Doo-Wop was the term applied to the singing style of American R&B vocal groups of the fifties, originating from the fact that the harmony support to lead vocals was often derived from simple phrases like "doo wop". Such groups, generally four or five strong, usually consisted of a tenor or baritone lead singer supported by a second tenor, baritone and bass voices and were thus, basically, musically self- supporting. In fact, many recorded initially with minimal instrumental accompaniment. partly to avoid detracting from intricate vocal harmonies and partly for economics.
The style is also known as "street-corner music", since some groups actually rehearsed on the street corners of their neighbourhood, singing "acappella" (without instruments literally "as in chapel"), though often preferring the acoustic qualities of subways or hallways.
Doo-wop music had its roots in the late Thirties when the Inkspots climbed to world fame featuring Bill Kenny‘s high tenor lead and Hoppy Jones’ bass voice, while the "jubilee" (multi-voice harmony lead) and "quartet" (solo lead with harmony support) styles of gospel groups were the inspiration behind the immediate postwar "race" market success of earliest doo-wop performers the Orioles (Natural Records), led by the cool and clear tenor of Sonny Til, and the Ravens (National) featuring Jimmy Ricks’ bass lead.
Coincidentally, these names were precursors of a vast number of "bird" groups to record during the Fifties, Larks, Crows, Penguins, Flamingos, etc. The Orioles were also the first group to gain "mass-market" acceptance when "Crying In The Chape" became a national pop hit in 1953. The song’s pop success was due to the relative sophistication of the Orioles’ delivery which, in contrast to that of the earthier R&B hits of the time, did not immediately give away their colour.
The following year 1954, was perhaps the turning-point for acceptance of doo-wop (and R&B in general) with the Crows’ "Gee". The Chords’ "Sh-Boom" and the Penguins’ "Earth Angel" selling in huge quantities "across the board", paving the way for the subsequent success and popularity of the Platters, Coasters, Drifters, Moonglows etc. during the rock’n’roll heyday of the mid- and late Fifties. This, in turn, inspired the literally hundreds of similar groups in doo-wop hotbeds like New York and Philadelphia in the East, and Los Angeles in the West, many of which had national hits.
The essence of doo-wop was simplicity, and passing years saw arrangers become more ambitious until vocal harmonies became engulfed by the string and brass sections of studio orchestras. The last vestiges of the style are evident circa 1962, leading into the era of soul vocal groups where the Bluenotes, Four Tops, Isley Brothers, etc. now perpetuate the lead / harmony format over the sophistication of complex orchestral arrangements.