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The Drapels

The Drapels -- Mary and Johnny Frierson (siblings), Marianne Brittenum, and Wilbur Mondie -- had two releases on Stax Records. Johnny Frierson, Brittenum, and Mondie were the oldest (in their late teens), while Mary was about 15. Only Johnny had any experience; he played guitar and had sung and toured with gospel groups on weekends and during summer vacations. They all schooled at Klondike and Manassa High in North Memphis. Before Stax, the Drapels never performed anywhere, not even the local talent shows. Mondie and Johnny formed the group to make some money and saw recording as a way to quick wealth. Mary was brought in, then Brittenum (who despite being older, was Mary's friend). Stax soon discovered that Mary and Johnny had the singing talent. The name came from a brainstorming session where they kept discarding choices until Mondie came up with the Drapels from the drapes that hung in the Frierson's house (the emphasis is on "pels" with a French accent).

Persistence paid off; they signed with Stax in 1963, who then issued the first Drapel single in January 1964. The Drapels wrote both sides of "Wondering When My Love Is Coming Home" b/w "Please Don't Go." Promotion consisted of the group calling up the local radio station and requesting to hear the record; they turned cartwheels when the DJ played it a few times. Nothing resulted from the release, and Stax didn't issue the final Drapels' single "Young Man" b/w "Your Love Is All I Need" until July 1964. Mary, Brittenum, and Mondie wrote the A-side, and Earl Hines and Richard Randolph wrote the flip.

Stax never got behind the record, yet the following month issued "After Laughter Comes Tears" by Wendy Rene (born Mary Frierson) with the Drapels (who went uncredited) on backing vocals. The song, and a few others, were originally recorded as Drapels material, but Stax decided to axe the group and concentrate on the main lead. The label let the Drapels' single slide, but got behind Wendy Rene's record. Frustrated, Mondie left to go to Tuskegee University -- the music business wasn't as lucrative as he had thought. According to Mondie, Stax did little for them and he can count the performances they did on one hand without using his thumb or baby finger.

Mondie's biggest thrill was writing a song that Carla Thomas almost recorded. He received a surprise in the mid-'90s when he received his first royalty check. It was for $305 and indicated that the Drapels' recordings were being sold in European countries. He continued to receive them, but in smaller amounts of $20. Mondie worked and lived in Washington, D.C., while the rest of the members still lived in Memphis. Marianne became a songwriter of some note, writing for Wendy and collaborating with Don Bryant (Ann Peebles' husband). She married and became Marianne Brittenum-Cleaves. Johnny also wrote songs and collaborated on "I've Got a Feeling" with Lonnie Watson for Ollie & the Nightingales. He also recorded solo under a different name for Hi Records. Mary enjoyed a few minor hits as Wendy Rene; she married and became Mary Cross. The Drapels did some credited and uncredited background sessions, minus Mondie, on recordings by Rene, Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, and Carla Thomas. ~ Andrew Hamilton
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: The Complete Stax/Volt Singles: 1959-1968, Volume 9

Disc 1
Disc 2
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Disc 8
Disc 9

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