Drifters singer Charlie Thomas dies at 85

A man with short gray hair wearing a black suit and bowtie and singing into a microphone
Charlie Thomas of the Drifters performs at the 2016 Doo Wop Extravaganza in Holmdel, N.J..
(Bobby Bank / WireImage)

Charlie Thomas, a singer and longtime member of the R&B group the Drifters, has died. He was 85.

The veteran vocalist died Jan. 31 at his home in Bowie, Md., after a battle with liver cancer, his friend and fellow singer Peter Lemongello Jr. confirmed to the Los Angeles Times. While performing with the Drifters for more than 60 years, Thomas recorded hits such as “There Goes My Baby,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “This Magic Moment” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

According to the New York Times, Thomas continued to tour with the Drifters until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The R&B; group seems to be everywhere at once: in London, Las Vegas and at oldies festivals. The manager’s daughter is fighting off impostors.

March 15, 2007

“He was aging, but he was active almost every weekend,” Lemongello told the New York Times. “Unfortunately, he went from being active to being at home and he started going downhill.”

In 1988, Thomas was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame alongside fellow Drifters Ben E. King, Bill Pinkney, Clyde McPhatter, Gerhart Thrasher, Johnny Moore and Rudy Lewis.

“The story of the Drifters is more than the story of a single group’s success,” Michael Hill wrote in their hall-of-fame induction essay.

“It’s also the story of the great rhythm and blues singers who claimed membership in the group at various times ... 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.”

Before Elvis Presley and Little Richard focused attention on individual performers, the kings of rock ‘n’ roll were the great R&B; vocal groups--most of whom have been saluted with their own best-of CDs.

May 10, 1996

On Twitter, singer Gary U.S. Bonds remembered Thomas as “a good friend.”

“Rest in peace, Charlie,” Bonds wrote. “We will miss you. #rocknroll #legend.”

“I have so many fond memories that we have spent together through much of my life growing up, that I will cherish forever,” Lemongello wrote on Instagram. “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!”


Thomas is survived by his wife, Rita Thomas; his daughters, Crystal Thomas Wilson and Victoria Green; his sons, Charlie Jr., Michael Sidbury and Brian Godfrey, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, according to the New York Times. A memorial service for Thomas will take place Feb. 16 at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover, Md.