Doo-Wop & Vocal Groups

Who Put the Doo in the Doo Wah and da "Bomp" in the "Bomp-da-Bomp"?   

Pittsburgh put the Doo and Bomp in Doo Wop

Pittsburgh was one of the centers of Doo Wop and Vocal Group music in the 1950s and early 1960s. An entire industry of Pittsburgh based artists, record labels, DJs, radio stations, and teen dance venues produced and promoted classic Doo Wop and Pop hits that are mainstays of the Doo Wop / Vocal Group revival shows and collectibles releases.

Origins - From Doo-Dah to Doo Wah

Doo Wop music gets its name from the non-sense phrase “Doo Wop” that is sung in the early recordings of this genre. Doo Wop singers belted out more non-sense phases like bomp-da-bomp, dit-dit-dit, bing bong bing, yow-yi-yow, yip-yip-yip, and dinga-dang-ding. Where did this craziness with nonsensical lyrics start?

It all started in Pittsburgh back in 1850 when Stephen Foster penned the lyrics to his pop song Camptown Races. He used the phrase “Doo-Dah" to fill out the verses of his Camptown Ladies.

The Camptown ladies sing this song

Doo-dah! Doo-dah!

The Camptown racetrack’s five miles long

Oh! Doo-dah day!

One hundred years later Foster’s phrase Doo Dah morphed into “Doo Wah” according to music historians.

Over the years musicians followed in Foster’s footsteps continuing to fill in verses with sounds like doo and da. In 1930 the vocal group the Song Fellows sang the phrase “bow-wop bow-wop bow wop” to imitate the sound of big band horn section on a recording of Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing". The vocalists on Dizzy Gillespie's 1947 be-bop hit "Oop Boop Sh'Bam," sang “Sh-Boom," "Oop Shoop" and "Bip Bam." The Striders vocal group sang "doo-doo-da-doo-doo" on the hit "When You Come Back to Me" in 1951. Heard on the vocal chorus of Johnnie Ray’s number 1 hit in 1952 is the phase "ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooh wah".

Somewhere in the mist of a 1950s recording studio a lyricist decided to follow Foster’s hard “doo” with a soft “wah …”Doo Wah Doo Wah”. On two songs released in 1955 the magical phrase “Doo Wah” can be heard: The Turbans’s Top 40 hit When You Dance" and The Spaniels’s song titled “Do-Wah”. The name Doo Wop first appeared in print in 1961 and came into common usage in the 1970s with the oldies revival craze.

Who put the Bomp in the Bomp da Bomp?

The Pittsburgh group the Marcels put the bomp-da-bomp in their classic smash hit arrangement of the song "Blue Moon" in 1961.

Bom-ma-bom, a-bom-bom-a-bom, ba-ba-bom-bom-a-bomp
b-dang-a-dang-dang, b-ding-a-dong-ding.

Blue moon, blue moon, blue moon,


After hearing the Marcel's Blue Moon in 1961 Gerry Goffin wrote the song "Who Put the Bomp (In the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)" In that song he thanks the man who wrote the lyrics that made his girl fall in love with him.

Who put the bop

In the bop shoo bop shoo bop

Who put the dip

In the dip da dip da dip

Who was that man, I’d like to shake his hand

He made my baby fall in love with me [Yeah]

Doo Wop History

The Doo Wop style of music evolved from the harmonic vocal group music of the late 1940s performed by the Mills Brothers, The Impressions, The Platters, and most specifically the Ink Spots. The Ink Spots were the first to use bass and tenor voices to provide the underlying rhythm and harmony. They were followed by the Ravens in 1945. Influenced by those artists were teen age acapella groups of four to six members formed on street corners and in high school hallways in several cities. They sang early R&B and rock tunes. The voices of the baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano imitated the sound of a band singing the rhythms and instrumental parts as non-sense lyrics such as "Doo Wah" in four or five part harmony. The sopranos often sang in high pitched falsetto. 

Falsetto singing was originated in the 1940s by gospel singer Claude Jeter of the Swan Silvertones who were based in Pittsburgh and broadcast five days a week on Pittsburgh radio station WPGH-AM 1080. 

The first recordings in the Doo Wop style are credited to the Orioles’s in 1948 with “It’s To Soon To Know”, the Larks in 1951 with “My Reverie”, the Mello-Moods song “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night, the Five Keys with “Glory of Love”, The Cardinals “Shouldn’t I Know”, and “It Ain’t the Meat” by The Swallows. Doo-wop became mainstream dominating AM radio play lists by 1958. Doo Wop music was popular from the mid 1950’s to the early 1960s.

The top stars of the Doo Wop era included Dion and The Belmonts, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, The Cadillacs, the Chantels, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Duprees, The Flamingos, The Orioles, The Platters, The Shirelles, and from Pittsburgh The Del Vikings, The Marcels, and The Skyliners.

Many lists of the top all time Doo Wop songs rank the "Come Go With Me" by the Del Vikings at number 2 and "Blue Moon" by the Marcels in the top 10. The Skyliners "Since I Don't Have You"is ranked as the number 4 ballad. The Marcels "Whispering Bells" and the Skyliners' "This I Swear" are also included in the list of Top Doo Wop tunes.

The Del Vikings, The Skyliners, The Marcels, The Vogues, and the Letterman have been elected to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

Pittsburgh The Doo Wop City

Pittsburgh was one of the first cities to play Doo Wop Music and launched several of the biggest selling Doo Wop Groups. DJ's Porky Chedwick and Mary Dee began playing "R&B" records on AM station WHOD in 1948. They gave many early Doo Wop and R&B groups their first airplay anywhere. Pittsburgh was a breakout market for Doo Wop and R&B songs in the 1950s and early 1960s. Many songs that first became hits in Pittsburgh went on to become national hits. If you could sell a song in the large market of Pittsburgh, you could sell it anywhere. 

Several Pittsburgh radio DJ were among the first DJs in the country to air Doo-Wop music including Sir Walter (John Christian), Three-D Lee D (Lee Doris), Bill Powell at WILY, Jay Michael at WCAE and Kaye at WJAS/WAMP. The Pittsburgh DJs spun Doo Wop and R&B tunes at the many popular teen dances held throughout Western Pennsylvania at the Savoy Ball Room in the Hill, Danceland in Westview, The Bethal Park Rollever Rink, and the White Elephant in McKeesport.

Pittsburgh Doo Wop and Vocal Group Super Stars

The Pittsburgh area was the home of super star Doo Wop acts who broke their national hit records on Pittsburgh radio. They include The Skyliners, The Marcels, the Del-Vikings, The El Venos, The Four Coins, The Four Dots, The Tempos, and the Stereos.  Tommy Hunt who was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in Perrsyville in the Hill, was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honorees the Flamingos.

The first group to make it was the Del-Vikings with their No. 4 hit song "Come Go with Me," in February 1957. The Skyliner's "Since I Don't Have You" became a hit in 1959. The Tempos reached #23 with the classic song "See You in September" in 1959. The Marcels recorded one of the signature songs of the Doo-Wop era "Blue Moon" in 1961. Beginning with the phrases "bomp-baba-bomp" and "dip-da-dip" Blue Moon sold over one million copies, topping both the Pop and R&B charts, and was awarded a gold record. The Marcels also topped the charts with "Heartaches and "Melancholy Baby". The Stereos scored a national hit with the Doo Wop classic "I Really Love You" in 1961 that was later covered by George Harrison.

Other local Hometown Doo Wop and vocal groups were famous in Pittsburgh during the late 1950s and early 1960s. They had strong regional airplay and record sales and performed at the many sock hop dances in the Pittsburgh Area. The music of the Four Townsmen, The Holidays, the Laurels, the El Capris, the Five Playboys, Chuck Corby and others were heard on KDKA, WILY, WHOD, WCAE and other regional radio stations. Several of these groups have reformed and appeared at Doo Wop reunion shows such as the PBS/WQED TV special “The Sound of Pittsburgh" showcase. The music of many Pittsburgh Doo Wop groups, who were rediscovered during the 1990s Doo Wop revival, is featured on many popular Doo Wop compilation collections.

1960’s Pop Rock Vocal Acts

As Doo wop faded away in the early 1960’s pop rock vocal groups that sang tight four part harmonies thrived on the charts. Their music was more pop rock M.O.R (Middle of the Road) in style. They sang softer melodic teen love ballads. The stars of this genres where vocal groups like The Four Seasons, Jay & the Americans, the Association, the Righteous Brothers, the Happenings, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, and the Mamas & The Papas and Pittsburgh area groups the Vogues and the Letterman. The Top 40 play lists of 1960s AM Radio featured hit songs like Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, "I've Got You Under My Skin", Five O’clock World, Turn Around Look at Me, "Cherish," "Windy," "Never My Love," “See You in September” "Come a Little Bit Closer" "This Magic Moment," "Sealed With A Kiss", This Diamond Ring, “Young Girl”, and "Monday, Monday"

Solo singers also hit the charts with melodramatic pop rock ballads during the 1960s including Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison Del Dhannon, Dione, Bobby Vee, Frankie Valli, and Pittsburgh’s Lou Christie, and Bobby Vinton.

Pittsburgh Record Labels

The forces behind the success of Pittsburgh's Doo Wop group and vocal groups were three local record labels. 

Calico, Robbee and World Artists Records 

Lenny Martin and Lou Guarino teamed together to form the Calico, Robbee and World Artists Records labels. Together they produced and promoted the music of the Skyliners, Marcy Jo, the LaRells, the El Vinos, The Donnybrooks, The Palisades, The Holidays, The Empires, The Chapelaires, Lou Christie's Luigi and the Lions, and many more vocal groups.  Len Martin's arrangement for the  Skyliners "Since I Don't Have You" was a pioneering use of strings in rock music. Lennie and Lou also scored national hit singles with "Ronnie" from Marcy Jo and "Everytime We Kiss" from the Donnybrooks

Co & CE Records

In the early 1960's several vocal groups launched their careers from the Pittsburgh area including the Vogues, the Lettermen, and singer Lou Christie.  Producer/Promoter Nick Cenci is recognized for breaking Lou Christie, and the Vogues, and  on his Co & Ce record label.  Lou Christie used the Tammys as his back-up singers, helped them land a record contract, and co-wrote with Twyla Herbert, their classic girl group single "Egyptian Shumba".

Fee Bee Records

Fee Bee Records, located in Pittsburgh, Pa, came to prominence in 1956 with the Del Vikings.  Joe Averbach, owner of Fee Bee, recorded and promoted new Doo Wop and Rockabilly Rock artists from 1956 through the mid 1960s.  Fee Bee recorded the Doo Wop groups the Del Vikings, The El Capris, The Five Playboys, Chuck Corby and The Entrees, Frankie Joe and The Embers, and the Diadems. The rockabilly acts on the Fee Bee Roster included Rockabilly Hall of Fame member Buddy Sharp and his band The Shakers, Dave Day, and Willie Ward.

Gateway Recordings

Gateway Recordings located above the main National Record Mart store in downtown Pittsburgh released records from several 1960s era vocalists and group. the Thirteen year old singer Marie La Donna's first release on Gateway was her 1963 single "Bobby Baby".  The Chapelaires released their Gateway single "Vacation Time" in 1964. The Chapelaires backed up teen singer Marie La Donna on the A side of her 1964 Gateway single "How Can I Let Him Know"/ "Georgie Porgie". Janet Lee who left the Skyliners in 1961 went solo changing her name to Janet Deane.  She recorded and released her first single "Another Night Alone/I'm Glad I Waited" on Gateway Records.  Among the 1960s era vocal groups who recorded at Gateway studios were the Capitols and the Cresendos from McKeesport,   The Classman released the Gateway single "Silver Medal/True Love" also in 1963. R&B singer Norman Charles released to singles on Gateway in 1963: Over And Gone / Try and Give Me Your Hand/We Shall Overcome.

The Kripp Johnson led Del-Vikings recorded and released the single "We Three" / "I've Got To Know" on the Gateway Recordings label in 1964.