The Birth of Doo Wop (1948 – 1955)

With only small labels, unknown groups and songs, how could artists ever get on the radio? In 1951, Cleveland DJ Alan Freed began programming R&B groups for air play. Finally time had come for R&B and Doo Wop to be heard.

I started this Doo Wop article to put into perspective some of the songs that have been forgotten, and are truly classics on our Blog. We cover this in four Posts:
1. “The Birth of Doo Wop (1948 – 1955)” … THIS Post.
2. “The Rock and Roll Explosion (1955-1957)”
3. “Doo Wop’s Golden Age (1957-1959)”
4. “The Doo Wop Revival (1959-1987)”

About the term “Doo Wop”:

We have been going around with the name “Doo Wop” for some time. When I was growing up in the Mid Fifties, I knew it as R&B. Living in Canada, we did not have the same Black & White racial situation as our friends in the USA. Jerry Wexler, first coined the term “Rhythm and Blues” in 1949 as a Billboard Magazine reporter for the black music chart to replace the term “Race Music”.

Doo Wop is a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues music that developed in African American communities in the 1940s. How did this name come to be? Well, such songs as The Turbans “When You Dance” has a catchy rhythmic background vocal phrase “Doo Wop” in it (as does the classic “In the Still of the Night“).

So what I will do is give you a little history, just the high points, and the ones that I remember.

Timeline:

We can start as far back as:

  • 1902 The Victor Talking Machine company makes it’s first recordings of black singers: Virginia’s Dinwiddie Quartet. They cut five gospel tunes and one pop, “Down at the old Camp Ground“.
  • 1921 The first black record label, Black Swan.
  • 1930’s The Mills Brothers, a black family group scores hit after hit.
  • 1939 The Ink Spots record “My Prayer” for Decca, and many other hits.*
  • 1945 The Harlem Hit Parade Chart becomes the “Race Records” chart.
  • 1948 The Orioles, a five mang group from Baltimore, score #1 with “It’s Too Soon To Know”. This becomes the first pure R&B effort.
  • 1951 Alan Freed begins programming R&B records on his radio show.
  • 1952 Shirley & Lee, the first black duet, reaches #2. At the same time, a group called The Five Sharps issues a dreadful single called “Stormy Weather“. It tanks, but years later it will become the most sought after and most valuable single, up to $10,000.
  • 1953 Clyde McPhatter quits the Dominoes, forms the Drifters and records “Money Honey”.
  • 1955 Billboard goes to 100 positions, so small singles are now included.
  • 1956 Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers are on national television.
  • 1957 The Del Vikings, a racially integrated group, have a huge hit with “Come Go With Me”.
  • 1957 American Bandstand goes National and over the next years many groups, both Pop and R&B, will be seen.
  • 1958 A number of formerly successful independant labels, Specialty, Aladdin, Modern, begin to decline.
  • 1958 Dion & the Belmonts become the first all white group to crack the Top Forty with Doo Wop sound, with “I Wonder Why“.
  • 1959 The first compilation of Oldies But Goodies appears with mainly R&B groups. The Payola Hearings begin. In the end, they will exonerate Dick Clark, but destroy black music’s biggest booster, Alan Freed. He would die a broken man in 1965, the man who made the phrase “Rock and Roll” a household name.
  • 1960 Motown Records has its first releases and scores a #1 Hit with “Shop Around”.

This is about where my interest and expertise comes to an end. I hope this helps you understand the music, no matter what you call it. I call it Rhythm and Blues.

* Note from Russ: A Precursor to Doo Wop / R&B? The Ink Spots were at the forefront of this type of music. Here’s a hit from 1939.
Ink Spots – My Prayer

Gary’s Take on Doo Wop

I have so much information about this type of music it is hard to find a place to start. First off I will say up front that I do not like the term “Doo Wop”. It is the term that is used today and supposedly popularized by the late DJ Gus Gossert. But I read somewhere, that in an interview he said that he was just repeating a phrase that he heard in the 1955 song by the Turbans, “When You Dance”.

I will get off this but my point is, the term Doo Wop implies (to me) that the rich and varied music style of 1950’s Rhythm & Blues vocal harmony groups ultimately distills down to a couple of nonsense syllables.

OK, I’m done, off the soap box and let’s get on with it. I found something on the internet that kind of describes the music. When I was dating we used to call this music “grinding” music.

The Evolution of Doo Wop

  • 1948 – 1951 Vocal groups were jazz or rhythm and blues oriented. Nonsense syllables and falsetto were used. Adult themes.
  • 1952 The birth of the vocal arrangement and over all feel of rhythm and blues. Blow harmonies and nonsense syllables, use of falsetto to run over tenor leads. suggestive in up tempo innocent love.
  • 1954 Influenced by existing groups. Harmonies are tight and sweet, lead singers not as smooth. Leads alternate between tenor and “falsetto” run above in song ballads and trail off in jump tunes. Bass is given more voice then just background harmony. Nonsense syllables in most songs, but subdued in ballads. Themes are young and of young love. Suggestive lyrics are rare.

Characteristics of Doo Wop

  • Vocal Group Harmony
  • Wide Range of Voices (lead, first tenor (falsetto), second tenor, baritone bass.
  • Nonsense Syllables
  • Simple Beat and Light Instrumentation
  • Simple Music and Lyrics

1954 was a year of transition of the vocal sound, from the adult oriented rhythm and blues to “amateurish” street corner doo wop.
Doo Wop was an urban North sound that has been romanticized as having been born on the street corner. The truth is that these teenagers first musical experiences were in the home and\or black church Most of the these groups began during high school and were of bonding experience. The members were typical teenagers, socially awkward and shy, trying to impress the girls. They formed groups consisting of 4-6 individuals where each knew their role and part within the group

Like teenagers they were carefree, into what made them happy at the moment and often irresponsible. Knowing very little about the world around them, these talented groups were easily led and ended up making these mistakes:

  • They overly-trusted their contracts to the record company.
  • Believed label owner that told them their name would be listed as the composer because it would be more recognizable to the DJs. This caused the lost of mechanical royalties.
  • Agreed to be paid by recording session rather then by number of records.
  • Money would come from tours. The fact was they were paid very little.
  • Signed contracts that allowed record companies to pay studio and promotional costs out of artists royalties.
  • Gave the companies rights to the original songs.
  • Split 50\50 with their managers
  • Did big rock shows for free.
  • Groups often paid to be on big TV shows

Later this practice would be stopped and the acts received per union scale. Many times they were required to give the check back before the performance and a check received after performing would be much smaller. Little Joey and the Flips, recounted how this had happened to them in 1958 and 1962 when they appeared on “American Bandstand”

It is ironic that the little companies, that had much to gain by their success, were the villains. Many of these groups would have survived if they hadn’t been cheated of mechanical and performance rights.

I can only deal with the songs I remember. I have them all, and will include some that made a huge impact. I grew up North of Toronto, a white society; we did not have the street corners of New York and other places where these groups would sing for free.

Please keep in mind this all comes from a white kid who would have been 15 in /55. He absolutely loved the music, but unless it crossed over the Pop Chart, it would be hard for him to find.This was a time, starting in 53, where it was dangerous to listen to the “New” music. He also almost eliminated himself from the planet and spent 6 months recouping from a bad car crash in 55 (dumb teenagers).

I will try and present this chronologically.

This is one of the first R&B songs I had ever heard; it was very difficult to find on record, but I really enjoyed it. I heard it at a riding stable North Toronto on a Jukebox and would go there just to play it.

The Crows

The Crows were an American R & B singing group who achieved commercial success in the 1950s. The group’s first single and only major hit, “Gee“, released in June 1953, has been credited with being the first Rock n’ Roll hit by a rock and roll group. It peaked at position #14 and #2, respectively, on the Billboard magazine pop and rhythm-and-blues charts in 1954.

History

When The Crows started out in 1951, practicing sidewalk harmonies, the original members were: Daniel “Sonny” Norton (lead); William “Bill” Davis (baritone); Harold Major (tenor); Jerry Wittick (tenor); and Gerald Hamilton (bass). In 1952, Wittick left the group and was replaced by Mark Jackson (tenor and guitarist).
They were discovered at Apollo Theater’s Wednesday night talent show by talent agent Cliff Martinez, and brought to independent producer George Goldner who had just set up tiny new independent Rama Records label. The Crows were the first group signed and the first to record. The first songs they recorded were as back-up to singer and tenor Watkins. The song “Gee” was the third song recorded during their first recording session, on February 10, 1953. It was put together in a few minutes by group member, William Davis, with Viola Watkins also being credited as co-writer.

The song was first released as the B-side of a ballad, “I Love You So“. However, radio stations began turning it over and playing “Gee”, first in Philadelphia and later in New York and Los Angeles. By January 1954 it had sold 100,000 copies, and by April entered the national R&B and pop charts, rising to # 2 R&B and # 14 pop The song was a huge hit a year after it was recorded.

The Crows were a one-hit wonder. While “Gee” was on the charts, the record company released a number of other singles by the group, including “Heartbreaker“, “Baby“, and “Miss You“, but none were successful. Their failures and the inability to perform regularly to support their recordings led to the breakup of the group a few months after “Gee” dropped off the Hit Parade.

The Crows maintained their original line up for their entire career, with no hope for a reunion following the deaths of Gerald Hamilton in the 1960s, and Daniel Norton in 1972.

Money Honey“, written by Jesse Stone, was the first record and the first hit for Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters. It was released in September 1953. McPhatter’s voice, but not his name, had become well-known as the lead singer for Billy Ward and the Dominoes and the song was an immediate hit and remained on the rhythm and blues. Rolling Stone ranked it #252 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The song tells the story of a man who has run out of money, and hopes his woman will help him out:
I was clean as a screen and so hard pressed

I called the woman that I love best
In the chorus, he threatens to leave her if she doesn’t help him out:

Money Honey, Money Honey, Money Honey, if you want to get along with me

She is literally not buying, she has another man, one who already has money.

This recording features Mickey Baker on guitar and Sam “the Man” Taylor on tenor sax (one or Russ’s favourites) . The arrangement starts with a bagpipe-like drone from the Drifters setting up a shuffle rhythm. McPhatter’s voice is clear and bright and in the midst of the sax solo he gives off a monumental scream.

The song was covered by Eddie Cochran in a live performance and, most notably, in 1956 by Elvis Presley.

Clyde McPhatter re-recorded this song for the Mercury label catalog, and it appeared on the “Lover Please” album in 1962 and on his 1963 Mercury “Greatest Hits” release.

The Song was also covered by Ry Cooder on his 1972 Album Into The Purple Valley

The original members included:

  • Thornton James “Pookie” Hudson (June 11, 1934 – January 16, 2007 in Des Moines, Iowa).
  • Ernest Warren
  • William “Billy” Carey
  • Willie C. Jackson
  • Opal Courtney, Jr. (November 11, 1936 – September 18, 2008)
  • Gerald Gregory

Career

The group debuted in late 1952 at Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana as Pookie Hudson & The Hudsonaires. They changed their name to The Spaniels that spring and, upon graduation, became one of the first two artists to sign with Vee-Jay Records, the first large, independent Afro-American owned record label. The group recorded their initial release, “Baby It’s You” on May 5, 1953. Released in July, the song reached number ten on Billboard magazine’s Rhythm and Blues chart on September 5, 1953.

In Spring 1954, “Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite” hit number twenty-four on Variety’s pop chart, and rose to number five on Billboard’s R&B chart. The Spaniels played regularly at the Apollo, The Regal and other large theaters on the “Chitlin Circuit.”

The line-up changed numerous times over the ensuing years.

The Spaniels were the top selling vocal group for Vee Jay. The band broke up when the label went bankrupt in 1966, but in 1969, the group reformed, releasing hits like “Fairy Tales” in 1970.

An entire new generation was exposed to the group’s music when “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” was featured prominently in the blockbuster movie, American Graffiti.

Two Spaniels groups later performed simultaneously: one in Washington, D.C., and the original group still based in Gary.

The D.C. based group, with Pookie Hudson and Joe Herndon, appeared on the PBS special, Doo Wop 50. Hudson, wrote but never received much credit or income from “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight“.

Hudson died January 16, 2007 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Courtney, Jr. died September 18, 2008 after suffering a heart attack.

We had a Toronto Group called the Crew-Cuts that had the # 1 Version, the cover version story. The Chords (best version) was hard to find, but Mercury was a Nation Wide Company and just out distributed them, sad.

The Chords were a 1950s American Doo Wop group, whose lone hit was “Sh-Boom“. They are sometimes mistakenly cited as the first R&B group of the 1950s to reach the pop charts. Although both versions of the song Sh-Boom (by The Chords and by The Crew-Cuts) were huge hits, it is the song Gee, released by The Crows in June 1953, that is properly credited with the honor of being the first Rock n’ Roll hit by a rock and roll group

By the end of June 1954, “Sh-Boom” had climbed up the charts nationwide, charting on both the R&B (number three) and pop (number nine) lists, a nearly unprecedented feat for its time. For all practical purposes – along with The Crows’ 1954 hit “Gee” (another upbeat B-side hit that DJs flipped over) – “Sh-Boom” introduced the white black R&B music for the first time. [NOTE: The Crows “Gee” first appeared on the Billboard charts in March, 1954. While both versions of “Sh-Boom” were influential, better candidates for the first, or most influential song, by a black act to cross-over from the R&B charts to the pop charts, are The Dominoes’ “Sixty Minute Man” which made it to #17 of the pop charts in 1951, and The Orioles’ “Crying in the Chapel“, #11 in 1953].

Not everyone thought the song was a precursor of good things to come. Peter Potter, host of TV’s popular “Juke Box Jury“, was seemingly aghast at the state of this then-new trend in pop music and attacked “Sh-Boom” asking if anyone would remember the admittedly demented ditty in five, let alone 20 years time and whether any record label would even think to re-release it in the future.

Cover versions

The songwriters were deluged by music publishing companies wanting to buy the rights to “Sh-Boom” in order to reap huge potential earnings (the group quickly came to an agreement with Hill & Range). Soon there were cover versions hitting radio stations across the country simultaneously with the Chords’ original single. Some were memorable and some otherwise, including a countrified take by the Billy Williams Quartet for Coral, and more notably the Crew-Cuts’ version for Mercury.
To Say the business was complicated and not very honest back in the 50’s would be an understatement. Most of the groups that achieved success, by not having little or no business sense, lost their music rights, seldom made money, did not know to get paid per record and so on. Well this next song will show you the greed of Cover Versions, White/Black (White groups sold better on the Pop Charts) and greed between the R& B section itself.


Hearts of Stone: 1954/55
is an American R&B song written by Rudy Jackson, a member of the San Bernardino, California-based rhythm and blues vocal group The Jewels (no relation to the female Jewels group from Washington, DC) which first recorded it for the R&B label in 1954.

The Jewels began as a gospel group, then became the Marbles, recording for the Lucky label out of Los Angeles.According to Johnny Torrence, leader of the Marbles/Jewels, it was taken from a song they recorded in their gospel days.

Hearts of Stone” was covered and taken to the charts by an East Coast R&B vocal group, The Charms, causing the story of the Jewels’ involvement to be ignored by various writers and DJs who assume the Charms cover was the original.

The Charms version of the song went to #1 on the R&B Best Sellers and #15 on the Pop charts.

It was also covered by a white girl group, The Fontaine Sisters and it went to #1

It also has been recorded by:

  • Bill Black’s Combo (1961)
  • Red Foley in 1954
  • John Fogerty and The Blue Ridge Rangers (1973)
  • Elvis Presley (1955)

The next song is one of my all time favourites, maybe one the best slow dancing, grinding songs ever written. I do not care how many cover versions they produced, and the Toronto Group THE CREW CUTS had a huge hit with this song. But nothing will ever compete with the original.

There where two songs, crudely (by today’s standards) recorded and very amateurish. Yet they are and always will be the biggest of that era.

The second one we will deal with soon, recorded in a Church Basement “In the Still of the Night” by the Five Satins and this one…

  • Written by Jesse Belvin & Curtis Williams 1954, although there is some dispute as to just how much input Belvin had on the song
  • Recorded in 1954 by Los Angeles R&B group The Penguins
  • The group was named after the penguin used in Kool cigarette ads…because the group was “cool”
  • <The group consisted of Cleveland Duncan (born 7/23/35), Dexter Tisby (born 1936), Bruce Tate (born 1935), and Curtis Williams (born 1935)
  • The original version reached #8 on the top 40 charts in 1954, it was a #1 R&B hit for three weeks
  • The song is considered to be one of the most popular R&B records of all time
  • It was the only hit The Penguins ever had
  • In 2004 the Penguins were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame
  • Remade by white Canadian band The Crew Cuts in January 1955, a group that basically made their fortunes by covering other R&B bands’ material, although their original material did well in Canada albeit with less financial success
  • Their remake hit #3 on the Billboard Top 40 chart
  • In February 1955 the song was released by Gloria Mann, and this version hit #18 on the Top 40 charts
  • 31 years later, in 1986, the band New Edition took the song to #21 on the charts when it was used in the movie Karate Kid II
  • The song was also used in two of the three “Back to the Future” movies starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd
  • Earth Angel ranked 151st on the Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”
  • It was also one of only 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry
  • Used today as a classic first dance song at weddings and anniversary parties

– – – – – –
Now we will deal with a group that may have been the most successful Black Group in the Fifties. The voice of this group would be the Great Tony Williams, in my opinion one of the best singers ever. I saw this group in Toronto in the Fifties and they where fantastic. They had many hits, I will deal only with two. Oh, Yes my Dad loved this group, they spanned the generations.
Only You and my favourite, The Great Pretender.
The Group: THE PLATTERS (1955)

The Platters were a successful vocal group of the early rock and roll era. Their distinctive sound was a bridge between the pre-rock Tin Pan Alley tradition, and the burgeoning new genre. The original group members were Alex Hodge, Cornell Gunther, David Lynch, Joe Jefferson, Gaynel Hodge and Herb Reed.

After signing with Buck Ram, the act went through several personnel changes before hitting the charts, with the most successful incarnation comprising lead tenor Tony Williams, David Lynch, Paul Robi, Herb Reed, and Zola Taylor.
The Platters formed in Los Angeles in 1953 and were initially managed by Ralph Bass. The group had a contract with Federal Records but had found little success before meeting music entrepreneur and songwriter Buck Ram. The band recorded a series of singles backing Linda Hayes before Ram made some changes to the lineup, most notably the addition of lead vocalist Tony Williams (Linda Hayes’ brother) and female vocalist Zola Taylor. Under Ram’s guidance, the Platters recorded seven singles for Federal in the R&B/gospel style, scoring a few minor regional hits on the West Coast. One song recorded during their Federal tenure, “Only You (And You Alone)”, originally written by Ram for the Ink Spots was deemed unreleasable by the label.

Despite their lack of chart success, the Platters were a profitable touring group—successful enough that The Penguins, coming off their #2 single “Earth Angel“, asked Ram to manage them as well. With the Penguins in hand, Ram was able to parlay Mercury Records’ interest into a 2-for-1 deal. To sign the Penguins, Ram insisted, Mercury also had to take the Platters. Ironically, the Penguins would never have a hit for the label.

What set The Platters apart from most other groups of the era was that Ram had the group incorporate. Each member received equal shares of stock, full royalties and their Social Security was paid. As group members left, Ram and his business partner, Jean Bennett, bought their stock which gave them ownership of the “Platters” name, which would become significant later.

Charting hits

Convinced by Jean Bennett and Tony Williams that “Only You” had potential, Ram had the Platters re-record the song during their first session for Mercury. Released in the summer of 1955, it became the group’s first Top Ten hit on the pop charts, and topped the R&B charts for seven weeks. The follow-up, The Great Pretender, with lyrics written in the washroom of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas by Buck Ram, exceeded the success of their debut. It became the Platters’ first national #1 hit.

The Great Pretender was also the act’s biggest R&B hit, with an 11-week run atop that chart. In 1956, The Platters appeared in the first major motion picture based around rock and roll, Rock Around the Clock, and performed both “Only You” and “The Great Pretender“.

The Platters’ unique vocal style had touched a nerve in the music-buying public, and a string of hit singles followed, including two more Top 100 number one hits, one Hot 100 number one hit, and more modest hits such as “I’m Sorry” (#11) and “He’s Mine” (#23) in 1957, “Enchanted” (#12) in 1959, and “The Magic Touch” (#4) in 1956.

The Platters soon hit upon the successful formula of updating older standards, such as “My Prayer“, “Twilight Time“, “Harbor Lights“, “To Each His Own“, “If I Didn’t Care” and Jerome Kern’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes“.

This latter release caused a small controversy after Kern’s widow expressed concern that her late husband’s composition would be turned into a “Rock and Roll” record. It topped both the American and British charts in a tasteful Platters-style arrangement.

The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in its inaugural year of 1998. The Platters were the first rock and roll group to have a Top Ten album in America. They were also the only act to have three songs included on the American Graffiti soundtrack that sparked an oldies revival in the early to mid-1970s: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes“, “The Great Pretender” and “Only You (and You Alone)“.

The Nutmegs

The Nutmegs

Members:

  • Leroy Griffin Lead/deceased
  • James “Sonny” Griffin/first tenor
  • James “Coco” Tyson/second tenor
  • Billy Emery/baritone/replaced by Sonny Washburn
  • Leroy MacNiel bass

The floating lead tenor of Leroy Griffin distinguished The Nutmeg’s 1955 R&B smash “Story Untold” an East Coast Doo-Wop classic.
Hailing from New Haven, CT, the quintet signed with Herald Records and debuted with “Story Untold.” Another smooth ballad issued later that year, “Ship of Love” also scaled the R&B charts. The Nutmegs made several more solid singles for Herald but without recapturing their initial success. This is another song that the Crew Cuts, from Toronto, covered and where more successful; they where # 16 on the Pop Chart, The Nutmegs went to # 2 on the R&B chart, but never crossed over.

The Five Keys:

The Five Keys


Inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame/2002
One of the most popular, influential, and beautiful sounding R&B singing groups of the ‘50s, The Five Keys were not only a link between the gospel/pop units of the ‘40s and the later R&B and rock groups, they led by example, having hits in R&B, rock and roll, and pop before the decade was through.

The Keys formed from two sets of brothers, Rudy and Bernard West and Raphael and Ripley Ingram. Calling themselves the Sentimental Four, they practiced in their local church in Newport News, Virginia, and on the streets of Jefferson Avenue and 25th Street. The Huntington High School students originally sang gospel songs but segued into secular material around 1949 when Rudy was 17, Bernie 19, Ripley 19, and Raphael 18.

The group did some touring in the late ‘40s with Miller’s Brown-Skinned Models, an all-black revue that played fairs and carnivals. They garnered valuable on-the-job training and returned to Newport News to play talent shows for exposure and prize money.

The foursome won the Wednesday night amateur contest at the Jefferson Theatre three times, qualifying them for a trip to New York to compete in a similar event at the Apollo Theatre. They won that, too, beating over 30 other acts. Word of this superior vocal foursome spread during engagements that followed at the Royal Theatre and the Howard. Eddie Meisner, president of L.A.-based Aladdin Records, signed them in February 1951 but lost Raphael to the army before they could record. He was replaced by Rudy’s classmate and member of the Avalons, Maryland Pierce, along with Dickie Smith.

The group now called themselves the Five Keys, three of whom were the most talented lead singers any group ever had. Dickie Smith was a soulful lead, Maryland Pierce had a fantastic blues sound, and Rudy West possessed a smooth, polished, clear-as-a-bell tenor.
On March 22, 1951, the Five Keys recorded five songs. “With a Broken Heart” b/w “Too Late” was released in April as their first single, receiving scattered airplay but setting the stage for their brilliant version of the 1936 Benny Goodman hit (#1), “Glory of Love.” Released in July, “Glory” charted on August 18th and became a number one R&B record by September, spending four weeks on top. The Keys’ captivating harmonies helped make “Glory” an eventual million seller and put them on the cross-country tour circuit for years to come.

In December, Aladdin issued “It’s Christmastime” as a follow-up single. Releasing a Christmas record after a number one hit was like not issuing anything; few of December and this single was no exception.

The Keys had 10 more single releases between 1952 and 1953, but none cracked the hit lists though many, such as “Red Sails in the Sunset,” “My Saddest Hour,” “These Foolish Things,” and “Serve Another Round,” would have with more promotion, and they were all great listening.
By 1953 Rudy and Dickie were army bound, replaced by Ulysses Hicks and Ramon Loper.

The El Dorados:

Members:

  • Pirkle Lee Moses Jr./Lead
  • Jewell Jones/First tenor
  • Louis Bradley/Second tenor
  • James Maddox/Baritone
  • Richard Nickens/Bass

If someone tells you that Rock n’ Roll started with Elvis, just toss this record at em’ and wait for their apology. They were not white, they were not from Memphis, but they could Rock. Their name comes from the well know Cadillac automobile and one of the first groups to name themselves after a car.

After a couple of moderately popular songs, they recorded their biggest ever in 1955. They only stayed together until 1957, but crazy little mama “At My Front Door” remains a classic. It was also covered for the white audience by Pat Boone, but he just couldn’t duplicate their sound.

The Cadillacs:

Speedo (1955) with the Jesse Powell Orchestra

Members:

  • Earl “Speedo” Carroll
  • Robert Phillips
  • Laverne Drake
  • Gus Willingham
  • Papa Clark

This group had so many members over a three year span you could have started an Army. So I will only deal with the one song “Speedo“. They were originally called the Carnations.

At a local talent show they were discovered by fellow singer Lover Patterson who brought them to Esther Navarro, a secretary at the Shaw Booking Agency. Soon they were calling themselves the Cadillacs, the first of many car-name groups. Navarro got them a deal with the Josie label where they made their most famous recordings, “Gloria” in 1954 and “Speedo” in 1955. Both songs are now rock and roll standards.

But it is the group’s collaboration with choreographer Cholly Atkins that would guarantee their spot in rock and roll history. Atkins molded the Cadillacs into one of the great singing and dancing, rhythm and blues acts of the 1950s, a legacy that would live on in Atkins work with Motown acts like the Temptations. The Cadillacs just put on a great show. They wore sensational costumes and every line of their songs was synced with the appropriate dance steps. Led by Earl Carroll with his straw hat and cane, the group always brought down the house with their show stopping, jump blues number “Speedo.”

In 1961 Earl Carroll got an offer to join the Coasters. He accepted and for the next twenty years he recorded and toured with the legendary Atlantic Records act. Bobby Phillips spent that time occasionally performing with the remaining members of the Cadillacs and the two would meet up from time to time on the burgeoning oldies circuit. It was this renewed interest in the music of the 1950s that eventually led Carroll to leave the Coasters and join Phillips to reform the Cadillacs in the early 1980s.

Video:

Done in 1994 for “Cousin Brucie’s Rock and Roll party” Zoom by the Cadillac’s:

The Turbans

Members:
Al Banks – Lead
Matthew Platt – Tenor
Charlie Williams – Baritone
Andrew Jones – Bass
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These fellows got together in the Mid-Fifties in Philadelphia area and began playing at local functions. In early 1955, they were discovered by Herman Gillespie. He took them to Al silver, the president of Herald records , and they were awarded a recording contract.

In July 1955, they recorded a song bass singer Andrew Jones had called “When You Dance” which became their first and biggest hit.

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

Video:

TV – The Frankie Lane Show – Why Do Fools Fall In Love“:

Members:

  • Frankie Lymon/lead/born Sept/30/42 Died Feb/28/68
  • Herman Santiago/First tenor
  • Jimmy Merchant/Second tenor
  • Joe Negroni/baritone
  • Sherman Garnes/Bass

1955 they formed a song from a poem that had been given to them by a friendly neighbor. Later that year they recorded Why Do Fools Fall In Love? and it was released as a record by The Teenagers featuring Frankie Lymon. The song went to the top ten in the USA and remained on the charts for many weeks, and it reached #1 in the United Kingdom. A catchy tune with a brilliant performance by Frankie Lymon, it was one of the most popular songs of the early days of rock-and-roll.

Other songs were recorded and released in 1956 and 1957 including I’m Not A Juvenile Delinquent and others. The group appeared in some movies such as Rock, Rock, Rock and Mister Rock and Roll, and in 1957 Goldner began promoting Frankie as a solo act; Frankie released some songs of his own including the top twenty song Goody, Goody and eventually he signed with Roulette Records. Meanwhile, The Teenagers tried various replacements but none with the success that they had had earlier.

Frankie Lymon by this time had a serious drug problem. In 1961 he was forced into a drug rehabilitation program at Manhattan General Hospital. He attempted a comeback — singing, dancing, and playing drums — but never was able to shake his addiction and was convicted on a narcotics charge in 1964. He was found dead from a drug overdose on the bathroom floor of his grandmother’s apartment at age 25, on February 28, 1968.

I am not sure how to deal with this group properly. Truly a group that broke the colour barrier, appeared on Ed Sullivan. But Frankie Lymon is a sad story, 13 when he started dead at 26. One of the most pristine voices to be heard. We will surprise you and include his younger brother by 2 years, Lewis Lymon, he is still alive and many of you do not know this, but he had a hit 1956 as Louie Lymon and the Teen Chords.

Louie Lymon & the Teen Chords


Louie Lymon & The Teen Chords

Video:

1957 / Lewie Lymon and the Teen Chords / Your Last Chance /


I’m So Happy/1956
Louie Lyman & The Teenchords – Im So Happy

Members:

  • Lewis Lymon
  • Lyndon Harold
  • Ralph Vaughn
  • Rossilio Rocca
  • David Little

This group literally broke the colour barrier.
Though he has always been remembered primarily as Frankie Lymon’s brother, Louie Lymon attained some notoriety on his own. He was 12 when he began singing with some neighborhood friends in Harlem. Rossilio Rocca, Lyndon Harold, and David Little were the other members of the Teen Chords. The Teen Chords earned an audition with Bobby Robinson by pirating vocalist Ralph Vaughan from backstage at the Apollo, where he was waiting to audition for his brother Frankie’s group. They went to Robinson’s record shop and sang. Robinson eventually launched the Fury label with The Teen Chords single “I’m So Happy/Lydia.” The song was a huge East Coast hit, and The Teen Chords were soon touring with such major acts as Jerry Butler and The Impressions, Jessie Belvin, and Mickey and Sylvia. They issued two more singles on Fury. They later recorded for End, and appeared in the film Jamboree. But by 1960, they disbanded. Louie Lymon then recorded with the Townsmen, and did some unsuccessful duets with his brother at the Apollo.
– – – – – – –
As Doo Wop’s Birth comes to a conclusion in 1954, The Crows “Gee” recorded a year earlier actually makes it on to the Pop Charts. On the West coast a crudely recorded love song by the Penguins “Earth Angel” becomes a gigantic hit. The Birth is now over, Doo Wop is very much alive.
– Gary


–o–

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6 responses to “The Birth of Doo Wop (1948 – 1955)

  1. Great stuff! I too am a huge fan of “The Platters.” I am of an age that I was also privileged to see the “Mills Brothers” perform live once, in the latter days of their touring.

    Being from Gary, IN I am very familiar with Vivian Carter of Vee-Jay Records, and “The Spaniels.” Believe it or not, Vee-Jay at one time had both the Beatles and The Four Seasons under contract!

    For more Spaniels info, and info on Gary, IN check out my web site, Dave’s Den at
    http://GDYNets.WebNG.com/gary.htm

  2. Cool blog…I got into doowop in the early 70’s, also north of Toronto, also 15 – 16 (no idea why it appealed to me). I’ve always been curious about how much of the original stuff penetrated up our way. I know the Crows were issued on the Quality label in Canada – I have one of their follow ups to Gee on 78.

  3. Pingback: The Platters! | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

  4. Very well researched and full of interesting details. Brought back some names that had slipped from my memory.Well done chaps
    Dave

  5. I remember growing up in Philadelphia from 1952 to 1960 listening to race music (Doo Wop). As kids that was the “sweet spot” time of what we now call as Doo Wop. I also remember singers/groups coming out of south Philly, mostly Italian kids.

    • Chuck: I know that Philly was a hotbed for music, American Bandstand started there. It was called Race music until Jerry Wexler in 1949 suggested the Change to Rhythm & Blues Charts. Doo Wop is what we referred to as Rhythm & Blues in the 50’s, but the media likes cute terms so sometime around 1969 with Gus Gossert, I think one of the creators, it took hold. I still love those great Harmonies and those original recordings. In the Still of the Night was recorded in a church basement. They made an attempt to re-record in a studio, but the old basement recording was the best. Gary

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