Gary James' Interview With
Dee Dee Sharp

Her first hit, "Mashed Potato Time" went to number two on the charts in 1962. She made frequent appearances on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. She even performed as part of Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars tours. She in the only female artist in 1962 with three Top Ten hits on the Billboard charts, and one in the Top Twenty, making it a total of four! She was one of the early artists on Cameo Records in the 1960s and helped put Philadelphia on the map. We are speaking about Dee Dee Sharp. When we caught up with Dee Dee she was preparing for a show in The City Of Brotherly Love at the World Cafe Live titled A Night Of Musical Celebration Featuring Philly Legend Dee Dee Sharp In Concert.

Q - Dee Dee, you've got this big show coming up in Philadelphia. Is this something the city has decided to honor you with?

A - Well, I'm doing an hour and a half concert. I've got my entire band along with my singers. I think it is, but I don't know for sure. All I know is that I'm working. (laughs) When I work I can't really concentrate on anything else.

Q - No opening act then? Just you?

A - It's just me.

Q - You've never been honored by Philadelphia like this in the past, have you?

A - No. Nothing. I worked Philly for Jerry Blavat, but that was at The Kimmal Center, I think it was January 28th or January 29th. (2017) That's the only time I've worked Philadelphia. I do Europe a lot, Spain, Brazil, England, but I do concerts in Europe. I've never done one in Philadelphia. It's been a very long, long, long, long time. Long time. Long time. I work Philadelphia, but I don't work in Philadelphia. That's strange, but okay. It is what it is.

Q - How different would your life have been if you had not been born in Philadelphia and came of age in the era of American Bandstand?

A - (laughs)

Q - Do you ever think about that? Does that ever cross your mind?

A - No. Not really.

Q - You were the right person with the right stuff in the right place.

A - All I can say to that is, Thank God. That's all I can say. Thank God. That has brought me through a whole lot. I mean really. I depend on him completely. I'm a very religious person. If anybody knows me they know that I truly believe in The Lord. That's all I can do. If The Lord puts me through a situation then he'll bring me through the situation. That's the way I look at it. At age 72 that is all I can do. I thank God for everything.

Q - You were part of Dick Clark's Caravan Of Stars tours. What do you remember about that? Who were the other acts you performed along side with?

A - Oh, The Dovells, The Isley Brothers, Chubby (Checker), The Supremes, Martha And The Vandellas, The Dixie Cups. There were so many groups. Groups and singles. It was fun. It was absolutely fun. My mother, God rest her soul, traveled with me. Bryan Hyland, Bobby Rydell, The Coasters. Oh, my God, I can't even think of all the groups. The Tymes. I had so much fun. Mom was very strict. (laughs) She was extremely strict. (laughs) She was very, very strict.

Q - Nothing wrong with that.

A - No, no. She taught me well. She taught me to be grateful for everything and don't take anything for granted. And praise God for everything. That's what I was taught. My grandfather was a Baptist minister. He was our paster at our church and he would come periodically to the concerts, but it wasn't often. He taught me as long as paid titles to the church and as long as I kept God in the forefront, then everything would be okay and everything was okay. That's the way I look at it.

Q - When you were doing these Dick Clark tours it was probably in the early 1960s, wasn't it?

A - Yes. Starting from '62 until '67 I think, when I got married.

Q - I know Dick Clark's tours traveled through the Deep South. What was that like for you?

A - The problem with that was African-American people were not looked upon with grace. We had a lot of things that happened to us. I swore to myself I would never go back to Jackson, Mississippi because we saw crosses, burning crosses. You couldn't stay at any hotel. Dick Clark, he really at that time made it comfortable for us being African-American because he never, ever allowed us to stay anywhere other than the finest hotels. If we couldn't stay there then we didn't do the show. That's the way it was back then, but I saw a lot of crosses being burned as I said. They threw paint bottles at the bus. They started throwing stones and one of The Dovells, Len Barry from The Dovells, pushed my mother and I to the ground and covered us, okay? I never will forget Lenny for that. It was just unbelievable. I swore I would never go back to Jackson, Mississippi again. (laughs) And I haven't all these years. I've avoided it. When we went to Florida, to Miami I wanted to go into the drug store to get some lipstick and when I went to get the lipstick; I was actually walking by myself and my mother wasn't far behind me, and this woman told me, "We don't serve Black folks in here." I'm like, "Excuse me?" (laughs) I came from Philadelphia. I didn't know anything about that. She said, "We don't serve Black people in here." I'm like, "Oh, my Lord. Oh, my God." So, I quickly got back on the bus and I told my mom. She said, "What?" "They told me they didn't serve Black people in there." My mom was wonderful. She was so sweet. She just said, "Just calm down. Relax and try not to think about all that garbage and we'll go someplace else." It was just unbelievable, but Mel Carter helped a lot too. He's still sweet. He helped my mother and I a lot and so did The Isley Brothers. They were really good. They were really, really wonderful. Jimi Hendrix was playing with them at that time and I did not realize how big he had become. I didn't even remember meeting him, but I did. (laughs) I actually rode on a bus with him. I wasn't used to any of that. I was really good friends with Rudy of The Isley Brothers. He said, "Don't worry about it. Just keep going." I'm like, "Okay." (laughs) The Drifters were wonderful. I'm still friends which Charlie Thomas. As a matter of fact, he comes to my birthday party every year. A friend of mine, Corky Warren gives me a birthday party every year and Charlie has been here for the past four or five years. It's fun.

Q - When you were a teenager the biggest singer had to have been Elvis. Did you ever meet Elvis?

A - I met him one time, but I did not know him. He knew who I was and he said, "Hello" and that was it.

Q - Do you remember where you met him?

A - I don't even remember. God knows, I don't remember.

Q - Probably because you were meeting so many people!

A - It's true. (laughs) The transition from being a Rock 'n' Roll singer to being a street singer, that was due to Joe Scandore, who was managing me at that time. He managed Sinatra. He also managed Don Rickles. I worked with Don a lot. I also worked with Gisele MacKenzie. That was the transition for me. That was the mid to late '60s. That was the transition from being a Rock 'n' Roll singer to street singing, doing the standards. I loved that because I got to do The Ed Sullivan Show with Tom Jones. I got to sing a street song. Sometime if you go on YouTube if you call up Dee Dee Sharp, the song I sang was "Steady, Steady". Sullivan loved it so much and that was all due to Joe Scandore, that he asked Tom Jones and I to tour with him. So we did Reno. We did Vegas. It was fun. Ed Sullivan. C'mon! (laughs) If Ed Sullivan asked you to do something it was really special. Really, really special.

Q - You're saying Ed Sullivan presented shows in Reno and Las Vegas?

A - Yes.

Q - I never knew that. I knew he introduced The Beatles at Shea Stadium.

A - Oh, yeah. I know. But he did shows and Tom and I were his only two acts.

Q - When you were only thirteen years old you were a background singer?

A - Yes.

Q - How did you get that job?

A - My mother had had a bad car accident and I overheard my grandparents saying that she would never walk again. I told my grandmother, "I gotta get a job." My grandmother was always encouraging. She said, "Okay baby." I said, "I gotta take care of my mom and my brother." It was just unbelievable to me that I had enough tenacity to just go get a job. My grandmother said, "You gotta go to school. As long as it doesn't interfere with your school work that's fine." Well, I saw an ad in the daily news about singers wanted. They had to sing as well as sight read and play piano. Now sight reading you know is the art of not hearing the music but singing it from a sheet. I told my grandmother, "I can do all of this." My grandmother said okay. So, my mom came home and I got the job with Willa Ward Moultrie. Now, she was the infamous Clara Ward's sister. She hired me instantly. She said, "Oh, my God! You're amazing!" I said, "Thank you." I was humble. I'm still very humble. I said, "Hey, thank you very much." That's how we started backgrounding for Lloyd Price, Chubby, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, even Jackie Wilson. That's how I started at thirteen. Every time they had a session Miss Ward would tell me, "There's a session tonight. Do your school work and get out so we can do this job." I was making like $500 per song and that was great money back then. It was excellent money back then. I'm like, "Okay. I can do this," and I did it. Then when we backgrounded for Chubby I was probably like fifteen or sixteen and what happened was they said my voice was unique. That's what Kal Mann told me. And David Appell told me that too. "Your voice is unique. We want to use you as a singer on the Chubby Checker record." So, I said, "Okay. Fine." Miss Ward said, "That's alright if you want to do it." I said, "Yeah, I'll do it. I'll try it." Well, they didn't know what they wanted. This little Twist thing was a song they didn't know what they wanted. So I just started scatting like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." I'm like okay. (laughs) They were floored. And that's how Dee Dee Sharp and Chubby Checker got together. But I wasn't Dee Dee Sharp then. I was just Dione (LaRue). That's my real name.

Q - You recorded for Cameo Records which was a small label. They sent you to modeling and charm school.

A - Yeah.

Q - Charm School? Was was that all about?

A - Well, that was because of Kal Mann's wife. She recently passed. Her name was Esther Mann. Actually her name was Esther Cohen, but because Kal Mann was Kal Mann Cohen, but we called him Kal Mann. But Esther was a wonderful, wonderful woman. I credit her for me going to modeling and charm school so that I would know how to do whatever. She also sent me to acting classes. I wanted to hone in on my craft and she said, "You've got to do this." So, I went to modeling and charm school. (laughs) I took acting classes and she even got me a vocal coach so I wouldn't get hoarse and know how to project and sing. That was the way it was back then.

Q - Motown Records would send their acts to the type of school(s) Cameo Records sent you to. I believe it was a rare thing for labels to do.

A - Oh, it was, but you paid for it it. (laughs) Whatever monies you got went to your schooling. And it was okay. I really did enjoy it, so I can't say anything bad about it. It wasn't a bad thing. It was a good thing.

Q - You had the hit records. You appeared on American Bandstand. You did the touring with Dick Clark. What would it have taken to keep the momentum going? Would you have had to have had a bigger record label? Another manager? What would it have taken? Do you have any idea?

A - Well, the first manager I had was Kal Mann. He teamed up with Harry Colt. He was Chubby's manager. Henry and Call decided it would be a good idea for them to team me up with Chubby. I don't know if he was happy about that or not, but I was ecstatic. (laughs) I was scared. I was really, really frightened, but then I decided it wasn't enough. I asked Joe Scandore, who managed Don Rickles, to manage me. And he did until he died. I worked with Don a lot. I worked with Frank a lot. I had such a good time working with these men and they were always, always sweet to me. Just unbelievable kindness. I was like their daughter. Joe Scandore was the one who got me on the Sullivan show. That's how that happened. But he was absolutely wonderful. And then I started with Gamble And Huff and when I got married I decided I didn't want to sing anymore. I wanted to take care of Gamble's recording artists. I was able to procure Jerry Butler for Gamble. To do the blue notes for Gamble. The O'Jays for Gamble. Lou Rawls for Gamble. And Billy Paul. So, I was too busy taking care of the artists to deal with anything else. That's how that whole thing happened.

Q - When you speak of Frank you of course meant Frank Sinatra?

A - Yea.

Q - Did you know Frank Sinatra?

A - I knew him but not as well as I knew Don. He was very kind, but he considered me a little girl and that was it. (laughs) Don I knew well. He was sweet.

Q - Did you ever appear on a show with Frank Sinatra?

A - No.

Q - Well, at least you got to meet one of the all time greats.

A - Yeah. I realize that now, but I didn't put that together then. I was just too busy dealing with what I had to do, the rehearsals and all that. I just couldn't deal with it.

Q - There is one guy you knew and that was Jackie Wilson.

A - Yeah.

Q - Did you tour with him?

A - No. We backgrounded records for him. We went on tour as Dee Dee Sharp. You have to keep in mind they're two separate things. I backgrounded songs for him before I became Dee Dee Sharp. But once I became Dee Dee Sharp I did work with him on several occasions and he was a nice man. He treated me with kindness. That's all I can say. I don't know about anybody else, but he was very kind to me.

Official Website:

© Gary James. All rights reserved.