Jewish contribution to Doo-Wop
What made the Jewish contribution unique in the sound development of 1950s vocal groups and rock and roll in general, was the ability to extract and internalize the African American experience and make their music mainstream. The Jewish contribution to doo-wop is mainly in the area of songwriting and the business of corporate music in general. Unlike their musical counterparts, Italians and Puerto Ricans, who were mainly singers; The Jewish contribution took on the complex ethnic-racial mix of fusing a new sound.
The fundamental Jewish contribution to the image of the rhythm and blues vocal group lies in the production, songwriting and development of the vocal harmony group scene. Cahill writes: “Without the Jews, we would see the world with different eyes, we would hear with different ears, we would even feel with different feelings” 1.
The admiration and promotion of black talent is underrated. Pruter writes: “Vocal harmony groups have always constituted one of the richest traditions in black music, an art form as deeply ingrained as jazz, blues or gospel.” two
However, when one superficially looks at record labels during the early and early development of rock and roll, particularly the panorama of vocal group harmony, it can be seen that most of the acts, record labels, and songs written during that period of time (1945-1965) had a Jewish connection.
The most recognizable groups and labels came from the three major epic centers that produced the vocal group’s street corner sound: New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. It was in these cities that the new art form made itself known and finally emerged into the onomatopoeic term we use today, doo-wop. Although the term doo-wop emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the term used here in this essay defines the R&B vocal group harmony style. Jewish entrepreneurs showcasing black talent and promoting the new sound founded many major record labels during the heyday of the era of vocal groups in the 1950s.
The doo-wop sound generally invoked a traditional cultural worldview that became the hallmark of black culture at the time. The songs voiced by black groups reflected the cultural innocence and coming of age that drew youth from urban communities. The lyrics and style of musical harmony appealed to the sentiments of urban whites, slightly middle class, while at the same time keeping their music within the perimeter of the black community.
A considerable number of Jewish entrepreneurs had a massive impact on the development of the sound of the rhythm and blues vocal group and rhythm and blues in general. Jewish entrepreneurs impacted the nascent sound of the vocal groups of the 1950s in a dynamic way. One such person is Herman Lubinsky, (Savoy Records) grandfather of TJ Lubinsky, famous PBS doo-wop host. Lubinsky produced and recorded Little Anthony and the Imperials, Debutantes, Carnations, Jive Bombers, Falcons and the Robins. Lubinsky on his way into the music business paved the way for unrecorded and unrecorded groups to seek musical stardom through the new sound emerging from street corners.
The Branun family’s owners of Deluxe Records had a host of solid talents at their disposal. Some of his best acts included: Federals, Otis Williams and the Charms, Serenades and the Quails with Bill Robinson. All of these acts were funneled to venues like the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Olympia Arena in Detroit, and Alan Freed shows.
The Jerry Leiber and Mike Stroller team, the Leiber and Stroller team achieved a multitude of hits for a host of artists. As a team, they were able to overcome the barriers of racism in the music industry and bring black talent to the forefront with their musical compositions.
Alan Freed, the king of DJs, who broke the color barrier by introducing black vocal groups to audiences on radio, film and television, set the stage for future DJs. His influence and introduction to rock and roll and vocal groups in particular, provided a cultural climate in which young white people could hear and experience the evolution of the new modus operandi that was beginning to shape the musical culture of young people.
Chess Records, Chicago’s premier record company, founded by Leonard and Phil Chess, became the quintessential record label of the 1950s producing not only bands like Flamingos and Moonglows, but also prominent artists like Bo Diddley, Aretha Franklin, and Chuck Berry.
Eventually record producer and songwriter Phil Spector developed the concept of “Wall Of Sound”, which still stands today as a monument to pop music. All of these individuals contributed to the R&B sound and the harmony of the vocal group in general. In the end, the Jewish contribution to rock and roll and the doo-wop sound is an act of love. Without your contribution, we would be like a ship at sea without a rudder.
1. The gifts of the Jews: how a tribe of desert nomads changed the way everyone thinks and feels
Thomas Cahill, Nam A. Talese- Doubleday- Page 3
2. Doo Wop The Chicago Scene
Robert Pruter, University of Illinois Press -Pg. xxi
© 2007 All rights reserved
Abraham J. Santiago is the co-author with Steven J. Dunham of the popular book: Acappella Street Corner Vocal Groups: A Brief History And Discography Of 1960s Singing Groups.