Obit of the Day: Lead Singer on “Earth Angel”
“Earth Angel,” one of the first R&B songs in history to cross over to become a pop hit, was the “B” side of The Penguins first record. The group thought their first hit would be “Hey Senorita” but DJs quickly found that their listeners preferred the “Doo Wop” style song on the reverse.
By early 1955, “Earth Angel” reached number 1 on the R&B charts. It would reach number 8 on the pop charts the same year. (In a bitter irony, the song reached #3 when recorded by The Crew Cuts, a white group. At the time, to make “black” songs more palatable, white groups would re-record them for white audience. Why yes it is morally repugnant.)
The Penguins formed in Los Angeles in 1953. The original group was made up of Cleveland “Cleve” Duncan (tenor), Curtis Williams (bass-baritone), Dexter Tisby (tenor), and Bruce Tate (baritone). The took their name from the cartoon mascot of KOOL menthol cigarettes, “Willie the Penguin.”
“Earth Angel” was the group’s only hit but Duncan would continue to perform with assorted singers still calling the group, “The Penguins,” although 3/4 of the original group had retired, or passed away.
Cleveland Duncan was 77 years old. Dexter Tisby is the only living member of The Penguins.
Random note: Rolling Stone magazine ranked “Earth Angel” as the 152nd greatest song of all time in its list of 500 best rock n roll songs ever.
Random note, II: “Earth Angel” was the song playing in Back to the Future when Marty McFly started to disappear while playing guitar.
Sources: vintagevinylrecords.com and Wikipedia.org
(“Earth Angel” and The Best of the Penguins is copyright 2010 of Roslin Records)