GOOD MORNING P.O.U. FAM and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
This week, we’ll take a look at the musical genre known as Doo-Wop!
So fellas, grab your lettermen jackets, and ladies put on your poodle skirts and saddle shoes and let’s take a trip down memory lane!
First, a little history…
The name Doo-wop is given to a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues music that developed in African American communities in the 1940s and achieved mainstream popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. It emerged from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, Newark, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and areas of greater Los Angeles including El Monte and Compton. Built upon vocal harmony, doo-wop was one of the most mainstream, pop-oriented R&B; styles of the 1950s and 1960s.
As a musical genre, Doo-wop is a type of vocal group harmony with the musical qualities of many vocal parts, nonsense syllables, a simple beat, little, or no, instrumentation, and simple music and lyrics. It is ensemble singing with single artists appearing with a backing group. Solo billing usually implies that the individual is more prominent in the musical arrangement.
African-American vocal groups such as The Ink Spots and The Mills Brothers, both from Cincinnati, Ohio, had record hits during the years of the second world war that set important precedents for the genre. The Ink Spots had a string of record successes in 1939-40, both in the USA and in Britain, with “My Prayer”, “Bless You” and “Whispering Grass” and The Mills Brothers followed suit in 1943-44 with “Paper Doll”, “You Always Hurt The One You Love” and “Till Then”.
These were generally slow songs in swing time with simple instrumentation and close four-part harmony reminiscent of the barbershop quartet – which The Mills Brothers once had been. The subject of the lyrics was generally love and relationships. Already a preference is heard for the typical chord progression I – vi – IV – V that had generated several American 1930s hits such as Rogers and Hart’s “Blue Moon” (1934), Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’ 1936 “The Way You Look Tonight” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul” (1938), but would later become so closely associated with doo-wop that it is now sometimes referred to as the 50s progression. Early groups were more diverse musically, performing blues and jump blues.
At this time singers would gather on street corners and in subways, generally in groups of three to six. Since instruments were little used, a cappella arrangements used wordless onomatopeia to mimic instruments; the bass singing “bom-bom-bom”, a guitar rendered as “shang-a-lang” and brass riffs as “dooooo -wop-wop”. “Count Every Star” by The Ravens (1950), for instance, includes vocalizations imitating the “doomph, doomph” plucking of a double bass. This art goes back to The Mills Brothers, who had first come to fame in the 1930s with their mimicking of instrumental music. Radio, gramophone and cinema inspired imitation in many cities of the U.S. The late 1940s and early 1950s brought the so-called “bird groups”; The Swallows, the Ravens, The Orioles, The Penguins, The Crows, The Flamingos and The Larks. A number of band names are also drawn from cars (The Edsels, The Cadillacs, The Fleetwoods, The Impalas, and Little Anthony & The Imperials. The Orioles helped develop the doo-wop sound with their hits “It’s Too Soon to Know” (1948) and “Crying in the Chapel” (1953). Doo-wop scored 1951 R&B; chart hits such as “Sixty Minute Man” by Billy Ward and His Dominoes, “My Reverie” by The Larks, “Where Are You?” by The Mello-Moods, “The Glory of Love” by The Five Keys, “Shouldn’t I Know” by The Cardinals, “I Will Wait” by the Four Buddies, and “Will You Be Mine” by The Swallows.
The Turbans were an African American doo-wop group, who formed in Philadelphia in 1953. The original members were: Al Banks (lead tenor), Matthew Platt (second tenor), Charlie Williams (baritone), and Andrew “Chet” Jones (bass). They came from Downtown Philadelphia (around Bainbridge and South Street).
Around Christmas of 1954, they won first prize in a talent contest singing their rendition of “White Christmas”. This created interest among the local record companies, and in the late spring of 1955, they cut a demo record. Herman Gillespie, the group’s first manager, took the demo record to Al Silver at Herald Records in New York. They signed a contract in July 1955, and gained a new manager, Allen Best. Best worked for Shaw Artists Corporation.