Thomas was performing with The Five Crowns at the Apollo Theater in 1958 when George Treadwell fired his group, called The Drifters. Treadwell recruited the Crowns to become the new Drifters.
The new Drifters' first release was the 1959 hit "There Goes My Baby". Charlie was lead singer on two of the group's top 40 hits, "Sweets For My Sweet" and "When My Little Girl Is Smiling". He is the father of Charles "Happy" Thomas Jr. and grandfather to hip-hop producer Charlie "Bambu" Thomas