THE MUSICAL ROOTS OF DOO WOP
How did Doo Wop develop as a musical genre?
From the beginning, Doo Wop music had what today might be called a DIY or “Do It Yourself” character: it could be performed nearly anywhere — without the need for expensive equipment or special technology — at almost any time by anyone with some singing ability. Years before gaming consoles and cable TV, harmonizing on the street corner or front stoop was an enjoyable way to pass the time, particularly for residents of poorer neighborhoods for whom other forms of entertainment may have been prohibitively expensive. Musical instruments, after all, cost money. Singers replaced backing bands with their voices, supplying full harmonies and even mimicking the sounds of instruments. When Doo Wop emerged as a musical phenomenon in the 1950s, this kind of group singing became part of American popular culture on a bigger scale. Amateur or semi-professional groups were taken off the streets in neighborhoods like Harlem in New York City and put into recording studios. White groups began imitating black groups, and the sounds of Doo Wop were everywhere by the middle of the decade.
Doo Wop’s musical and social roots point to a long history of vocal harmony in American culture, particularly in African-American communities. Social singing provided entertainment in barbershops, bars, schools, churches, theaters, and other communal spaces. Some of the musical precedents students will consider in this lesson include the barbershop quartets that flourished from the 1890s through World War I; the Pop vocal groups such as the Mills Brothers that topped the charts in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s; and the Gospel singers who made harmonizing a spiritual practice throughout the early twentieth century.
Video pages: The Mills Brothers - Paper Doll (1942) | The Flamingos - Would I Be Crying (1956) | Columbia Quartet and Polk Miller's Old South Quartette - Barbershop Quartets (1910) | Golden Gate Quartet - God Told Nicodemus (1941) | Golden Gate Quartet - Golden Gate Gospel Train (1937) | The Mills Brothers - I Ain't Got Nobody (1932)
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
Imagine you are a singer in 1955, and that you and your friends are putting together a group to perform Doo Wop music — but you only have three people, and you need one more! Write an ad for your school newspaper to recruit a new group member. Briefly explain what kind of music you will be singing and what your musical influences are. Be sure to say where you will be practicing and what your new group member will be expected to do.
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12
Core Music Standard: Responding
Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.