Doo Wop

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Doo Wop is a style of music based on a polyphonic vocal arrangement.

To the subject

Doo Wop is characterized by the intensive use of nonsense syllables and melisms . Other important features are the concise bass, which is clearly set apart from the other voices, and the frequent use of falsetto . The songs are based largely on the harmony and the pattern of the rock 'n' roll - and rhythm-and-blues - ballads .

The heyday of Doo Wop falls in the 1950s and early 1960s. A doo-wop group usually consisted of four or five members: a lead singer, a first tenor, a second tenor, a baritone and the bass. The roots of this style are in gospel , jazz , blues and barbershop singing.

The name is derived from the typical nonsense syllables, such as B. Diddle-De-Dum , Du-Wah or Doo-Wop .

The term Doo Wop was occasionally used as early as the late 1950s, but only made popular from 1969 by the New York disc jockey Gus Gossert (Gribin / Schiff, p. 201 f.). At the time of its inception, this type of music fell under rock 'n' roll or rhythm and blues, depending on whether the group was a white or black formation.

Even today, many doo-wop numbers are subsumed under rock 'n' roll. The term Street Corner Music is also used because the groups often sang on street corners. Some purists reject the term Doo Wop or want it to be limited to the oeuvre of white interpreters (Gribin / Schiff, p. 157).


The doo-wop ensemble The Ravens in the 1940s. Photo: William P. Gottlieb .

The way to doo wop

The tradition of vocal groups began in the USA in the 1920s with groups such as the Norfolk Jazz & Jubilee Quartet and The Revelers (the role models of the Comedian Harmonists ), and in the 1930s and 1940s with the Ink Spots , the Mills Brothers , the Delta Rhythm Boys or Cats & the Fiddle with Tiny Grimes . This type of music was the domain of the African American .

The doo-wop era (1948–1963)

The year of birth of Doo Wop is 1948, when the Orioles recorded the first number with the ballad It's too soon to know that has all the stylistic features (Gribin / Schiff, p. 43). 1951 saw the first boom of the doo-wop style: groups like The Clovers , The Dominoes or The Five Keys conquered the R-'n'-B charts. The performers and the audience were still exclusively African-American.

In the mid-1950s, white youth began to enjoy black music. So the first doo-wop title first made it into the US Billboard - Rhythm - & - Blues - hit parade , with increasing acceptance in the white of buyers in the US pop charts. The classics Sh-Boom by the Chords (July 1954), Earth Angel by the Penguins (December 1954) and In the Still of the Night by the Five Satins (September 1956) date from this period . All three titles were able to achieve massive crossover successes; Earth Angel even developed millionaire status . The first so-called mixed groups were created later . which consisted of white and black members ( The Del-Vikings , The Rob Roys, The Fascinators, The Crests ). This was a sign of the end of the racial segregation that prevailed in the USA at the time .

Around 1957/58 the first groups consisting exclusively of white members emerged, such as Dion and the Belmonts , the Elegants and the Academics. It was mainly Italian-Americans who brought the bel canto style of Italian opera to music. The target audience for these groups was the white teenagers, although they also made the R-'n'-B charts.

In 1960 Doo Wop experienced a huge surge in popularity. Old recordings that had been recorded years earlier but went relatively unnoticed became massive hits. These included There's a Moon Out Tonight from the Capris and Rama Lama Ding Dong from the Edsels . The focus on the instrumentation grew, the use of nonsense syllables more and more. Novelty hits like Mr. Bass Man by Johnny Cymbal or Who put the Bomp by Barry Mann , which played with the style elements of the genre, testify to the enormous popularity of Doo Wop, but are also an indication of the approaching end of the era.

From around 1960 onwards, the black doo-wop groups increasingly integrated elements of the music style into their numbers that was soon to be called soul . A transitional style developed , which moved between Doo Wop and Soul. Many later soul stars began their careers as members of vocal groups, for example Curtis Mayfield ( The Impressions ), Barry White (The Upfronts) or Wilson Pickett (The Falcons).

In the years 1955 to 1963, around 15 percent of all number one hits on the US Billboard charts can be attributed to the Doo Wop genre (Gribin / Schiff, p. 14). In early 1964, the British Invasion put an end to Doo Wop - as well as classic rock 'n' roll - at least in terms of its presence in the charts.


After the abrupt end of Doo Wop as a mass phenomenon, African American musicians saved elements of Doo Wop into soul . Some groups like The Dells or The Manhattans were still successful in the 1970s with an only slightly modified doo-wop sound. Doo Wop also lived on in surf music - especially vocal surf - for example in the polyphonic singing of the Beach Boys , although this was based more on pop vocal groups of the 1940s / 1950s such as the Four Freshmen . Even Frank Zappa recorded a doo-wop album ( Cruising with Ruben & the Jets ) .

Until well into the 1960s there was a strong Doo-Wop subculture in the USA (mainly in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia) consisting primarily of acappella groups (e.g. zirconia, apparatuses, Count Five), which were based on labels such as CatTime, Snowflake, Times Square or Relic is well documented on numerous LPs and singles.

At the end of the 1960s there was a rock 'n' roll revival in the USA, which would actually deserve the name Doo-Wop-Revival, as it was mainly Doo-Wop numbers that were played by the emerging oldies - Radio stations were excavated. WCBS, with Gus Gossert as moderator, was the most listened to station in America in the early 1970s. Dozens of groups (The Nutmegs, The Channels, The Belmonts) reformed, gave acclaimed concerts and made new records. The revue band Sha Na Na sang At The Hop in Woodstock. The musical Grease celebrated huge success on Broadway with many doo-wop-like songs. The film American Graffiti , with a variety of doo-wop songs in the soundtrack, became a worldwide blockbuster , as did The Wanderers . The hit television series Happy Days even had a doo-wop theme song.

Around the same time, record labels emerged that were founded by fans of this music and meticulously collected recordings and information and made the Doo Wop accessible to fans. In the USA these were primarily Relic Records, Crystal Ball Records and Collectables Records, in Germany the later emerging Bear Family Records , DJ Records and Little Maria Records.

A little later than in the USA, there was also a rock 'n' roll revival in Europe. British groups like Mud , The Rubettes , Rocky Sharpe & the Replays, Showaddywaddy and the Darts rediscovered the Doo Wop. The well-known hit by the English pop band Housemartins , Caravan Of Love from 1986, also relates very much to Doo Wop.

Doo Wop in Germany

Doo Wop played no role in Germany in the 1950s / 1960s. Only a few US doo-wop numbers made it onto the German charts. There wasn't a single German doo-wop group that met with nationwide resonance. A few German performers covered doo-wop songs, but these adaptations can only be stylistically assigned to the genre with difficulty. These include Ted Herold with Wunderland ( Trouble in Paradise from the Crests ), Ralf Bendix with At The Hop ( Danny & the Juniors ) or Chris Howland with Blonder Stern ( Little Star from the Elegants ). No commercial success was granted to any of these recordings.

It wasn't until the third rock 'n' roll revival in the mid-1970s that Doo Wop gained a certain popularity in Germany. In radio programs such as Werner Voss' Rock and Roll Museum , Gerd Alzens Memory Hits or See you later, Alligator with presenter Barry Graves , the audience was introduced to doo-wop music. This paved the way for German doo-wop groups. Following the example of the British bands, formations such as Kool Cad '& The Tailfins , Jay Bee and his Jupitors , the Five Voices / Fi Tunes , Pendletones , Belangels , Chotalls and the Crystalairs formed especially in the north of the republic . The Belangels (which no longer exist) also had some publications in the USA under the name Chordliners and were thus the first German doo-wop group that made it across the pond with mostly their own material. The Munich rock 'n' roll band Spider Murphy Gang adapted the doo-wop song Sh-Boom der Chords under the title Sch-Bum ( 's Leben is wiar a Traum ) and released it as a single in 1985.

The most well-known groups that still exist today include the Crystalairs , the Fabulous Flops , the Mysterials , the Chaperals , the Fairytales , the Glaciers and the Retromantics .


Since the 1990s, the typical motels from the 1950s and early 1960s in the Wildwoods in the US state of New Jersey have been referred to as doo-wop motels .


  • Douglas E. Friedman, J. Anthony Gribin: Who Sang Our Songs? The Official Rhythm & Blues And Doo-Wop Songography . In collaboration with and a foreword by Ronnie Italiano. Harmony Songs Publications, West Long Branch, New Jersey 2003, ISBN 0-9713979-0-2 .
  • J. Anthony Gribin, Matthew M. Schiff: Doo-wop. The Forgotten Third Of Rock 'n' Roll . Krause Publications, Iola, Wisconsin 1992, ISBN 0-87341-197-8 .
  • Mitch Rosalsky: Encyclopedia Of Rhythm And Blues And Doo Wop Vocal Groups . Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Maryland 2000, ISBN 0-8108-3663-7 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Anthony J. Gribin, Matthew M. Schiff: The Complete Book of Doo-Wop . Krause Publications, Iola / Wisconsin 2000, ISBN 0-87341-829-8 .
  2. ^ Joseph Murrells: Million Selling Records. 1985, p. 85.
  3. Mitch Rosalsky: Encyclopedia of Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop Vocal Groups . The Scarecrow Press Inc., Lanham / Maryland, Toronto, Plymouth 2002, ISBN 0-8108-4592-X , pp. VIII .
  4. ^ Robert Pruter: Doowop. The Chicago Scene . University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Chicago 1996, ISBN 0-252-06506-9 , pp. 202 .
  5. ^ Peter Shapiro: The Rough Guide to Soul and R&B . Rough Guides Ltd., London 2006, ISBN 1-84353-264-6 , pp. 312 .
  6. Oliver Flesch, Liner Notes of the CD We go in the wonderland. Doo Wop in Germany ( Bear Family Records ), p. 3.