Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cleve Duncan

The Penguins, (top to bottom) Bruce Tate,
Dexter Tisby, Cleve Duncan, Curtis Williams
I've just discovered the sad news that Cleve Duncan passed away earlier this month at the age of either 77 or 78. Mr. Duncan was unknown to me, but his voice wasn't. He was a member of the doo-wop group the Penguins, and sang lead on their only hit, "Earth Angel". His voice soared.

"Earth Angel" was a huge hit in 1955. It was recorded in a garage as the "B" side to "Hey, Senorita" . Then a DJ started playing the flip side. It moved up the charts until Billboard listed it for three weeks as #1 on the r&b chart, and simultaneously at #8 on the pop chart - a rare feat.

It is regarded as the first #1 rock and roll song in America.

In those days, many groups would perform and or record their own versions of hit songs. The Canadian group the Crew-Cuts released a popular version that went to #3 on the pop charts, and started them on a career of doing r&b covers. But I grew up near Philadelphia, then a hot bed of music and early TV. Philly radio stations gave preference to the Penguins. It was still popular when I was a teenager in the 1960's. I can remember slow dancing to it at the monthly teen dances in the old American Legion hall before that venue was condemned as unsafe. And it was still on the jukeboxes in area diners. As a kid, I bought the 45rpm re-release on the Mercury label. The Penguins never had another hit; their manager spent more time on, and gave the better material to, his other clients, The Platters. In 1958, the Penguins disbanded. Mr. Duncan would later re-form the group with a succession of new members. The new group lasted another 40 years, and were still performing earlier this year. Of  "Earth Angel", Mr. Duncan said, “I never get tired of singing it, as long as people never get tired of hearing it.” I can't speak for anybody else, Mr. Duncan, but I sure won't.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Duncan, rest in Peace.


Anonymous said...

It may have been their only hit but it certainly stands the test of time.

sdt (a.k.a. stevil) said...

mbj/Delores - and at the time, it was considered a "teenager" song. Hah!