THE PROBLEM WITH DOO-WOPSince 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.