the house. Thomas, who was a tenor, joined the Drifters in 1958, when he was plucked from a different vocal group called the Crowns by the Drifters’ manager George Treadwell. 

During his tenure with the group, Thomas sang on classics like “Under the Boardwalk,” “There Goes My Baby,” “This Magic Moment,” “Up on the Roof,” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.” He often sang backup harmonies, but recorded lead vocals for “Sweets for My Sweet,” which climed to No. 15 on the Hot 100 chart in 1961. He also helmed the songs  “When My Little Girl Is Smiling” and  “I Don’t Want to Go On Without You.”

In 1988, the Drifters were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Thomas was inducted along with six additional members of the group—the original 1953-1958 lineup, and vocalists who had performed with the group in the following years. More recently, Thomas started a group called Charlie Thomas’s Drifters. He was touring with them steadily until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.


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