Antedating of _doo(-)wop_

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Tue Mar 2 05:24:17 UTC 2010

To my ear, Wilson, the syllables sung by the Dominoes at the end of
"The Bells" sound a lot more like "oo-wah" than "doo-wop," at least in
the version on the greatest hits album; see

But if it's primordial oo-wah's we're after, McPhatter & Co. were
scooped by the Four Lads singing backup on ("Mr. Emotion") Johnny
Ray's "Cry," which was released in 1951.


> From: Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Date: February 28, 2010 1:41:50 PM PST
> Subject: Antedating of _doo(-)wop_
> doo-wop. 1969 In OED2 ...
> Gribbin, Anthony J., PhD, and Matthew M. Schiff, MD. Doo-Wop. Iola,
> WI, c1992.
> Quoting the Chicago Defender. March 18, 1961: "... A real doo-wop,
> *like those of many years ago* [emphasis supplied], is making the
> scene but big in Chi-town ..."
> I've traced the actual syllables, _doo-wop_, to the song, "The Bells,"
> by Billy Ward & The Dominoes, released in December, 1952. It's
> unlikely that these syllables were ever written down anywhere as part
> of the words of the song - assuming that the original manuscript could
> ever be found. OTOH, there's a good chance that these syllables did
> appear in the print version of the song, if there ever was one and a
> copy of it could be found. That's not likely. But, of course,
> youneverknow.
> Such sounds are said to be "nonsense syllables." But published and
> unpublished work, as well as common sense, make it clear that these
> syllables and other, similar features of black music, imitate the
> sounds made by musical instruments, ranging from the violin through
> the jug to the bouble-bass and even the banjo, guitar, and mandolin,
> and aren't just instances of random, nigger-ish bullshit.
> -Wilson

The American Dialect Society -

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