The Drifters’ ‘legendary’ lead singer Charlie Thomas dies, age 85

Feb 08, 2023
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Charlie Thomas has died, aged 85. Source: Getty Images.

The music world has lost one of its most memorable voices following the passing of The Drifter’s lead singer, Charlie Thomas, at the age of 85.

Thomas passed away on Tuesday, January 31 in his home in Bowie, Maryland following a battle with liver cancer.

Thomas’s friend and fellow singer Peter Lemongello Jr took to social media to announce Thomas’s passing, sharing that he was left “completely devastated and shattered” after the loss of his “best friend”.

“I am completely devastated and shattered after loosing my best friend of so many years Charlie Thomas, the last original recording member of The Legendary Drifters. Charlie was with the group longer and on more hit records than any other member in history,” Lemongello Jr wrote.

“His accomplishments were recognized when he was 1 of just 7 members of The Drifters to be inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. I have so many fond memories that we have spent together through much of my life growing up, that I will cherish forever. I can still hear Charlie proclaim “Peter Is A Star!” which he would often tell me and whoever was around.

“I’ll miss you forever Charlie! Love you always, Peter.”

Born April 7, 1937, Thomas was originally performing with The Five Crowns in 1958 when the manager of the original line up of The Drifters, George Treadwell, fired the band and replaced them with members of The Five Crowns.

The new line up of The Drifters released their first hit in 1959 with There Goes My Baby.

In 1964, Thomas took over the lead vocals on I Don’t Want to Go On Without You, following the death of original frontman Rudy Lewis.

He also performed lead vocals for two of the band’s top 40 hits, Sweets for My Sweet and When My Little Girl Is Smiling and played a leading role for hit songs such as Under the Boardwalk, There Goes My First Love and Save The Last Dance For Me.

In 1988, Thomas was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Drifters and in 1999 received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.

Following the passing of Thomas, fans across the globe took to social media to reflect on his life and musical legacy.


Thomas is survived by his wife, Rita Thomas, daughters Crystal Thomas Wilson and Victoria Green, sons, Charlie Jr., Michael Sidbury and Brian Godfrey, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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