Updated: Apr 21
Tony Clarke was born Ralph Thomas Williams April 13,1940 in New York City, and in the 1950s, Tony was uprooted to Detroit, Michigan with his mother Thelma Williams. There are also speculations that his father has a sicilian background. He attended Northwestern High School before getting married at the very young age of 16.
Tony Clarke began his career on the Stepp Label in 1960 called, "Hot Rod Car". He was being mentored by Fred Brown and later began expanding his musical abilities as a songwriter and producer. In 1963, Clarke wrote "Pushover" with Billy Davis for Etta James on a well known record label, "Chess Records". It was a nationwide success and signified an extended collaboration between Tony Clarke and Etta James in 1964 with the song entitled,"Two Sides to Every Story ".
Tony Clarke began touring the world with the Legendary Man of Soul James Brown and appearing on the Dick Clark Revue, American Bandstand, and The Night Train hosted by Noble Blackwell in Nashville, TN. Tony was best known for his record, "The Entertainer", and appearances on the Dick Clark Show which scored a chart hit at #10 R&B and #31 Pop in the US in 1965.
Tony Clarke was the headliner at some of Detroit's well known night spots such as "The Twenty Grande, Phelps Lounge, and the Rooster Tail".
In 1968, he recorded "A Wrong Man" on M-S Records which set a tone for his career. Tony Clarke held a successful career as a songwriter, writing for musical gems like Danny Thomas, Aretha Franklin, David Ruffin, Wilson Pickett, the Four Tops, Etta James, and Buddy Smith to name a few.
Tony Clarke was charismatic and multitalented, there was nothing he could not do! His vocal ability ranged between F-Major 7 and he was also a professional boxer and actor.
Tony played the piano and owned a record company called "Brute".
Tony Clarke was fearless and became the self appointed watchmen of the community he lived in called, "Pilgrim Village". He was the 'Go-To' man for help of any sort which eventually led Tony into run ins with authorities.
With the growing success of his career like many young married couples, verbal and physical altercations escalated. During his marriage separation, Tony became the owner of a record company in California called "Earthquake Productions" with Roger Spotts as his partner.
Between the late 1960s and early 70s, Tony's relationship with his wife became unstable and it resonated in his music with unpublished songs like,"Find Out, Love Must Be Taboo To Me, Old Father Time" and unfinished work like,
"A Woman Of The Future."
Unfortunately, Tony Clarke was involved in a domestic altercation which later led to his death. After his death, his career saw a resurgence in the 1970s on the United Kingdom's Northern Soul Scene particularly with his recording of "Landslide".
In 2012, a discovery was made, the song "Detroit " written by Y Tony Clarke was revived by WWE Rock And Roll Hall of Famer "Kid Rock" also a fellow son of Detroit, Michigan but without the recognition. Due to the era Tony Clarke was living in, publishing companies wanted the majority of Clarke's music.
(Tony's music was recovered after his death in 1971.)
On October 4, 2015, Tony Clarke was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in Detroit, Michigan. The event was held at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History.
Here is a special programming by Detroit Soul Music with the vocal commentary of Tony Clarke's son Geno Clarke Sr.,
For more information about Tony Clarke and his legacy, please click on the link below.
Mr. Geno Clarke
(One of Tony Clarke's Living Heirs)
"In honor of "The Entertainer " Tony Clarke a pioneer in his era, writing hits for Motown legends like David Ruffin and Chess Records Etta James and many more! May his legacy continue to live on. "
Life In Entertainment sits down with Geno Clarke, son of Tony Clarke