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Doo-Wop in D.C.: From the Street Corner to the Stage

Exhibit Dates: June 1 - July 23, 2023
Exhibit Location: MLK Library, Floor 1, Great Hall, East

 

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Doo Wop in DC graphic logo

In a powerful tribute to the original pioneers of early Rhythm and Blues of the late 1940s through the early 1960s, The African American Music Association in partnership with the Atlanta Doo-Wop Association presents Doo-Wop in D.C.: From the Street Corner to the Stage. The exhibit features photographs and memorabilia from Doo-Wop music vocal groups, solo artists, and gospel harmony groups whose harmonies ushered in the sounds of early Rhythm and Blues during the late 1940s into the early 1960s, in celebration of the many Doo-Wop groups out of Washington, DC whose footprints are part of the architecture of Doo-Wop music. 

The exhibit is curated by the African American Music Association, and was selected through the MLK Library's first Open Call for Exhibit Proposals in fall 2022. Learn more about the next Open Call in Fall 2023 on the Public Art & Exhibits page, under "Apply." In celebration of Black Music Month, a companion exhibit, The Nation's Capital Doo-Wop, will be on view at Harmony Hall, Fort Washington, MD, during the month of June.

 

 

What is Doo-Wop?

Vocal group harmony music, or “Doo Wop,” is rooted in various forms of American music dating back to the 19th century. African American field hands and slaves sang spiritual, work, and camp songs before the nation’s Civil War, giving life to what developed into traditional gospel and blues music.

Early blues, jazz, gospel, and rhythm combo acts including the Cats and the Fiddle, the Golden Gate Quartet, and the Delta Rhythm Boys, were equally influential in the years dominated by the Swing Era orchestras. Together, they gave rise to the first wave of African American vocal harmony units in the mid to late 1940s. The Ravens, formed in New York City, and Baltimore’s Orioles, influenced teenagers nationwide into forming their own groups. From New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, literally thousands of acts sprung up in the years that followed.

The early 1950s produced dozens of influential and highly revered African American groups including the Virginia-based Five Keys, Chicago’s Flamingos and Moonglows, Washington, D.C.’s Clovers, and New York City’s Drifters and Harptones.  

The term “doo wop,” which came into prominence long after the genre’s heyday, is derived from the often nonsense syllables sung by the background harmony voices behind the lead singer, primarily to make up for lack of instrumentation, and to keep a steady rhythm flowing. The style essentially features four or five voices singing individual notes ranging from high tenor to deep, resonant bass.  

Filled with reverence and appreciation, today’s historians are dedicated to preserving the sights, sounds, and legacies of the pioneering artists of vocal group harmony “doo wop” music.

Todd Baptista
Beverly Lindsay-Johnson

 

About the AAMC

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African American Music Association Logo

The African American Music Association, Inc. (AAMA), a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) entity, was established in 1992 to preserve, protect, promote, and foster the continued development of African American music and the legacy of those who compose, record, and perform the music. The AAMA is organized exclusively for charitable, cultural, and educational purposes. Previous and ongoing activities include the Marvin Gaye Day Celebration in the District of Columbia, a youth music entrepreneurship program, a scholarship fund, and music-related workshops and networking events. The AAMA strives to offer programs that promote a better quality of life for persons pursuing performing arts as a career. The “total well-being” of the artist, through human and personal development, is paramount.

Related Events

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Sounds of Harmony Doo Wop performers

Black Music Month Exhibit Opening Reception

Wednesday, June 7, 5:30-7:30 pm
View event details and register

The MLK Library is excited to host a reception featuring ​Sounds of Harmony featuring Ron "Poozie" Miles of The Rainbows and The DC Legendary Musicians for our Black Music Month Exhibit Opening.

Produced in coordination with the opening of the DC Public Library Special Exhibitions for summer 2024, this event kicks off Black Music Month with performances and exhibits of local artists in celebration of D.C.’s musical heritage, with a spotlight on Doo Wop, Rhythm and Blues, and soul. The event celebrates two music-themed exhibits in the Great Hall: Doo Wop in D.C.: From the Street Corner to the Stage, curated by the African American Music Association, and Checkin’ Out Mingering Mike: Washington D.C.’s Imaginary Soul Superstar, curated by Hemphill Artworks and featuring hand-drawn album covers and lyrics born in the imagination of a self-taught teenaged daydreamer in Southeast D.C., whose artwork is now held at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

The event will open with an acapella performance of 3 classic Doo Wop songs by Sounds of Harmony featuring Ron "Poozie" Miles of The Rainbows, introduced by the African American Music Association, followed by an R&B performance curated by the founder of DC Legendary Musicians, Sandra Butler Truesdale.

This opening reception is made possible in part with support from the DC Public Library Foundation.


 

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Doo-Wop in DC event graphic

Doo -Wop in D.C.: From the Street Corner to the Stage
A discussion and dance showcase on the history of Doo-Wop

Sunday, July 9, 2023, 1:00-4:00 p.m. | MLK Library Auditorium
View event details

The African American Music Association in association with The Atlanta Doo-Wop Association present "Doo-Wop In DC: From The Street Corner to the Stage". 

Focused on the history of Doo-Wop music in Washington, DC the program will  consist of a panel discussion with legends Sidney Barnes (The Embracers, Rotary Connection), Ronald "Poozie" Miles ("The Rainbows"), and Zelda Irby (The Dorells).

A DC Hand Dance showcase by The National Hand Dance Association, and a live Doo-Wop performance by The Sounds of Harmony with Special Guest Ron "Poozie" Miles of The Rainbows. 

Discussion Moderator: Mark Puryear
Emcee: Beverly Lindsay-Johnson

 


 

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View of blue gallery walls with Doo-Wop stage outfits and memorabila

Curator's Tour: Doo-Wop in D.C.

Tuesday, July 11, Noon | MLK Library Great Hall
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Did you know that, during the 'boom years' of the 1940s and 1950s, there were many pop vocal group emerging from Washington’s segregated high schools? The late Lawrence Berry, a vocal group coach, promoter, and mentor, once noted that there were hundreds of groups singing in Washington by the late 1950s. From D.C.'s early vocal group tradition starting in the 1800s, through the 'boom years' of the 1940s and 1950s and beyond, come learn more about the evolution of Doo-Wop Music, and view memorabila from iconic and beloved doo-wop groups across the decades. The Cap-Tans, The Clovers, the Rainbows, and The Velons are just a few of the well-known examples from the District who entertained generations of fans.

Beverly Lindsay-Johnson, curator and Executive Director of the African American Music Association, will walk visitors through the summer exhibit Doo-Wop in D.C.: from the Street Corner to the Stage, on view in the MLK Library's Great Hall through July 23. Please join us to learn about the history of this important musical form, and visit the exhibit website to learn more. The tour meets near the exhibit (MLK Library, Great Hall, East) at noon. Registration is suggested.