Earth Angel The Penguins
Shall I call the commissioner that there evil doers on the rampage ??? No, my mistake; It’s The Heavenly Earth Angel The Penguins.
The Penguins were an American doo-wop group of the 1950s and the early 1960s, best remembered for their only Top 40 hit, “Earth Angel“, which was among the first rhythm and blues hits to cross over to the pop charts. The song peaked at # 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, yet had a three-week run at # 1 on the R&B chart, later on was used in the Back to the Future movies. The group‘s tenor was Cleveland Duncan.
Los Angeles, California, USA
Doo wop, rhythm and blues
Dootone, Mercury, Atlantic
The original members of The Penguins were Cleveland Duncan (July 23, 1935 —November 7, 2012), Curtis Williams (December 11, 1934 — August 10, 1979), Dexter Tisby (March 10,1935 – May 2019)and Bruce Tate (January 27, 1937 — June 20, 1973). Duncan as well as Williams were former classmates at Fremont HighSchool in Los Angeles, California, and also Williams had actuallyended up being a member of The Hollywood Flames. In late 1953, they decided to form a brand-new singing group, and included Tisby as well as Tate. Their mid tempo performance style was a cross between rhythm and also blues and rock and roll. Williams brought with him a song, “Earth Angel“, on which he had collaborated with Gaynel Hodge, another member of the Hollywood Flames.
The Penguins were one of a number of doo-wop groups of the period named after birds (such as The Orioles, The Flamingos, and The Crows). One of the members smoked Kool cigarettes, which, at the time, had “Willie the Penguin“ as its cartoon advertising character. They considered themselves “cool“, as well as accordingly chose to call themselves “The Penguins“.
Dootone Records released The Penguins‘ single“ Hey Senorita“ in late 1954 as the intended A-side, however a radio DJ flipped the record over to the B-side: “Earth Angel“ worked its way up to # 1 on the Billboard R&B chart (the only Penguins song to chart that high), and also held that place for three weeks early in 1955. By 1966 the disc had actually sold four million copies. The Penguins followed up this hit with a Christmas release “A Christmas prayer“ with “Jingle jangle.“
The Penguins performed for the eleventh famed Cavalcade of Jazz concert held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles which was produced by Leon Hefflin, Sr. on July 24, 1955. Likewise featured Big Jay McNeely, Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, The Medallions and James Moody and his Orchestra.
Duncan sang lead on “Earth Angel“. He reprised his performance a decade later on Frank Zappa‘s “Memories of El Monte“, an elegiac 1963 song in which he unexpectedly breaks into “Earth Angel“ as one of the various songs remembered. El Monte, a city near Los Angeles, had generated such popular performers as Tony Allan, Marvin & Johnny, The Shields, along with the Penguins. Those groups were likewiseimitated as part of Zappa‘s tribute to early days of rock and roll.
In a usual method of the time, radio stations frequently included segregated playlists. Therefore, “Earth Angel“ wasconcurrently recorded by the white group, The Crew-Cuts in 1955. The Crew-Cuts cover peaked at # 3 on the Hot 100 chart, five spots higher than the Penguins version. The single‘s success contributed to the Crew-Cuts‘ own successful career of recording crossover-friendly covers of R&B hits.
The songwriting genesis for “Earth Angel“ was a matter of some disagreement, at some point winding up in a split credit between Penguins baritone Curtis Williams, Gaynel Hodge, and Jesse Belvin. The song had actuallydeveloped through numerous Los Angeles area groups, as well as was based upon the “Blue Moon“ chord changes that were so popular withseveral doo-wop groups. The song was influenced by Jesse and Marvin‘s # 2 R&B hit “Dream Girl“, which includeda number of the samesinging inflections used to great effect in “Earth Angel“. The “Will you be mine?“ hook in “Earth Angel“, which was also the song‘s subtitle, was borrowed from the # 9 R&B hit of thevery same name by The Swallows. The Hollywood Flames had likewise recorded “I Know“ in 1953, a song which has actually been called a chord-for-chord blueprint for “Earth Angel“, and also which included the very same Curtis Williams piano intro that Williams himself reused on the Penguins hit. The coda of “Earth Angel“, with the repeatedly harmonized word “You-oo … you-oo … you-oo … you-oo“, had actually been heard in the Dominoes‘ # 5 R&B cover of “These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You“.
After “Earth Angel“
Coming off the success of “Earth Angel“, the Penguins approached Buck Ram to manage them. Ram‘s main interest was in managing The Platters, who at that point had no hit singles, however were a successful touring group. With the Penguins in hand, Ram had the ability to swing a 2-for-1 deal with Mercury Records, in which the company agreed to handle the Platters as a condition for getting the Penguins (the group that Mercury actually wanted). The Platters ended up being the label‘s more successful act, the Penguins never scoring another hit single.
In 1955, Bruce Tate left the group. He was replaced by Randy Jones (that would later sing with the Cadets). Throughout the summer of 1956, Jones and Tisby were briefly out of the group, as well as were replaced by Ray Brewster and also Teddy Harper, respectively. Jones and Tisby returned soon afterwards. Curtis Williams left in December 1957, with Harper rejoining as his permanent replacement. The Penguins never had another nationwide hit, however their 1957 cover of “Pledge of Love“ reached # 15 on the R&B chart.
The group broke up in 1962. Cleveland Duncan continued recording as “The Penguins“, with new member Walter Saulsberry and also a backing group, the Viceroys. Later on, the group was Duncan, Saulsberry, Vesta and Evelyn King, as well as Vera Walker. (Duncan and also the King sisters had actually recorded a record as “Cleve Duncan and the Radiants“ in 1959.) By the late 1960s, the group was being billed as the“Fabulous Penguins“, and included Duncan, Walker, as well as new member Rudy Wilson. By the 1970s, the members were Duncan, the returning Walter Saulsberry, and also new member Glenn Madison, previously of the Delcos (Indiana). This was the current line up of the group until 2012.
The group performed on the PBS TV special, Doo Wop50. Duncan, Madison, and Saulsberry also performed with Randy Jones as guest, in 2001. It was planned for Jones to appear with the Penguins the following year however he suffered a stroke while rehearsing with the group as well as died shortly there afterwards. Jones likewise performed with the reunited Jacks/Cadets in the 1990s. Duncan died on November 7, 2012, in Los Angeles at the age of 77.
The group is mentioned in the Paul Simon song “Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War“.
The Penguins were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.