Fayrene ‘Faye’ Treadwell dies at 84; former Drifters manager

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Fayrene “Faye” Treadwell, the former manager of the Drifters who won a longtime legal battle to stop promoters from infringing on the classic rhythm-and-blues vocal group’s trademark name, has died. She was 84.

Treadwell, one of the first female African American entertainment managers, died of complications of breast cancer May 22 at her home in Burbank, said her daughter, Tina Treadwell.

The Arkansas-born Treadwell was the widow of George Treadwell, a veteran music manager whose clients included Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday and Sammy Davis Jr.


He also was the original manager of the Drifters, which was formed in 1953 and recorded the hits “This Magic Moment,” “Up on the Roof” and “Under the Boardwalk.”

After lead singer Clyde McPhatter sold his half-interest in the Drifters to George Treadwell and his backers in 1954 and launched a solo career, Treadwell made the group’s members salaried employees and required singers who joined the group to sign a release relinquishing any claim to the Drifters’ name.

Bill Pinkney, Ben E. King and Gerhardt Thrasher were among the more than 50 singers who performed with the legendary group over the years.

After she and her husband were married in 1957, Faye Treadwell did administrative work and handled publicity for the Drifters out of her husband’s New York City office, as well as accompanying him on the road with the group.

When her husband died in 1967, Faye Treadwell bought out his former business partners and assumed management and control of the Drifters.

As manager, Tina Treadwell said, her mother “kept the integrity of the sound and the style that my father put into form. She was very meticulous and specific about what the Drifters’ sound and look was like. That was always a priority for her.”


In the early ‘70s, Faye Treadwell moved the group, with lead singer Johnny Moore, to London, where the Drifters continue to be based.

Tina Treadwell said one of the highlights of her mother’s career came in 1993 when she accompanied the Drifters to the White House, where they had been invited to perform at a special event during President Clinton’s first term.

Faye Treadwell moved back to the United States because of health reasons in 2001 and retired. In 2006, Tina Treadwell licensed the Drifters name to Prism Music Group, a British company.

Over the years, Faye Treadwell fought a number of legal battles against the promoters of other groups that she accused of illegally using the Drifters’ name.

“The Drifters’ music is so powerful that people want to find ways in which to capitalize on it,” Tina Treadwell said. “My mother spent a lot of her financial assets fighting infringements on the trademark and the name on both continents.”

One suit against a London tour manager and an agent who had worked with Faye Treadwell was settled in the family’s favor in mediation in 2007.


Treadwell also fought a decades-long battle over the rights to the Drifters’ name with New York City music promoter Larry Marshak.

In 2007, a judge in Newark, N.J., found Marshak in contempt for continuing to use the name of the Drifters in defiance of an eight-year-old court order.

And in 2009, a ruling by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia required Marshak to provide a full accounting of money he made promoting a version of the Drifters since a 2001 court order enjoined him from infringing on the group’s trademark.

A settlement on the amount of the profits to be paid was reached earlier this year.

The eldest of four children of a Baptist minister father and a schoolteacher mother, she was born Fayrene Lavern Johnson on Sept. 5, 1926, in Okolona, Ark.

She graduated from Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock and moved to Los Angeles in 1950 and was working for the Los Angeles school board when she met her future husband. After they were married in 1957, they moved to New York.

Besides her daughter Tina, Treadwell is survived by her 107-year-old mother, Sara Mae Johnson; her sisters, Imogene Azora and Saundra Arterberry; her stepdaughter, Merle Treadwell; and her godson, Adrian Parasram, whom she raised.


A funeral service will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday at All Saints Episcopal Church, 132 N. Euclid Ave., Pasadena.