Doo Wop, a name that not all of the music’s devotees embrace, was music made by vocal groups. In the age of early Rock and Roll, the vocal groups connected with Doo Wop were turning out some of Rock and Roll’s most enduring and successful music. In cities like New York, Baltimore, and Los Angeles, Doo Wop was often practiced on the street. As with many among Rock and Roll’s most influential styles, Doo Wop, like Hip Hop so many years later, didn’t require classical training, knowledge of instruments, excessive equipment, or a rehearsal hall. Singers improvised in imitation of the instruments they didn’t have, managing to create a “group” sound with none of the trappings and all of the energy.
The roots of Doo Wop are multiple, but perhaps the most conspicuous trail leads back to the Mills Brothers. The Mills Brothers penetrated the mainstream as no African-American act before them, with songs like “Paper Doll” of 1943 providing them with massive popular hits. Early on in their career, the Mills Brothers started using their voices to imitate instruments, an approach that would become central in the Doo Wop style. But perhaps more than anything, the Mills Brothers can be credited with cultivating the audience’s love of the vocal group sound.
Lessons that will come in the second phase of the RRAS project will focus on groups like the Flamingos, the Orioles, the Crows, and the Penguins — the so-called “Bird Groups” — and on the cities from which those groups came. One of America’s great street sounds, Doo Wop is a genre that makes clear the democratic spirit of Rock and Roll culture.