The Summer of '61 : Doo Wop's Swan Song ©2001 JCMarion


Every era has a beginning and an end. Concerning the era of the R & B vocal groups, the Doo Wop Era, I have given this time in history an arbitrary beginning and an end. I put the start of the age as the release of The Orioles "It's Too Soon To Know" on It's A Natural Records in 1948. Not everyone will agree of course, but I really think that is a logical starting point for the recognized style of music we are referring to. Now we are going to discuss the end point, the so called "swan song" of the era. This took place in the year 1961 when for all practical purposes, the vocal group style had run its course and new forms of music were beginning to take over the radio and sales charts for a new generation - sweet sounding girl groups, Spector, Motown, the folkies, California surf and hot rods, and the emerging sound of soul music from New York, Memphis, and Muscle Shoals. And-strange stuff from Liverpool, England was about to explode changing the face of American music. But during the summer of 1961, we came to realize the last great days of the Doo Wop Era in the sounds of The Jive Five, Dreamlovers, and Bluejays. They recorded the last of the vocal group hits in the standard R & B style and would soon give way to the more modernistic and polished sounds of The Miracles, Temptations, and Impressions. But for now during one last moment, the voices of the musical movement that has come to be called the sound of doo wop, held forth on the nation's radio airwaves and appeared on the best seller charts for the last time.


The Jive Five were formed in Brooklyn in the late 1950s and underwent many name and personnel changes. By 1959 they had settled on the name The Jive Five and boasted a powerful lead singer in Eugene Pitt. Other members of the group were Norman Johnson-bass, Richard Harris-baritone, and tenor voices Jerome Hannah and Billy Prophet. After practicing and a few neighborhood gigs, the group made contact with Belltone Records and Joe Rene. Soon a recording session was arranged and the group ran through a number of covers and versions of established tunes. When asked if they had any original material, the quintet did a version of a song written by lead singer Pitt. The song was "My True Story" and the powers that be at Belltone liked what they heard and a release was soon forthcoming on #1006. The record was an immediate smash. The song had all the earmarks of a true R & B classic - great story line of teenaged love, a strong and heartfelt rendition by the group, and a ton of vocal "hooks" in the lyric to make it truly memorable ("they must cry, cry, cry, their blues away" and "The names have been changed dear, to protect you and I" - are just two examples of Pitt's masterwork). The Belltone release was a monster hit that summer getting as high as number three on the national pop music charts and remaining on the list for three months. This was a fitting way for the era to end with such a strong sound. Of course the Jive Five had further successes especially with the atmospheric "What Time Is It?" (never on the national charts) and the very mid 60s sound of "I'm A Happy Man", but the true sound of the vocal groups was present on "My True Story" and is a part of the doo wop era's swan song.


The Dreamlovers from Philadelphia were part of a monster million selling record before their identities were even known to the general public. The group who originated in Philly known as The Romancers, were heard on a demo tape by the people at Cameo / Parkway (who along with Chancellor Records) were the top purveyors of the American Bandstand featured sound of Philadelphia in the late 50s - early 60s. They sang the original parts of The Midnighters from a 1958 jump tune behind a new personality named Ernest Evans who was renamed Chubby Checker, and "The Twist" made it to number one in the nation - twice ! ! Records under their own name with various local labels went nowhere and the survival of the group as a recording entity remained in further uncredited backup work with Checker and DeeDee Sharp for Cameo / Parkway. The group included Don Hogan on lead, James Dunn on bass, brother Clifton Dunn on baritone, and tenors Tommy Ricks and Cleveland Hammock. After all those hits as backup for Checker, time finally rewarded the Dreamlovers when they hooked up with a new recording company in Philadelphia called Heritage Records. They recorded an original written by Hogan, an uplifting tune celebrating young love called "When We Get Married". The recording featured a full sound of harmony by the group and a strong lead by Hogan over melodic vibraphone instrumentation. The sound which somewhat echoed earlier efforts by The Heartbeats got into the top ten on the national charts that summer of 1961 and contributed to the swan song of the era.


Late in the summer of that year, a final ode to the doo wop era was sounded by a group from the greater Los Angeles area known as The Bluejays. Following an appearance at an amateur show at the Fox Theater in Venice the group was put in touch with Milestone Records which originally was aimed at the fans of guitar fronted rockabilly bands. The label had some success with The Paradons recording of "Diamonds And Pearls" (# 2003) and so planned to give the fledgling group a shot. The lead voice belonged to Leon Peels, and the other members of the group were Alex Manigeault, Vanearl Richardson, and Leonard Davidson. The group worked on a tune written by Peels and Manigeault called "Lovers Island" which in its sound was a throwback to an earlier time in the rock 'n roll years. In September of 1961 there was still an audience for the sound of the R & B vocal groups as shown by Milestone #2008. Though it was not as big seller as the records by either The Jive Five or The Dreamlovers (getting only as high as number thirty on the national charts) it served as the true farewell for the doo wop era which was a time in the history of American music that spanned thirteen years and gave us countless hours of enjoyment and memories.
So those three recordings from the summer of 1961 present the final go round for the place in history by the vocal group style that has come to be noted as the doo wop era. It was a tuneful and well represented grand finale.

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