Sunday, June 23, 2013

Abe Santiago - The Problem With Doo Wopp


Since the early 1960s the doo-wop sound has remained a regional white ethnic genre within a subculture. Non-blacks have taken the rhythm and blues vocal group sound and have made it their own. Almost all oldies shows that features groups of the 1950s has a majority of white fans. Very few African-Americans are represented in the audience. Why then, the attraction of the rhythm and blues group sound from whites? What is it among non-blacks that draw them to this style of music?

Perhaps the most obvious, is that many people were raised with the group sound as they were growing up and developing. The majority of people who appreciate this vocal style of music live in and around the corridor that stretches from Boston to Pittsburgh-Philadelphia area, commonly called the acappella corridor. On a national level, it still has not captured the heart and minds of most people. It has remained a basically self-contained musical expression, within a small body of vocal group aficionados. In other words it has remained a regional subculture musical, and cottage industry. The reality is, when people think of doo-wop as a musical art form they think of the east coast.

In the early 1960s young African Americans for the most part, felt that the rhythm and blues 50’s style group sound was not relevant. Many began to look to the new sound that was coming from Detroit and abandoned in part for something new and better. Non –blacks picked up on their rejection of the group sound and made it their own. The white and ethnic communities saw something that blacks did not see, something worth preserving. Thus, the baton was passed to those urban street corner singers, and there began the beginning of the commercial acappella street corner sound of the 1960s, the development of radio oldies programming and the start of the reissuing of old vocal group recordings.

What does the future hold for the doo-wop style of music? It appears that it will basically remain a regional sound if it continues on the path that it is going. It will continue on this path, unless there is a paradigm shift within the vocal group community. It will not attain the status that country music has from being a regional sound to a broad inclusive sound if it continues in this path.  If doo-wop is going survive, it must remove, and unshackle itself from the regional centric mentality. It must show the public that vocal group harmony style of music is meaningful, up lifting and worthy to go beyond its regional border.

Fifty years ago one would never hear “Country Music” on the airwaves in New York City, Chicago, or San Francisco. Today it has become mainstream in almost every radio station in the nation. I find it hard to believe that there are people out there who love “country music” more then we love “doo-wop”. Again I ask myself, why is it that doo-wop has not made an impact like country music? I do not know the answer, but I am going to at least try to give a reason why it has not. Perhaps, the real reason has to do with leadership. Those who are involved in the vocal group scene tend to look at doo –wop as their own. The leaders, who promote, encourage and support the old groups of the past, tend to be “regional-centric”. Instead of being all encompassing, it tends to be the opposite.

I am not saying that it is wrong, I just think that the leaders have played a major role in keeping it the way it is, regional and white-centric. Let me illustrate what I am trying to say, the roots of jazz is black and regional yet it is mainstream. A person can hear jazz music in a small community in the state of Utah, but not doo-wop. Jazz is both regional and mainstream, doo-wop is basically regional.
I personally believe the leadership within the doo-wop scene has failed to capture and communicate the group sound to the mass general public. In other words, our so-called leaders lack the vision to see the big picture of a music that is so rich and vibrant. If the leaders within the jazz or country music arena can do it, why can’t we? The present leaders who promote doo –wop shows have done a marvelous job of bringing back the old groups and supporting them. I applaud and support them completely.

I think we, as families of the vocal group scene need to refocus our energies on seeing the big picture. What will become of the vocal group harmony landscape twenty years from now? Will it still retain the character of being a white-ethnic regional musical genre? I suggest, that we as members of the doo-wop vocal group community make it an effort to go nation wide in promoting the group sound. This can only be done in part, if we include our African –American brothers. They are the key to making doo-wop mainstream. Only then will doo-wop survive as a musical genre.

One way in doing this is forming partnerships with black radio stations, forming alliances with black owned business, colleges and organizations. Another way is educating the black community about their past. I say black, because most group aficionados have far more knowledge about groups then African Americans. The new generation of blacks knows almost nothing of their vocal group heritage. African –Americans would be thrilled to see non-blacks take an interest in their culture and heritage. It would brake down a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding that both groups might have toward each other. Foremost, it will bring healing and reconciliation. What better way then through music.

We have a long way to go to make the group R&B group sound mainstream. We can do it, if we convey to our leaders exactly what we would like to see our music twenty years from now. In order to do that we need our African –American brothers to help us, after all, it’s their music that we love.

Abe Santiago


  1. ". I find it hard to believe that there are people out there who love “country music” more then we love “doo-wop”."

    You're a sick man, Abe. It's not about how much people love the music. It's about the fact that most people cannot identify with doo wop music, while people from almost half of the USA and some other countries identify with country music. Although I have no interest in lyrics, most people do, and the lyrical content of soo wop music is almost non-existent, while the lyrics of country songs are exceedingly important to why it is popular. People identify with country songs that are about everyuday life, love, cheating drinking, etc...more than identify with "dip-dip-dip-dip, sha, la, la, bom, boom, doo wop doo wop. And I like R&B vocal group harmony much more than I like country music.

    I have essentially NO INTEREST AT ALL in white doo wop groups that started after the 60s. They're almost all shit.

    Bruce Grossberg

  2. Abe you are not going to force R and B or Doo Wop on the African American population. I've gone to many Doo Wop concerts including manyTJ Lubinskys shows and I could count on my fingers the African Americans present. Why is that? Because they do not care about this music,they would rather listen to the Rap and Hip Hop shit. You are not going to change that. The Time has come and gone for this music. So you had better enjoy it while you can cause once they are gone it will never come back. Thanks, Bob

  3. Two points here , as to the previous comment it is obvious that the general age of people going to doo wop shows are not the same age as rap or hip hop audiences so where this notion comes from escapes me.The second point is it would be nice if we could involve interest in younger people and although boy bands like Boys to Men did harmony it was not fashioned on street corners in a culture long gone and so has a distinctly different character to it .I would like to see vocal group doing new material, perhaps writing an original song or doing a lesser known B side to a record instead of every group trotting the the same 15 ,50 year old songs we have all heard.The problem with doo wop also is it became an imitative art not a innovative one , it was a compliment for a group to be told ,wow you guys sounded just like the record, well if all these groups were trying to sound just like the record on the same 15 or so ,50 year old songs then how can they find their own sound and make vocal group harmony more varied and interesting? No answers here, just some thoughts of a former group member.
    Eddie Black, The Five Sharks

    1. I agree with Eddie Black. Also, Payola was responsible for the fact that so few songs, and groups were promoted 50 years ago. The labels only wanted to pay out so much money to promote their music. They concentrated only on a few groups in order to get the most bang for their buck. The disc jockeys, stations, and labels made all the money. The groups who were lucky and happy to cut a record and get airplay never made any money. If a group made money for the label they got to make a second cut which often flopped because the material often tried to duplicate the first hit. Producing so many one hit wonders and depriving other groups from getting to even cut a record. As singers we all never expected to get played but would have been really happy just to " cut a record". I sang with, The Five Dates. We had a tremendous repertoire but it was all someone else's music. No regrets, it was like dope to be on stage. Uncle Sam and Payola aside.

  4. Dialect lecturers could and will make use of tunes included in their particular school room training repertoire. Music contain authentic dialect, can be offered, offer words, grammar as well as Almost any doo-wop song ethnical features and therefore are fun with the pupils [Read More]

  5. Another great Staten Island Group. Same lead singer as the Splendids. The Five Dates. This is a photo of us on stage.

  6. It also must be remembered that most of these groups all trot out the same 15 or so classic doo wop songs and doing them as close as they can get to the original sound.The problem of course is the original that all the groups are trying to sound like is over 50 years ago So their only singing oldies.Not to many doo wop songs being written are there? So the heart of this music has been co opted by nostalgia and imitation instead of innovation, 7o year old men onstage singing of teen age love will get you only so far in the real world.And so doo wop stays a nostalgia ,oldies medium.