Doo-wop is a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues music, which developed in African-American communities in the 1940s and which achieved mainstream popularity both in the 1950s to the early 1960s. An African-American vocal style known as doo-wop emerged from the streets of north-eastern cities such as New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. With its smooth, consonant vocal harmonies, doo-wop was one of the most mainstream, pop-oriented R&B styles of the 1950s.


Origins of name

Two songs in particular may lay claim to being the "first" to contain the syllables "doo wop" in the refrain: the 1955 hit, "When You Dance" by The Turbans, in which the chant "doo wop" can be heard; and the 1956 song "In the Still of the Night" by The Five Satins, with the plaintive "doo wop, doo wah" refrain in the bridge. It has been erroneously reported that the phrase was coined by radio disc jockey Gus Gossert in the early 1970s. However, Gossert himself said that "doo-wop(p) was already being used [before me] to categorize the music in California. The definition expanded backward to include rhythm and blues groups from the mid-1950s and then even further back to include groups from the early 1950s and even the 1940s. There is no consensus as to what constitutes a doo-wop song and many aficionados of R&B music dislike the term intensely, preferring to use the term "group vocal harmony" instead.

Stylistic origins

Doo-wop had its roots in the 1930s and 1940s music, with popular African-American vocal groups like the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers. The Orioles helped develop the doo-wop sound with their hits "It's Too Soon to Know" (1948) and "Crying in the Chapel" (1953). Other important African American doo-wop groups included The Marcels, the Coasters, the Drifters, the Moonglows, Little Anthony and the Imperials , The Miracles, The "5" Royales , The Flamingos , The Impressions , The Dells, The Cadillacs, The Penguins, The Midnighters, the Teenagers and the Platters. The style spread to singing groups of other ethnicities, such as the Capris, Dion and the Belmonts, the Earls, and the Tokens. The term "doo-wop" was taken from the ad-lib syllables sung in harmony in doo-wop songs.

In poor 1940s-era African-American communities, teenagers rarely had enough money to get instruments. Instead, they made music with their voices, with some of the singers imitating instruments while singing nonsense syllables from which the name of the style is derived. The name was later extended to group harmony . An example of this includes "Count Every Star" by The Ravens (1950), which includes vocalizations imitating the "doomph", "doomph" plucking of a double bass. This vocal style created a template for later groups. Doo-wop broke into the mainstream in 1951, with hits such as "My Reverie" by The Larks, "Where Are You?" by The Mello-Moods, "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.


By 1953, doo-wop was popular among a broader audience. and disc jockey Alan Freed began introducing black groups' music to his white audiences. Groups included The Spaniels, The Moonglows, and The Flamingos, whose song, "Golden Teardrops," is a classic of the genre. Other groups, like The Castelles and The Penguins, innovated new styles, most famously uptempo doo wop, established by The Crows' 1954 song, "Gee" and The Cleftones' 1956 hit "Little Girl of Mine". 1956 was also the year that Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers became a teen pop sensation with songs like "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" Well-known hits include "In the Still of the Night (I Remember)" and "Get a Job" by The Silhouettes, a hit in 1958. The late 1950s-early 1960s also saw the rise of Italian doo-wop groups, including Dion and the Belmonts, The Capris, the Mystics, and the Duprees. Two racially integrated groups were The Del-Vikings and The Crests.

Doo-wop remained popular until just before the British Invasion of 1964. 1961 might have been the peak of doo-wop, with hits that include The Marcels' "Blue Moon". There was a revival of the nonsense-syllable form of doo-wop in the early 1960s, with popular records by the Marcels, the Rivingtons, and Vito & The Salutations. A few years later, the genre had reached the self-referential stage, with songs about the singers ("Mr. Bass Man" by Johnny Cymbal) and the songwriters ("Who Put the Bomp?" by Barry Mann).

1970s-1990s revivals

The genre has seen revivals at various points in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Its main artists are concentrated in urban areas (New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark, Los Angeles, and others), with a few exceptions. Revival shows on TV and boxed CD sets (ex. DooWop Box 1-3) have kept people's interest in the music. Groups have done remakes of doo-wops with great success over the years. Part of the regional beach music or shag music scene, centered in the Carolinas and surrounding states, includes both the original classic recordings and numerous re-makes over the years.

Other artists have had doo-wop or doo-wop-influenced hits in later years, such as Led Zeppelin's 1973 song, "D'yer Mak'er", David Bowie's 1973 hit, "Drive-In Saturday," Billy Joel's 1983 hit, "The Longest Time", Frank Zappa's 1981 song, "Fine Girl," or Electric Light Orchestra's 1977 smash "Telephone Line". Horror punk bands like the The Misfits also included a healthy amount of doo-wop in their early songs. The last known doo-wop hit was "It's Alright" by Huey Lewis and the News, which reached #6 on the U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in June 1993.

A number of band names are drawn from birds (e.g., The Orioles, The Ravens, the Cardinals, the Crows, the Swallows, the Larks, the Flamingos) and from cars: The Edsels, The Cadillacs ,The Fleetwoods ,The Impalas). Doo-wop is popular among collegiate a cappella groups due to its easy adaptation to an all-vocal form. Doo-wop recently experienced a resurgence in popularity with PBS' doo-wop concert programs: Doo-Wop 50, Doo Wop 51, and Rock, Rhythm, and Doo Wop. These programs brought back together, live on stage, some of the better known doo-wop groups of the past.

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