I can still hear the sound of "do wop shu bop" repeated as a refrain in The Flamingo's 1959 classic "I only have eyes for you".
"My love has to be a kind of blind love
I can only see you
Are the stars out tonight?
I don't know if it's cloudy or light
I only have eyes for you, dear. "
For those of you who are younger generations and may not have grown up with doo-wop (although you may have heard it on oldies channels), I'm happy to explore the music and its history today. If you are blessed to be old enough to be part of this era, I hope you share your memories and favorites with me in the comments section.
Professor Frederick Dennis Greene, founding member of Sha Na Na, has a well-researched description of doo-wop in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The roots of the doo-wop style already lie in the records of the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots in the 1930s and 40s. The Mills Brothers transformed the harmony of small groups into an art form when they used their vocal harmony in many of their recordings to simulate the sound of strings or reeds. The Ink Spots established the priority of the tenor and bassist as members of the pop vocal ensemble, and their influence can be heard in rhythm and blues music from the 1940s (in Ravens records) in the 50s. and until the 70s. This influence is best seen in the remakes of the hit records "My Prayer" (1956) by the Platters and "If I Didn't Care" (1970) by Moments. In fact, Motown's leading male group of the 1960s and 1970s had the Temptations, a vowel sound based on this classic doo-wop style, with Ink Spots tenor singer Bill Kenny and bass singer Hoppy Jones As inspiration for the Temptation singers, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, and their bassist Melvin Franklin. There was also a school for doo-wop women, best exemplified by the Chantels, the Shirelles, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles.
The popularity of doo-wop music among young singers in urban American communities in the 1950s, such as New York City, Chicago and Baltimore, Maryland, was largely due to the fact that the music could be performed effectively a cappella. Many young enthusiasts in these communities had little access to musical instruments, making the vocal ensemble the most popular musical performance unit. Doo-wop groups tended to rehearse in places that provided echoes – where their harmonies were best heard. They often rehearsed in high school hallways and bathrooms and under bridges. When they were ready for public appearances, they sang on stoops and street corners, in talent shows in the community center and in the hallways of the Brill Building. As a result, many doo-wop records had vocal harmonies so remarkably rich that they practically overwhelmed their minimalist accompaniment. Doo-wop's appeal to much of the public was its artistically powerful simplicity, but this “uncomplicated” type of record was also an ideal, low-budget investment for a small record label. The lack of strings and horns ("sweetening") in their production gave many of the doo-wop records of the early 1950s an almost uncanny meagerness. The Orioles "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" (1949) and "Crying in the Chapel" (1953), the Harptones "A Sunday Kind of Love" (1953) and the "Earth Angel" of the Penguins (1954) are excellent examples of this effect.
The legendary Orioles were one of the first rhythm and blues groups ever. Influenced by celebrities like the Mills Brothers and Ink Spots, they merged traditional pop songs with gospel style and arranged blues and gospel material with gentle harmonies, resulting in a style that appealed to a wide audience. In 1949, they recorded their first hit, It & # 39; s Too Soon to Know, written by their manager Deborah Chessler. In 1953 they recorded their multi-million dollar seller Crying in the Chapel. They became the most popular recording group in the rhythm and blues sector and gained national and international recognition.
An R&B singing group was founded in Harlem, New York, New York, USA in 1953. The members were Willie Winfield, first tenor Nick Clark, second tenor William Dempsey, baritone Bill & # 39; Dicey & # 39; Galloway, bass Billy Brown and pianist / arranger Raoul J. Cita. The Harptones were one of the smoothest and most polished R&B vocal groups that emerged in the early Rock & # 39; roll era. Though viewed as part of the doo-wop phenomenon, they rarely used nonsensical syllables.
"Earth Angel", one of the most popular doo-wop songs of all time, was only the second doo-wop song to hit the top 10 pop charts after the "sh boom" of chords.
The penguins were four black students from Fremont High in Los Angeles who were named after the logo on Kool cigarettes – a penguin named Willie (the group was originally called The Flywheels). They recorded this song in a garage and released it on a small black label called Dootone Records. When it sold more than 4 million copies, it proved that independent record labels could be successful, and many more began operating across America.
To go deeper, Stuart Goosman Group harmony: The black urban roots of rhythm and blues is a fascinating research into the roots of doo-wop:
In 1948, Orioles, a Baltimore-based vocal group, recorded "It & # 39; s Too Soon to Know". The Orioles combined the sound of Tin Pan Alley with gospel and blues sensitivity and reached number 13 on the pop charts with their first hit. This introduced the nation to the vocal rhythm and blues and paved the way for the most successful groups of the 1950s.
In the first scientific treatment of this influential music genre, Stuart Goosman records the history of Orioles and that of countless other black vocal groups in the post-war period. Some, like the Orioles, Cardinals and Swallows from Baltimore and the Clovers from Washington, DC, established the popularity of vocal rhythm and blues at the national level. Dozens of other well-known groups (and hundreds of unknowns) across the country cut records and performed until about 1960. Record companies initially marketed this music as Rhythm & Blues; Today the group harmony resonates for some as a "doo-wop".
Group Harmony focuses in particular on Baltimore and Washington and is largely based on oral traditions. It describes the emergence of vocal rhythm and blues groups from black neighborhoods. Group harmony was a source of empowerment for young singers as it provided them with a means of expression and an aspect of control over their lives where there were limited alternatives. Post-war young black men used group harmony to celebrate and confuse complex problems such as race, separatism and assimilation when they could not overcome them. Group harmony has also become an important resource for the popular music industry. Goosman interviews dozens of interpreters, DJs, and industry professionals to examine the entrepreneurial promise of mid-century pop music and record the convergence of music, location, and business, including the record, radio, advertising, and songwriting business.
Born from an earlier tradition of groups such as The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots, the advent of "bird groups" with names such as Ravens, Orioles, Crows, Larks, Robins, Penguins and Flamingos heralded a change in the musical audience. This was not the music of your mother and grandmother at the time (although many mothers and grandmothers still love music like The Flamingos' haunting ballad "I only have eyes for you").
Younger generations would sing along with the version of The Complexions (mixed with The Flamingos) in the 1993 film "A Bronx Tale".
When we hear street corner noises from doo-wop ballads, we think of love, romance and teenage fear. We rarely refer to social movements, but Brian Ward's “Only my soul reacts: rhythm and blues, black consciousness and racial relationships "
examines the connections between the civil rights movement and R&B.
Just My Soul Responding is one of the most innovative and ambitious books on civil rights and black power movements in America, and also presents a major challenge to the conventional history of contemporary black and popular music. Brian Ward examines in detail the previously neglected relationship between rhythm and blues, black consciousness and racial relationships in the context of the ongoing struggle for black freedom and equality in the United States. Instead of simply seeing the world of black music as a reflection of a mass struggle raging elsewhere, Ward argues that rhythm and blues and the recording and broadcasting industry to which it was associated formed a crucial public arena for struggles for civil rights and races and black economic empowerment.
Although he is not specifically concerned with doo-wop, he covers this phenomenon well.
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Sometimes groups were discovered by Chance, To sing in the and to the her Area. Legend Has it The the Charms were discovered by Syd Nathan at the a park soft ball game in the Cincinnati. The El Dorados were taken to Vee Jay by her school Custodian WHO would have heard she to practice in the the Hallways from Chicago Englewood High School. black Harlem impresario Bobby Robinson found the Mellomoods "To sing on a stoop above in the the Harlem flow Projects ", and discovered the channels in the a Lenox avenue sample Room. Ben E. E. king originally sang With the five Crown, and was subsequently the first in the a Long line from to lead Singer With the Post Office-Clyde McPhatter Drifter. How king remind, "She found she Where she lived. And she Not to have a whole amount from sale to do. The was taken maintenance from by the guys WHO would have already made it, got a contract and everything The Rubbish. news traveled fast. And those guys were immediate Heroes ”.
Many thanks to Stuart Goosman, we knows most over the Demography from the Baltimore and Washington, D. D.C. Street corner group Scenes Which between she generated More as 60 recorded groups from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. in the Baltimore, to the Example, There were violent Rivalries between east Baltimore groups to like the Swallows, Cardinals, honey Guys, Sonnets, Magictones, Funny Boys and Blentones, and groups to like the Twilighters, Four Friends and plants WHO followed the Orioles out from the Old City, villagewest Baltimore Area, With the busy entertainment Stripes Next Pennsylvania avenue portion how both border and neutral Zone between the two Sections. Territorial Loyalties could also create local Celebrities WHO threatened greater as National Stars within her have Neighborhoods, Cities and regions.
It wasn't until I read Ward's book that I thought that "the most commercially successful doo-wop compilation ever released" – "The Paragons Meet The Jesters" – featured two white men in motorcycle gear attire. Racist representation was still problematic, and many albums of music by black artists had white people on the cover.
I only remembered some of the debates my friends and I had about which version of "Wind" was better – the original version of The Diablos or the cover on this album by The Jesters. You decide.
Here is the Jesters version:
Before there were the Jackson Five or groups like Boyz II Men, Frankie Lymon and the teenagers were the black teenage swarm group. The group from Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan consisted of black and Puerto Rican members.
This clip comes from her first live television performance on the Frankie Laine Show, which aired in 1956.
In order for you not to believe that fame and fortune were the only facets of their history for these New York youth, some of the harsh realities of life in the 1950s were an integral part of Frankie Lymon's story.
Jeff MacGregor's feature film "Teen idol Frankie Lymon's tragic rise and fall tells the truth about 1950s America for Smithsonian Magazine" is a sobering read.
Frankie Lymon and the teenagers were five children from Washington Heights, north of Harlem. They sang Doo-Wop under the street lamp on the corner of 165th and Amsterdam. They were discovered by Valentine's singer, Richie Barrett, when the kids were rehearsing in an apartment house. A few months later their first record, "Why do fools fall in love?" made it to the top of the national charts. It was 1956. Overnight, Frankie Lymon was the hottest singer in America, on a world tour. He was 13 years old …
The truth is, Frankie Lymon grew up too quickly in every way imaginable. "I was never a child, although I was charged for every theater and auditorium where I appeared as a child star," Lymon told Art Peters, a reporter for Ebony magazine, in 1967. "I was a man when I was 11 years old." and do everything most men do. In the neighborhood I lived in, there was no time to be a child. There were five children in my family and my people had to fight to make ends meet. My father was a truck driver and my mother worked as a domestic worker in the whites' homes. While children my age were playing stickball and marbles, I worked in the corner grocery store and carried orders to pay the rent. "
A few days before Frankie and his friends recorded the song that made them famous from the corner, Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, was pulled out of a bus. Less than two years later, Frankie danced with a white girl on a national television show, and the show was quickly canceled. Another part of the legend.
Integrating races into pop music would never be easy.
You may have sung about not being a juvenile offender, but the irony was that Frankie died of a heroin overdose in 1968 when he was only 25 years old. This was the fate of many men – and some girls – with whom I grew up. Heroin had flooded the bonnet, and the victims were spared neither fame nor fortune. Michael "Cetewayo" Tabor, a member of the Black Panther Party, who sang bass as a teenager with a doo-wop group and became addicted to heroin, wrote Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide in 1970 about the politics and destruction of heroin in the Black Community. However, the music would live on.
I wouldn't be sure if I didn't include the female groups called "girl groups" who also sang love songs and lamentations during the doo-wop era. In my view, The Chantels were the frontrunners, led by singer Arlene Smith.
Considered by many to be the best girl groups, the Chantels were one of the first female R&B singing groups to be successful nationwide. Arlene Smith (conductor), Lois Harris (first tenor), Sonia Göring (second tenor), Jackie Landry (second alto) and Rene Minus began their musical journey in their youth when they practiced choral practice at the St. Anthony of Padua School in of the United States visited the Bronx. By 1957, they had sung together for more than seven years. A staple of their diet was Gregorian chant, which was taught so perfectly that changing notes and parts was a matter of course. Unlike their male counterparts, girls couldn't "hang out" and practice on street corners at all times. So in 1957, much of her practice took place in the girl's dressing room at St. Anthony’s. Arlene Smith was a member of the girl's basketball team and, whether won or lost, the group sang after each game …
The first single of the Chantels "She & # 39; s Gone" was released in August 1957. From the four-part a-capella glockenspiel harmony intro, topped by Arlene's floating falsetto, to its double ending, "She & # 39; s Gone" immediately set a new quality standard for the reception of female groups. Until September 30, the record was in Billboard's national top 100 charts, but inexplicably stopped at number 71 …
The next recording session on October 16, 1957 was not scheduled in a regular recording studio, but in a renovated church in Midtown Manhattan, apparently because of its acoustics. Barrett played the piano along with the supporting bass and drums for the Chantels recording of Arlene Smith's "Maybe". Released in December; On January 20, 1958, it climbed in the pop charts and a week later in the rhythm and blues charts. "Maybe" reached 15th place in late winter and second place in R&B.
For more information on a wide range of girl groups, see Black Kos Music: Do-Wop Ladies, which I wrote in 2011.
Doo-wop is still sung at sold-out oldies revival concerts like this:
It's also alive and well in subways and other Busker locations:
You may be wondering why I didn't include groups like The Persuasions. This is because they don't consider themselves a doo-wop group and prefer the term "contemporary a capella" to describe their sound.
Over the years, The Persuasions have been incorrectly classified as a Doo Wop group. In fact, Doo Wop was long considered "oldies" when the first recording of The Persuasions was released in 1969. Singer / arranger / co-producer Jerry Lawson created a new genre of music known today as "Contemporary" A capella. That is, the beliefs were the first A capella Group to create secular street singing arrangements from a diverse range of the day's most popular music over a period of four decades.
Since I'm a big fan, I'll be exploring a cappella groups next Sunday. Hope you come to me!