TEEN AMBASSADOR: ZANE COX| APRIL 15, 2017
Street performers are a common sight nowadays – it’s a fast and effective way to promote yourself and your talents if you possess an appealing skill. Back in the 1940s, groups of friends entertained those who would listen by singing on street corners – and thus began the dawn of the musical genre known as Doo-Wop, a style that served as a precursor to the Rock N’ Roll craze that followed soon after. This type of music is known for its crooning vocals and barbershop quartet-like melodies, giving it a feel similar to R&B. After gaining popularity in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, this genre was all but forgotten when the British Invasion drowned out nearly every other kind of music for a period of time. Nowadays, the magic of Doo-Wop comes to the Zeiterion nearly every year for a show organized by pharmacist and Doo-Wop fan Todd Baptista. Every year’s lineup contains something new and exciting, and the show is attended by fans young and old – a sort of time machine that brings the golden age of Doo-Wop to the present day for just one night.
This was my first time at a Zeiterion Doo-Wop performance, though the show is a longtime favorite among Zeiterion regulars as this year’s is the 13th show so far. Though I only stayed until the show’s intermission, the two groups that I was able to see didn’t fail to impress me with the fact that their talent continues to shine through to this day, despite some performers being in their 70s and 80s. The first act, known as the Solitaires, were a group that gained popularity in the early days of Doo-Wop, starting their career in New York City in the mid-1950s. Their spark certainly has not gone out just yet, with the quartet performing hits such as “The Angels Sang” and “Walking Along”. The group was tied together by the infamous Milton Love, the lead singer of the band since 1955, and who clearly hasn’t lost his passion for Doo-Wop even though he will soon be celebrating his 80th birthday.
The second group before intermission was a band originally started by a group of high school students, who decided to name themselves after a popular hairstyle at the time – and thus The Marcels came into existence. After forming in the late 1950s in Pittsburgh, the group remained largely unnoticed until their first big hit – A take on the ‘30s ballad “Blue Moon”, recorded by the band in 1961. After releasing the song, it did so well on the charts that it ended up being a number one hit in both the United States and United Kingdom. In addition to performing this song at the Zeiterion, the five-piece ensemble performed some of their other songs that gained popularity in the early ‘60s. Providing the backing music for the singers throughout the show was keyboardist Jack Columbo and his Coast to Coast Band, who made sure that the sounds of the trombone, saxophone, and trumpet were present, and the brass notes of the instruments blended along with the vocals into an interesting yet soothing soundscape.
The Zeiterion’s Doo-Wop shows are a chance for an older crowd to feel young again for a night, to connect with their inner child, to remember the days when life was simple – but what about the younger audience who may not have grown up with Doo-Wop as their elders had? This a show that not only seeks to provide entertainment and a night of fun, it also aims to connect those who may not seem to have much in common – young and old, for instance. In addition to this, Doo-Wop also provides a window into an America that was largely different from the one we know today – an America where segregation and the war in Vietnam seemed to be all that was on anyone’s mind. In the midst of the chaos, the average citizen’s escape was the music of the times, whether it be listening to a jukebox at a restaurant or their record players at home. Doo-Wop is more than just a genre – it’s a retreat from the hustle and bustle of life. No matter what age, race, or gender you are, anyone can take a step back and fall into the vast safety net of sound and harmony that is Doo-Wop.
Todd Baptista’s Doo-Wop celebrations come to the Zeiterion every year, and I can’t see them stopping any time soon. It was surprising to me when I thought about how closed-minded I’d always been about this show – it was a genre I didn’t think I would enjoy that much, and this didn’t turn out to be true in the slightest. I’d very much like to attend another show, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting next year’s performance.