For more than four decades into their career, with over 38 charted singles, the Dramatics have stunned audiences all around the globe with their rich, sparkling vocal combination and unique sound that has crossed time, music genres, and generations.
The Dramatics were an R&B/soul/pop vocal group originating from Detroit, Michigan in the USA. Before labeling themselves as The Dramatics, the group were then playing as a sextet called the Dynamics – comprising of Rob Davis born on December 4, 1946, Ron Banks born on May 10, 1951, Larry Reed, born on October 17, 1948, Robert Ellington, born on May 15, 1964, Larry Demps born February 23, 1949 and Elbert Wilkins, born May 1, 1947. When they were signed to Wingate record label (and after Ellington’s departure), they changed their name to Dramatics. Their records on Wingate didn’t chart, so they moved to Sport Records imprint where The Dramatics scored their first single “All Because Of You.” After Sport Records, the group joined the Stax-Volt Records in 1968. Around that time Willie Ford and William “Wee Gee” Howard also joined the Dramatics. It would take the group long enough before they achieved their really first major hit single “Watcha See Is Watcha Get” in 1971. It went to the Hot 100’s Top 10 hit and sold over a million copies, earning a gold status. The following year, the Dramatics did it again on the Top 10 pop chart with “In The Rain” which also became a million seller. Howard and Wilkins left the Dramatics shortly after “Watcha See Is Watcha Get” became big at the charts, eventually forming their own group which is distinct from their former band (Howard later returned to the Dramatics fold). L.J. Reynolds and Lenny Mayes replaced Howard and Wilkins. Through much of the 1970s the Dramatics racked up a lot of high-charting R&B hits including “Me and Mrs. Jones,” “You’re Fooling You,” “Be My Girl,” “I Can’t Get Over You,” “Shake It Well,” and numerous other Top 20 singles. The group underwent several changes until the present lineup consists of Ford and Reynolds with new members Winzell Kelly and Michael Brock. They would release a handful of records of new material and reunite for occasional gigs.
From the Dynamics to the Dramatics
Detroit’s brilliance when it comes to producing vocal ensembles of the rhythm and blues kind to the music world is just exceptional.
It was in Detroit, Michigan where the vocal group Dramatics was formed. Before assuming that name, the group once performed under the name of the Dynamics. They consisted of Rob Davis, Ron Banks, Larry Reed, Robert Ellington, Larry “Squirrel” Demps and Elbert Wilkins.
The Dynamics signed to Wingate label, where they released records which saw very little chart action. Ellington quit, and the Dynamics changed their name into the Dramatics. They moved to Sport label in 1967 and released their first single there, “All Because of You.” It was also to be their first single to make a dent on the chats, becoming only a minor R&B hit.
The Dramatics experienced what could be the first of their countless lineup changes. They needed to have a major overhaul in their roster in hopes of making it big. William “Wee Gee” Howard replaced Reed, and Willie Ford (formerly of the Capitols) took Davis’ place.
The group started working with producer Tony Hester on a series of singles that establish the Dramatics’ unique harmonies and dynamic mixes of lead and backing vocals.
Breakthrough hits and more lineup changes
The following years proved to be fruitless for the Dramatics, until in 1971 they finally broke through via their single “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.” It was written by Tony Hester, who also produced the majority of the group’s material. “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” climbed to #3 on the R&B singles chart, and #9 on the pop singles chart, maintaining chart activity for fifteen weeks.
After a minor hit with “Get Up and Get Down,” the Dramatics made it big again by way of the following single “In The Rain.” Entering the charts in early 1972, “In the Rain” netted them their first and only #1 R&B spot. It also peaked at #5 on the Hot 100, proving it to be their most successful single yet ever.
Despite the success the Dramatics had long aspired for, personnel shifts continued to hound them. Howard left, and was replaced by Larry “L.J.” Reynolds (formerly of Chocolate Syrup). Reynolds had auditioned for Banks when Howard wasn’t around at that time. Eventually Reynolds used to pinch-hit for Howard during his absences. After Howard left the Dramatics, Reynolds became a permanent member in 1973.
As Rob Banks and the Dramatics
In 1973, Howard’s decision to quit the group paved the way for Reynolds’ arrival; Reynolds’ vocal presence and permanent entry into the group were exemplified by the release of the R&B Top Ten hit “Hey You! Get Off My Mountain”.
With the permanent inclusion of Reynolds, Wilkens also left and was replaced by Lenny Mayes. Howard and Wilkens then formed their own group and billed themselves as the Dramatics. This spurred some legal proceedings between the original Dramatics and the Howard/Wilken’s version, forcing the former group to re-name themselves as Rob Banks and the Dramatics.
The Dramatics from the 1980s up to the present
The Dramatics’ popularity continued with mostly R&B Top 20 successes throughout the disco era, with “Welcome Back Home” entering the R&B Top Ten just once more in 1980. Reynolds went solo in 1981, and the group disbanded in 1983 when Banks went solo.
Still, the Dramatics moved on, of course not without the numerous lineup changes. In the mid-1980s Howard returned to the fold and recorded a couple of albums with the group before quitting again a few years later. Reynolds had also returned, and still performs with the group up to the present.
Many of the former members had passed away: Wilkins in 1992, Howard in 2000, Mayes in 2004, James Mack Brown (who performed with the group for sometime as a keyboardist) in 2008, and Banks in 2010. Today’s Dramatics consists of the surviving active members Reynolds and Ford, together with newer members Winzell Kelly and Michael Brook.
In 2006, the Dramatics had a street named after them in Detroit’s Woodbridge Estates area. The group got the Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Soul Tracks Readers’ Choice Awards two years later, in 2008.
In 2013, the Dramatics were inducted into the R&B Music Hall of Fame.