The songs “Duke of Earl,” “Blue Moon, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and “16 Candles” are examples of doo wop songs. Characterized by a “ top and bottom” format developed by singer Bill Kenny, doo wop’s distinctive features include a high tenor, nonsense syllables, group harmony and simple melodies and instrumentation.
Initially a black teenage rebellion against their parents’ rhythm and blues music, doo wop grew out of African-American traditions of social singing in barber shops, churches, etc. Because musical instruments were expensive, some singers imitated instruments with their voices while others sang lyrics in harmony. The first doo wop groups sang informally on street corners and stoops in their neighborhoods.
Officially named doo wop only in 1961, the genre emerged as a musical powerhouse in the 1950s, when groups of street singers went from the curb to the recording studio. Known as “bird” groups, early doo wop singers included The Ravens, The Flamingos and The Larks. Early hits such as The Orioles’ 1953 “Crying in the Chapel” were followed by national hits by groups such as Cadillacs and Little Anthony &; The Imperials.
As more white doo wop groups entered the market, black doo wop groups got more air play on mainsteam radio stations. At its height, doo wop had hits such as “Sincerely” by the Moonglows, “Earth Angels” by The Penguins and “The Great Pretenders” by The Platters.