Notebook Cover

  The Dread Chorus

By Marv Goldberg

© 2018 by Marv Goldberg

Since I mention the "Dread Chorus" in many of my articles, I decided it would be good to have it as a separate topic.

What is the "Dread Chorus"? It's a choral group or a group of studio singers placed behind an R&B single artist or even behind an R&B group. As I said in my Clovers article:

The downside of this session [the one in which the Clovers recorded "Bring Me Love", "Your Tender Lips", and "Love, Love, Love"] is that it introduced the dread choral-group-behind-an-R&B-group (hereinafter referred to as the Dread Chorus). This was an unpleasant trend that would continue through many of their sessions. In later years Jerry Wexler said he could "kick myself in the ass" for doing that to R&B. So many artists, not only Atlantic's, had their work trivialized by these choruses. The Dread Chorus was actually there in the studio with the Clovers; it wasn't a case of overdubbing.

And don't think that this phenomenon was limited to Atlantic Records. Sonny Til suffered it at Jubilee, as did the 5 Keys at Capitol, as well as many other singers.

What actually was the Dread Chorus? They were, I'm sure, fine singers; I'm not downplaying their talent. However, they were generally white, with Pop backgrounds on their resumes. They simply had no idea what they were supposed to be doing on an R&B record (and session producers, who were responsible for telling them what to do, either didn't have a clue either or had ceased to care in their search for a "new sound").

Sadly, the Dread Chorus was popular with record company owners for a couple of years, and, as I said in my Clyde McPhatter article:

The only downside to his recordings [from 1957] is the presence of Atlantic's Dread Chorus, which Clyde has to do his absolute best to overcome. As good as some of these songs are, many would have been phenomenal with a decent group of backup singers.

In short, the record companies dumbed down R&B recordings, either accidentally or purposely (to attempt to reach a Pop audience). As Pete Grendysa put it, "The deadly-dull chorus and arrangements by Ray Ellis that are heard on so many Atlantic records from the late 1950s adroitly alienated the R&B audiences for the Clovers, Lavern Baker, Ruth Brown, Joe Turner and Clyde McPhatter, without making a place for them on the Pop charts."

I wish we could go back in time and strangle them. (Or at least pay them off and send them home.)

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